Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Go Slow!

Remember when being called "slow" was an insult? Ok, perhaps in some circles it still is. But for me, it has become not only a badge of honor but something of a life philosophy. I came to this realization today while cruising on the tractor at the positively reckless speed of .1 miles per hour. Needless to say, I wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere. Far from it, every fiber of my consciousness was straining to maintain my pace while sending the tractor in something akin to a straight line, all without digging too deeply or too shallowly with the spader. Given that I find spading one of the most difficult tasks on the farm, I probably should not have been meditating on slowness.

The six trowel-shaped spades on our spader fluff the soil for planting without destroying the soil profile, creating a hard-pan base layer, or slaughtering the earthworms busily enriching our soil (all common problems with tillage-heavy agriculture). We spade our beds as the final step before planting, and it never ceases to amaze me how one run of the spader can turn a cracked patch of dirt into soil so soft I could sleep in it. Given spading's sluggish pace, watching someone spade a bed is probably about as entertaining as watching someone else watch paint dry; actually doing it yourself, however, is a bit more engaging. When the tractor moves slowly, it becomes increasingly difficult to judge a straight line. Only after you have gone through an area will the straight (or scoliotic) appearance of the bed offer judgment on your skill. By then, of course, you have to live with the consequences. The tilt of a bed can send soiling spilling into the path; too much tilt in the spader results in a mess of clotty dirt rather than a silky bed for planting. Sure, plants will grow in straight lines or curvy ones. But the sight of one of my spading jobs snaking across the landscape makes me red with embarrassment: we farmers take great pride in the appearance of our farms. This machine has brought to the brink of tears on more than one occasion.

Luckily, I've been able to take a lesson from all of my angst and frustration. For starters, I've developed an abiding appreciation for slowness and the skill that often goes with it. Living slowly requires patience (never a strength of mine), consciousness, and fortitude. I live slowly when I wait for bread to rise, when I put down my fork between bites, and when I wait two full years for Slow Food Nation. You knew I was building to that, right? If you haven't already heard of Slow Food USA's recent smörgåsbord of all things "good, clean, and fair," get ready for an earful. I've been anticipating this past weekend since I attended its international cousin, Terra Madre, in 2006. As much as any one thing, Terra Madre set me on this winding journey from school to table to farm, and Slow Food Nation was just the catalyst for future discoveries I had hoped it would be. I was thrilled by the number and dedication of participants fighting for radical change to our unbalanced agro-ecological-gastronomic system. I was inspired by the farmers I met who are operating agriculturally innovative and socially progressive small farms. Truly good food--food that was grown responsibly, prepared with artistry and equity--was the common thread connecting all the disparate elements.

I savored every bite.

p.s. You haven't heard the last of Slow Food Nation, friends. In all likelihood it will be cropping up in future posts with all the ubiquity of okra in August. In the meantime, make me a happy farmer by checking out (and signing!) the brand-spanking new Food Declaration, which lays out a set of 12 principles that can guide everyone from policy makers to former English majors in the steps to a better-fed future.

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