Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Reflections on a Year Well Lived

I'm not a farmer anymore. Tuesday was my last day at Serenbe: we harvested kohlrabi, beets, and carrots; we washed the bins of veggies harvested Monday; I weeded a bit. And then, in the evening, we opened our Tuesday night winter farm stand for the first time this year. The routine was familiar, though the specifics (that this was no longer my job) made it strange. I felt antsy going home; though the farm looks close to immaculate as of late, I felt irresponsible leaving bins unwashed and the weeding unfinished. The sweet potatoes at my house still need sorting, and the winter squash as well. Paige will tend to the farm, I know, but I feel so invested in this earth that it is hard to disentangle myself.

Our house has been slowly emptying over these past few weeks. First Jack left, to pursue holiday employment in the big city, then I took Andrew to the train station, so that he might spend Thanksgiving with his family. I had my last two nights alone in the house to think back on the year and what it had meant for me. In the same way that you cannot appreciate the growth of a child without caring for her day in and day out--watching the tottering, the gurgling, the toothless grins--you cannot know the earth until you have made it your livelihood. I've witnessed bridging, the first hint of a seedling emerging from the earth; I've heard the mewing of a baby mousling nestled among the eggplants; I've watched earth wake up to spring and sink back into the slow doze of winter. And even in all of that listening, looking tasting, touching, I've missed so much!

Lately I've been learning another facet of farming's seasonality. While winter does not mean the absence of life that some customers at our market seem to expect, it is better classed as a "harvest season" than a "growing" one. With even the ever-present Bermuda grass dormant, weeds are no longer a problem. Many of the bugs are living out the larval stage of their life deep in the soil, and they leave our pretty green leaves alone. Established plants can thrive in the cold (particularly hardy crops like root veggies and crucifera), but now is not the time for epic days of transplanting. So we farmers harvest what we need, protect what we can with white poly row cover, and turn our remembrances of the past year into dreams of the one to come.

There is balance in this seasonal fluctuation, the nonstop rush of summer traded for a mild hibernation, and I know that many farmers cherish this respite as their reward. Time to read the paper in the morning over a cup of steaming coffee. Time to visit family or do quiet, reflective work on the farm. As an apprentice, this is a time of mixed blessings. I will soon be traveling north, to visit New England farms where I hope to apprentice next season. I'm looking forward to having time to write and to sit in bookstores on weekdays. But I am simultaneously in limbo, drifting between one home and the next. I'm a landless farmer. If I leaf through seed catalogues, it will be vicariously. What I can do, is study.

Perhaps surprisingly, a year of farming has given me a newfound appreciation and understanding for the shape of our educational system. The logic of school from September to May makes sense when juxtaposed with the crazy business of summer farm work. Spend winter indoors, learning from books. Spend summer outside, learning with your hands. And all of that elementary school clutter, the stuff to which you rolled your eyes and said, "I'm never going to use this": surprise! As a farmer you will. You'll need geometry as you lay out your fields, algebra as you calculate yields. Science there is in abundance, from the chemistry of the soil to the physics of machines both simple and complex. Geology will help you understand the lay of your land, and why, every spring, your fields seem new-sown with rocks. You'll wish you recalled weights and measures as you cook what you've grown, converting pounds to quarts to cups. You will need politics, history, and civics to understand how our agricultural system has become what it is and why yeoman farmers are a still a fundamental part of our national psyche. Writing you'll need to market yourself or compose newsletters to a CSA. Agricultural poetry will feed your soul and you'll find yourself singing the cheesiest songs from elementary school chorus as you struggle down the last prickly row of okra. Even handwriting comes in handy, as you letter the signs for your market stand. As for me, I'll spend my winter with Small Scale Livestock Farming and The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, both of which address topics not covered in my elementary school.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I offer up my gratitude to my teachers: past, present, and (fingers crossed) future.


Alexandra said...

Ok, would it be so lame of me to admit that this post got me somewhat choked up? Even though I haven't been down in Serenbe farming with you, through this blog, it feels as if you've let the rest of us non-farmers into your farming world for the past year. It's been wonderful reading all about it, and I look forward to reading about your adventures down South, as well as up North.

Russ and Kara said...

Sorry we missed saying goodbye to you. Please stop by and say hello when you are back at Serenbe. Best of luck!
Russ and Kara

brandon said...

found your blog and wanted to write/chat/gab a bit. 24 year old english man myself, trying to go to serenbe this year. write to hope to hear from you soon.