The Unsettling of the Settled Farmer
I am a farmer who spends my every day thinking about the nuances of food production. But the work does not stop at the thinking. Every day not only must I figure out what must be done (and the question is often, “What must be done now!?”) and act on it… and for the most part I feel as though that acting must be without reservation because if I lose focus there is always something else that is grabbing for my attention and that I would be eager, if not more happy, to please. The grass is indeed always greener. And the work is never done.
My body and mind battle for ownership during this time of year. It is mid-January and I write as a predictable six inches of fresh snow falls to the ground. In mid-July, when the weeds are at their worst, I’ve already grown bored with them, and it is hot, hot, hot, I dream of these January days. Sitting in front of the computer with seed catalogs and an extra cup of coffee sounds delightful. But here I am, and I’m having a hard time finding peace with this moment, even when the gardens appear stilled by the snow.
Balance. Quoting Ernst Wilhelm for apprentices, I often tell them that farming is “Labor, craft, and art.” I believe each of those pieces informs one another and participating equally in all three is what ultimately creates a healthy farm and food supply. There are other pieces of the puzzle too. Most every day I play out multiple roles: economist, veterinarian, horticulturalist, carpenter, mentor, and apprentice. Philosophically, I understand this very well. In practice, I’m often ready for the hat of the moment to go flying off my head.
So today it is snowing and I’m in my dream position of seed catalogs stacked to my right and left. A dear friend who I rarely see stopped by for tea; my dog and I just preformed our afternoon ritual of feeding the sheep their grain and then throwing (and catching) snowballs for ten minutes. I should relish this moment. Warm, happy, body at rest. Thousands, probably millions, of seeds are being ordered – potential stored sunlight and another year’s worth of calories in the making. A full season of planting, tending, harvesting, eating, awaits… and I’m antsy. I want to be outside moving firewood around, putting together the lambing pens in preparation for next month’s babies, shoveling snow. But, no. This moment of farming has me sitting here, glossy eyed over descriptions of heirloom tomatoes and ordering every known description of salad leaf you can imagine. This is also the work of a farmer, and the work that I must do today (so the seed will be here for me to start in a few weeks, when I just can’t stand it anymore! And so I get the varieties I’d like before they sell out). And so I sit, and am grateful for my position in life, for participating in this process, and for also knowing that later this afternoon and tomorrow morning, and the day after, I will get to choose… which part of the farm experience is calling me the loudest. And what work will I do.