What is the theoretical framework behind what we do? Mission statement of purpose? How do we hold ourselves accountable to be living in right relationship to our values?
Yesterday morning I walked through my greenhouses, clipboard in hand, and made lists of to-do items. Structural, harvest, planting. I ate tiny leaves of sorrel and cilantro, turnip leaves, bits of lettuce, kale, collards, arugula, spinach. I’ve not felt driven to have a relationship with the plants in these houses. Despite a deep, cold, winter I’ve kept myself shut off to the bounty that is inside of them. I’ve needed a respite from the green, the soil, the work of harvesting small leaves planted in commercial style rows.
One might say that this was folly. I have winter markets and a wonderful group of customers that pick-up their food from us each week. I’ve not neglected them. They’ve had the opportunity to eat our fresh spinach almost every week, and arugula, kale, chard, and lettuce heads that held on into January. In this challenging winter, those plants in the greenhouse that I spoke of had very little growth. It takes sunny days to counteract the -12 F nights. But I admit, I think I could have pushed that space more.
Always the farmer and the business woman, with lingering threads of competitive athlete, in the past my idea of right relationship has been to steadily push the boundaries. If I change how I push, am I doing enough?
I felt good in my greenhouse walk yesterday, but I wondered if I’d lost my edge. I decided that it would be ok if I lost my edge, only if I replaced it with something new. I’ve felt a growing feeling around me, call it instinct, or simply awareness, that if I allow myself to continue to be open, I know the feeling will take form in a refined structure of how I practice the art of farming.
I’ve had an unusual path for a farmer (that is perhaps now becoming more common). I graduated from a liberal arts college, apprenticed on a farm for a season, and then farmed for a non-profit for a little over two years. I then spent from 2001 – 2010 moving my operation from lease to lease. I grew vegetables on six different properties during that time, all while simultaneously growing my business often 100% a year. In 2011 I planted myself in my current location.
I’ve spent fifteen years very worried about finances, driven by a fear of failure and an intense desire to put down roots. I’ve done that now. My moving, and moving, was an incredibly energy intensive path, financially, emotionally, physically.
This year, my fifth growing season on this property, feels like a transition point. I’ve been farming for a number of years, but if I think of my learning curve as a trimester system, I think I’m just now moving into my second cycle. It has taken me the first four years here to get to know this place. To know that it can feed me. This past year I felt some internal energetic friction as my being was grabbing hold of the idea that yes (!), I can sustain myself here. The soil is good. I can make a healthy income for my family. The land can feed me. And, the land is open to change, to being what I need it to be in relationship to it.
As I’m slowly wiggling into my body the knowing that this place is my home and it is safe for me to act on change, I’m wanting a mission statement to help me define my values. They aren’t new values to me, but by putting them into words I think it will help me to continue to be accountable to act in a way that feels in right relationship to who I am.
For those of you who’ve followed me for a number of years, I suspect you won’t see any sudden shifts. I suspect it will be a number of years before I learn to stop growing more lettuce mix than I can actually sell. But I do hope when you see me at market I’ll be more energized, because I’ll be farming in better relationship to the needs of myself, rather than service to the fear of failure. By learning to put words to the values that feel most nutritive to me, I’ll also grow food in that form, and therefore your food is likely to be more nutritious, too.
Yesterday I was interviewing a potential apprentice candidate over the phone. I found myself, in a quieter voice, talking about the moon cycles and how I think they affect who we are in the moment, as well as the lives of our plants. I think broadening our awareness to the natural systems that are around us, and in farming in relationship to them, rather than business plan agendas, the energy of food and farmers will be enhanced. The experience of voicing that over the phone, from the get go during an interview, rather than holding those thoughts for a quiet group dinner conversation, felt really good. Now I’ll go outside today and have a little more awareness of letting myself fall into the lunar cycles. Here we are, in this moment, trying to farm as honestly as we can.