Sunday, October 5, 2014

No Farmer, No Food - Personal Sustainability for Body, Mind, and Soul

This blog entry is about personal stuff.  Because at the center of every food-growing operation, there's a person, without whom none of the crops would be produced.  If this person thrives, is healthy in their body, mind, and soul, then the larger farm body can thrive as well, and continue to feed us the delicious food we all depend on.

Being a full-time farmer, especially a CSA farmer, involves stepping into a role, taking on a title with which you identify yourself to the public.  Some farmers prefer to do less direct marketing, wholesaling their products so they can stay in the fields most of the time.  But even then, I bet if you asked anyone who knew them, they would describe them by their occupation.  Farming is a "lifestyle" more than a job.

People don't get into farming for the money.  In days past, reasons might have included family pressure, or just plain survival.  But now, mostly, we do it for the love. 

We love to watch things grow.  To work outside.  To work with our hands.  To nourish our communities.  To be around plants and animals.  To feel natural, to feel alive.  To be our own bosses.  To be a part of the miracle of dirt into food.

But all of these lovely things come at a cost.  We open up our soul wallets eagerly to spend what we have:  our time and our able bodies.  If all works out well, we are rewarded by the diverse joys that farming brings, as well as the creature comforts that we feel we need to survive.

Sometimes things don't work out too well, mostly due to time management and financial issues.  When there's not enough money coming in, farmers will often do what they do best: work harder.  And then all sorts of other problems can arise -- from injured backs to suffering relationships.  Just in the few years that I've been farming, I've seen what happens when time and money issues push people to their limits: sickness, injury, divorce, suicide, and just plain burn-out. 

The viability of the local organic food movement depends on us preventing farmer burn-out.

I was curious to hear from some farmers in the area after this cold, wet, summer -- how were they feeling on a personal level?  Was everything feeling balanced?  What would they wish for if they had a magic wand and could have three wishes?  I put a shout-out on a local farmer list-serve and got some response.

Having more time for non-farming activities ranked highly for many farmers.  Time to spend with loved ones, family, social life, time for yoga and stretching, for relaxing.  Figuring out how to manage a "day off" a week... bringing us to another common wish:  more good help.  Hiring experienced farm workers requires paying them more, and hiring inexperienced farm workers requires spending more time teaching them, or suffering consequences of inefficient work and mistakes.  Sometimes farmers can't even find anyone willing to do the work.  It's easy to see why farming families often had many children.

One farmer, a friend in the Hudson Valley, wished that she had someone to cook her meals from the food she grew, so she didn't subsist on potato chips and grilled cheese.  I guess that's the traditional role a "farmer's wife" played, besides keeping the house and raising the kids.  At the French farm I worked on, the farmer's 93-year-old mother cooked us all our meals.

Now that fewer of us are growing up on multi-generational family farms, we need some other kind of creative structures in place to meet our needs.

What can we do to keep small farmers healthy and happy?

Well, firstly, we can pay them whatever they need to get for their products.  Often we see prices at farmers markets that seem a little steep.  $6 for that pint of berries?!!  But now that I've been farming for a while, I understand -- that's just what it costs to grow the stuff.  Plain and simple.  Our food buying senses are skewed because of global trade, industrial farms, subsidies (more next week on this!)  I promise you, the farmer is not getting rich off you.

What if we really can't afford to financially support farmers the way we wish?  We can help create policy change.  The National Young Farmers Coalition is working on student loan forgiveness for beginning farmers, farmland affordability, training, and many other awesome reforms.  Get involved, spread the word.  Lots of opportunity for positive change.

And maybe cook a little extra food and bring it to a hungry farmer sometime.

Well, I promised the personal stuff in this blog, so I might as well hint a bit at my own struggles.  I have been looking for a partner to make a family with.  When you are working all the time in a rural area, it's hard to meet someone!  Farmers don't often go out to the bar on Friday nights, don't have a lot of time to socialize, go on dates, etc.  And meeting someone who doesn't mind the muddy-boot lifestyle is another thing too.

We all want sustainable love lives.  We all want family lives.  We all want food.  Time to remember what's at the center of all this:  a healthy human being.  Now I must end this rambling blog entry and go to the Rochester Zen Center to meditate with friends (join us!

A poem I wrote at the monastery:

I will learn
to practice loving without being loved
or expecting anything in return.

It could be easy
if I can generate a sense of inner love
a fountain of unlimited love
within myself which flows and flows
reassuring me
with all the confidence born up from
Mother Earth's solid body
her hands holding me up
at all moments.

Whether I'm standing, sitting, lying, jumping,
she is propelling me forward toward my

To blossom under the sun
in this big green world.

Yes, the wind can be cold, and the brambles sharp.

But I will continue the practice
to feel the healing honey of inner joy
inner reassurance.

And it will ripple out into the world.
And it will allow me to love
and listen compassionately to all,
even those who hurt me.

To nurture.


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