Farm Work

Since I announced I was leaving my law practice I can’t count the times people have told me how much they envy me and how great they imagine farm life must be.

Farm life is great, but not in the way most of them imagine.  A mere generation ago very few people had to imagine what farm life must be like.  We were a nation of farmers and most of us who weren’t farming for a living grew up on a farm or had grandparents who were farmers.  We were far less likely to romanticize farming then than we are now.

Sadly there are thousands of folks, particularly idealistic young people, who have moved onto farms with zero appreciation of the work and commitment that being a farmer requires.  Most of them are destined to fail and return to their suburbs, jaded and unhappy.

I grew up on this farm and have been tending it in my “spare time” for many years.  I learned my work ethic as a child on a farm, so I know what taking on the responsibilities of a farm means.  That is not to say I won’t fail here.  I might.  But it won’t be because I didn’t realize how much work was involved.

In my opinion, everyone should try to tend a garden.  But no one should attempt to tend a farm unless they love the land.  I don’t mean they must love nature or love hiking.  I mean they must LOVE the land they farm as they might love a child.  It is something that is nearly impossible to describe to those who don’t feel it, but farming is not a job or even a hobby.  It is a lifestyle, but it goes far beyond that.  For anyone who’s wondering about it, read some Wendell Berry fiction.  If you feel what his characters feel, in ways that can’t be expressed with words, then maybe you have it.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to know as well.  If the feeling is there, I’m sure you’ll know it.

Most importantly, we must not think of land and farms as means to ends.  They are not resources to be exploited.  A farm is not a vehicle by which one may earn a living without punching a clock.  A farm is not “real estate.” 

Certainly anyone who really wants to try the farm life must have a very strong work ethic.  Often farm work begins before dawn and extends until past sundown.  In the summer, it nearly always does.  It is very hard work for very little pay.  It is sweating in the brutal heat of the day and shivering in the freezing cold of the winter.  It is not an idyllic alternative to a cubicle.  Of course for those who really feel and love it, the conditions don’t matter and hard work for low pay is just not an issue.  But for those who don’t, they will be disappointed.

Farms must be tended.  They must be cared for.  In my opinion, no one should take it on unless tending the land is the one thing they would rather do than anything else.

I admit that it annoys me when folks don’t fully appreciate what it means to take on the responsibility of partnering with the earth.  Some seem to think the land exists only for their benefit–to make them happy.  In truth we exist for the land’s benefit as well.

When I get tired or when I start to worry that what we’re doing here might be pointless, I remind myself that working on my farm is a great privilege.  It is kingdom work.

Love Wins

Advertisements

A quiet time

We could’ve used a good drenching, but all we got from Hurricane Irene was a mere one-tenth of an inch of rain.  Fortunately, on the other hand, we didn’t get much wind either.  A few small branches seem to be all we lost.

I planted green beans in the raised beds. These look great.

It’s a quiet time in the gardens.  Other than a few tomatoes, a little okra and a little eggplant, they’re either done for the year or cranking up for the Fall.  We tilled up most of the squash and cucumbers and sowed clover as a cover crop.  We sowed clover in the garden that gave us potatoes this year as well.

Unfortunately something (probably a deer) ate this plant

Over the next week we’ll be planting the Fall greens.  I’m looking forward to enjoying my first bowl of them.

Beneath these vines, lots of delicious sweet potatoes are growing

It’s a fine time of the year.

Love Wins

The Right Instructions

You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.

Hannah Coulter (via Wendell Berry)

Love Wins

Food Atlas

The USDA’s Food Atlas site has a lot of interesting information.  Check it out here: http://ers.usda.gov/foodatlas/

Our farm is in Pittsylvania County Virginia.   Our community is sitting on some of the best farm land on the planet.  It is very easy to grow an abundance of excellent food here.  For those who won’t (or can’t) grow their own, there is plenty of top quality food available from local farms.

Sadly, however, and despite being among the poorest counties in the country, we are near the top in fast food expenditures per capita.  We spend hundreds of dollars per year per capita to buy and eat the worst possible food imaginable.  As if that weren’t enough, we are in the upper tier in soft drink consumption, sweet snack consumption, and processed food consumption.  So, unsurprisingly I guess, we are also near the top in adult diabetes and adult obesity.  We are literally killing ourselves with our food choices.

This is not a food wasteland.  It is as easy to eat quality food here (and thereby stay healthy) as almost any place in the country.  Yet, we don’t.  We eat crap from fast-food joints and we destroy our health.  It’s like a man drowning when there is a life saver floating right next to him, which he refuses to grab.

I can only hope that the winds will change and my community, and those like it around the country, will stop its self-destructive behavior and begin to take advantage of the blessings that come with the wonderful farm land of our area.

Love Wins

Aging

Sometimes its hard for me to accept the changes that the passage of time bring.  Today we’re taking Peyton to school to begin her junior year.  Her junior year?  It seems like just yesterday that she was a little girl playing with beanie babies and asking for monkey back rides.  Now she’s a young woman on the back side of a college degree. 

I used to dread and fear getting older.  But the truth of the matter is, the changes I expected in myself have been far less significant than I had supposed they’d be. 

It is the changes that have occurred in others that have bothered me the most.  Those who were old when I was young now bear the weight of many more years, or they have passed on.  And those who were children when I was a young adult, are now young adults themselves.  Some are entering middle age.  Time didn’t freeze for them either.

However much as I might have liked Peyton to stay nine years old, she didn’t.  So I celebrate her at 19.  And based on how I feel today, I expect that ten years from now I’ll miss her at 19, just as I will celebrate her then at 29.

We’re in seasons too I suppose.  I’m entering Fall.  My leaves are starting to change.

Peyton is in early summer, with an abundant harvest of life on the way.

Love Wins

Grace and Jay Bakker

There were many powerful and eye-opening moments for me at the Wild Goose Festival.  One of the most powerful came when we participated in a discussion with Jay Bakker on the church’s reluctance to accept gay inclusion as an urgent issue of social justice.

For any who may not know him, Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.  As such he has had a rather tumultous life, but has landed in New York City, where he pastors a church that meets in a bar (www.revolutionnyc.com).

In Jay’s new book Fall From Grace, released earlier this year, he argues that the practice of homosexuality is not sin and calls for acceptance of practicing homosexuals into the Christian community.  Of course this has stirred up quite a storm and his stand has knocked him off the speaking circuit of the Christian Industrial Complex.  But his stand has also encouraged others to become more brave.  Research has shown that most American Christians, including pastors and church leaders, oppose discrimination against homosexuals, but pastors’ insecurity and fear of their congregations has led most of them to remain silent.  Maybe now that is changing.

At Wild Goose, Jay was emotional and passionate in his plea for acceptance of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  The thing he said that stuck with me the most is that he wants to preach nothing but grace for the rest of his life, but that he cannot do that so long as they are being excluded from the church.  I can’t do justice to his comments.  What we typically deal with abstractly has flesh and bones to a pastor like Jay, who shepherds a flock of folks the institutional church has cast out and rejected.

A change is in the air though.  I’m convinced that the day is fast approaching when we’ll look back on the exclusion of gay people from the Christian community in the same way we now look back on our treatment of women, wondering how most of us could have gotten it so wrong for so long.

And then Jay Bakker can get on with preaching grace again.

Love Wins