I’ve been reading a lot about farming. For months now. Normally an avid fan of literary fiction, I have been devouring all the practical farming books I can, by the best farmers and authors I can find.
The book I am currently reading is a book of essays called Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement,. Intended to inform and possibly inspire aspiring farmers, it is full of stories about farming joys and hardships, particularly at the beginning — before acceptance to a hard life has sunk in? I’m not sure. One single woman wrote about how she sees her fellow farmers, her community, all coupled up and working on things together, and feels very alone. Then, in contemplative solitude over lettuce transplants, she realizes she is not alone. Her parents helped her with transplanting the day before, she has a close network of fellow farmers, from those in their first year to those who have been at it for several. In other stories I have read about bleeding fingers and hands, minor (thankfully) injuries, aching backs, never enough time, never enough sleep, nitrogen deficiency, and the problem of voles.
Now, normally I am a very focussed reader. I can slip entirely into a book, so much so that when it is summer in my world and winter in the book, I am confused when I put the book down and attend to my own life. Usually it’s because I have to pee. It is then I realize that it is summer time, nearly 90 degrees in the apartment, and a trip to the bathroom is enough exertion in the Maritime humidity that I realize a swim at the lake would be just the thing. With the farming books I’m reading, however, it is quite different. This one is written in short essays that are easy to read quickly, one at a time. I can sit (or lay) down to read short sections, but inevitably am pulled back into my own daydreamy headspace. I wonder if that person’s description will be much like my own experience. I think about what I might write as my contribution to such a compilation if the opportunity were to arise in my time and place. I try to plant into my mind that if my tomato seedlings are sluggish, and seem to stop growing after producing two or so leaves, that I don’t need to give up and start again, I need to make a fish emulsion, and spray my plants with it — possibly twice a week — and see what happens. That this is how farming works. All the tips and tricks and remedies to remember. Try this. Try that. But never give up on the plants. Or the animals. Stay on top of my research, develop relationships, community. Be persistent. Do it for the joy of it, and if today isn’t joyful, do the best I can and maybe tomorrow will be better.
It sounds like a very unpredictable, demanding lifestyle, full of hardship and no guarantees. For those who love me and are worried about this choice of mine it must sound like a bizarre choice, given that I could work a modern job, in an office, safe from bugs and weather, with a reliable paycheque arriving on schedule, complete with medical benefits, pension, and paid vacation. I could live in suburbia and be geographically close to those same people who love me. No doubt they are right.
Something I know though is that a suburban, or especially an urban, lifestyle will not suit me. I can’t wait to get out as it is, and I have a job I enjoy. I need the fresh air, the sunshine, the rain, the snow, the birds, the worms, the dirt, the trees. I think at times it will: exhaust me, scare me, make me sad. I think this, because it already does! But, I also believe it will fulfill me, nurture me, give me room and time to grow along with my plants. I will feed people. Establish relationships. Build community. Participate at Farmer’s Markets. I will be fostering the development of something I believe is long overdue, desperately needed, and much bigger than myself. This seems so inexplicably right to all the cells and nerves of my body, the community of three trillion microorganisms within my own corporeal husk. How can I not give it a solid shot?