Keep Bringing the Farm to the City

When I started writing the “Down on the Farm” column over six years ago, my goal was to keep my writing chops and to share the story and experiences of life on our diversified, sustainably-minded homestead farm. Each week, I’d somehow manage to carve out 45 minutes to lay down 800-1000 words on the page—sometimes on a quiet afternoon, other times at 11:30 at night with the deadline approaching in the morning. It’s an exercise in creating and letting go. There’s the quick proofread, passing the laptop around to the family for feedback and grammar check, and then I send it off.
I don’t allow myself (knowing my own perfectionist tendencies) to agonize over the work for days, coming back again and again to squeeze the life out of the piece, bit-by-bit. Instead, it’s storytelling, just as we might do around the kitchen table when an old friend comes over to visit, asking, “So, how are things going on the farm?”
But when I attach the file to the email and click “send,” it’s as if the story has left into a void. It has its own life now, as editors sculpt their pages of newsprint into action for yet another week. Who knows who will be touched by the words and stories, the antics of animals, or a musing poem.
It is rather like when plants send their pollen to the wind—hoping it shall alight somewhere useful but uncertain how far and wide the product of their bloom shall reach. Without the windward (or bee-ward) pollen, though, there would be no seeds. And with no seeds, there would be no new plants in the coming year. No new plants means that, when the old ones die off, there is nothing left but extinction. If we hold our stories too close, refusing to share them out of fear or wanting control, then they die with us—losing libraries of stories. Instead, try letting your stories be pollen and see what happens! For me, it has been quite the journey.
Over the years, I’ve heard back from some of the story-pollen receivers—from teachers, retired farmers, naturalists, and fellow writers. I’ve had people call or stop in with condolences, advice, or similar stories. Readers who receive the newspaper but live in far-flung places have made the trek to shake my hand and see Farmstead. I continue to be blown away by how short sneak peeks into contemporary agrarian life can touch such a diverse range of readers. The heartfelt enthusiasm in turn helps keep me writing, week after week, even when the hour is late for yet another deadline.
So what is it about short farm stories? I think it might be that, as humans, not only do we all eat, but we also each yearn for connection. We yearn for relationship and meaning-making with the world around us. Stories help us to rebuild that relationship, despite the chatter and clutter of post-industrial, consumerist society. While culture pushes us to think and act as lone individuals, our true natures yearn for interconnections, even if we don’t have words for this yet.
And interconnections are the beautiful (if ever-complex) part of creating a sustainably-minded farm ecosystem. So often, “sustainability” becomes misconstrued as becoming an island of self-sufficiency. But if we look at nature as the mother-model of sustaining systems, what really works are deeply-knit interconnection and interdependencies. I just learned last night about diatoms in the ocean, which create half of our planet’s oxygen! Look them up. They’re tiny but amazing at the same time. Life as we know it would not exist without these one-celled plants.
A healthy agrarian ecosystem is anything but an island. There’s interconnections with the soils, the trees, the wildlife, the domestic life, the weather patterns, the community. It’s like a three-dimensional spider web, linking it all together. Box up the animals in CAFOs (Confinement Animal Feeding Operations), spray the plants with chemicals that kill off the bugs and wildlife, and plant thousands of acres in one crop (mono-cropping), and we divorce ourselves from the precious, vivacious web of interconnections. It is no wonder that sickness and brokenness ensues with the product-oriented business models that consumes most of our food system.
As we yearn for the stories of reconnection, of revitalization and renewal, it is critical work to stand in that place and tell those stories—to live those stories. It is my hope that the stories empower you as well to look around and reach out for those meaningful connections and web of relationships.
Instead of worrying that it’s too late, that you don’t know what you can do, think instead about who you touch. Is there a small-scale, local producer you can support? Is there a local artist or musician you can encourage? Is there a local business whose owners have their heart in the right place you can frequent? These may seem like tiny things, but to the recipient of your effort and attention, they are anything but small—especially as the season turns from busy summer into quiet autumn.
As a recent honorable guest attending our Farm-to-Table dinner (pictured above) exclaimed, “Keep bringing the farm to the city! People need to hear this!”
And I will keep writing. But I am only one person. This week, think about how your story, your actions, your words can be that pollen that sends out something which this hungry world needs. What would that be? Try it, and see what happens. You might someday find a tall sunflower growing unexpectedly and smile, knowingly. See you down on the farm sometime.