You’re swimming. Your head is above water. But the current is strong and is sweeping you downstream faster than you want to admit to yourself. You’re fatigued, but know that until you reach calmer waters, you need to keep paddling just to keep your head above water. So you just keep paddling.
This is what the weeks feel like now. I heard a farmer friend call it the Julyvalanche. Everything is happening now. At the end of each day, I think the end of the week will be a break in action—a moment to relax and breath, but when Sunday arrives, there are always still things to do—house to clean, okra to pick, laundry to wash. And then Monday whirls around again like a riptide and we’re off again.
I know the shore will come. It always does. We never actually drown. By now, we are intimate with the cycles of farm life. And now, well, now is the Julyvalanche.
We like to put our rugged individualism on a pedestal in this country, but there’s a lot of comfort and security in a community. Just knowing others are there and have your back if things go awry. I’ve experienced this over and over in the farmers market community. Everyone is happy to help everyone else with the inevitable problems (running short of change, or bags, etc.) and even the unexpected problems like when we had a flat tire and our spare wouldn’t descend and Za lent us his spare tire so we would get our van to the mechanic! We’re constantly helping each other with tents, jumping dead car batteries, squeezing this way and that to make us all fit in. It’s the perfect example of the benefits of community.
The instinct to build community is in our bones. It’s the reasons our ancestors succeeded in passing along their genes to us and we know it. So we gather, break bread together, celebrate birthdays and holidays, mourn together, solve problems together, and just generally help each other. Because we know community is more important than our political differences, our religious differences, differences in appearance, any differences. Community is how we thrive in the best of times, and survive in the worst of times.
The best and most frustrating part of life is that there’s no end to learning and growing. It’s wonderful because I never get bored or stagnant. There’s always more to learn. It’s frustrating because quite frankly, things would go much smoother if I just knew it all already! And sometimes, I’d just like to feel like an “expert” instead of an imposter just making it up as I go along.
I used to think people didn’t change all that much. Then we were having this discussion about this the other day and most of us wagered that we were completely different people than we were ten years ago. So I thought back to ten years ago in my life. 2012 was a year of transformation for me—a virtual growth spurt. So yeah, I guess I emerged from the primordial goo of 2012 a bit of a new person-a better—more complete—version of myself. The new self is informed by the old self’s experiences, but I guess that does mean that I have changed quite a lot.
Humans seem to like consistency, so it’s kind of amazing that we can maintain relationships through all the drastic changes in each other. Our adaptability is incredible! I don’t know what any of this has to do with our nation’s celebration of our day of independence, but perhaps the country is not all that different than the people that make it. Perhaps the country learns and grows and adapts as well. I hope so. I hope the country emerges from the primordial goo of these years of division and tension and transforms into a better, more complete, version of itself.
There are things I’ve learned over the past few years that are counterintuitive. And because they’re counterintuitive, I tend to forget them and need to re-learn them. One of the things I learned was that when you’re super busy, you should take more time to pause. That it will make you more productive in the end. The lesson had to do with meditation (meditate for longer the busier you are), but I took it into the physical world this Sunday.
I stopped the world and just floated down the river. It was easy going with easy going people. And for those hours you are floating down the river, there’s absolutely nothing you could do about anything elsewhere, so you just let it all go and live in the moment. In that way, it’s a lot like meditation.
And do you know what? I was super productive today! It was like magic; things just seemed to cross themselves off lists.
I’ve decided that lists are introverts. If you bug them every day trying to cross things off (or add things), you will drain them and they will move reluctantly and slowly and just seem to get longer. Give them an introvert recharge day, and they will be much more cooperative the next day. They might even just cross some things off themselves. Turn off, rest, turn back on. Age old wisdom there.
I’ve learned in my later years to “feel all the feels”. While I understand the human tendency to avoid painful emotions, and the midwestern tendency to push down these emotions or pretend they don’t exist, they are a part of the fullness of the human experience. So now, I embrace them, sit with them, feel them, and then they don’t usually stick around quite as long.
With this new philosophy, I found myself grieving the loss of our beloved dog, Tully. I let the grief wash over me. I cried the ugly tears. I played all my sad music. But there aren’t too many songs about the loss of the family pet, so I turned to the music I listened to at my last moment of grief and found, interestingly, that grief is just grief. It lives in the same place in my body and feels the same, no matter the source.
So I listened to all the music about the loss of love, about the dissolution of relationships, and found the emotion not so different than the grief of losing our dog friend. Which is, of course, amusing enough to elicit laughter that helps grief to not be all that unpleasant after all.
After a long, exhausting, and challenging (but successful!) week where this farm sent out a record amount of food, I was hoping to wake up to a slow news day on Sunday. Alas, in a world full of love and good people, hate still claims the news and forces our attention on the horrible. It engages our fascination with the abomination (credit to Joseph Conrad for the phrase) and, if we’re not careful, lands us deep in a tar pit of despair over the state of humanity.
And so once again, we retreated to the river for some nature immersion with the wonderful, kind, and generous fellow river-loving people who continuously welcome us into their world with gentle, open arms. We returned to the farm Sunday evening full of gratitude, love, and hope for our fellow human beings.
The truth, that we so often need reminded of because our brains are wired to emphasize the negative and bad news is what keeps us watching or listening, is that we’re surrounded by good people committing random acts of kindness all around us all the time. Our minds can so easily skip right over the held door, the small smile, the car that stopped to let us into the traffic flow. But if we just shift our focus a little bit, we’ll see that this is the actual reality around us: kindness and humanity are our “normal”.
This weekend, I saw a reunion between a 23 year old and his 6th grade school teacher. Maybe 6th grade was too young to feel this way, but I would have wanted to impress her—or at least not disappoint her. I often wonder about some of my teachers, especially English teachers, who interact with their former students in the age of social media. Are they disappointed? Impressed? Do they feel like it reflects on them at all?
All this is in focus for us this week because our mentor farmers are coming for a visit. Suddenly, we’re eyeing up every escaped weed, every evidence of disorganization, every problem and needed repair with laser vision like those things might take precedence over this week’s planting schedule. They won’t, but we might kick in a few extra hours in the evenings to at least hide them 😊.
I mean, we’re proud of how far we’ve come with the knowledge our elders passed along to us, but can’t help but want to impress them with all we’ve learned from them and where we took their ideas and systems and ran with them. We want to reflect well on them. We want them to be impressed by their own teaching skills. And so we find ourselves once again, like nail biting school children on test day—did we learn it well enough to get that coveted sticker from the teacher??
I’ve often talked about the choreography of farm management. The planning of how 8 people will move about the farm all day/week/month tackling which tasks in which order to make the most efficient use of everyone’s time while accomplishing all the tasks around the current weather pattern. It’s a delicate dance, and really beautiful when you pull it off.
I’ve recently expanded this choreography to our whole lives, which is even more delicate. Early on in our careers, the farm was the baby: we catered to it’s every whim, sometimes fumbling to figure out what it needed before we spoke the same language. We worked late nights and weekends just trying to keep this baby alive. You know the tired and crazed look all new parents have—we looked like that. But we were young and didn’t mind and could handle loads more lack of sleep and physical exhaustion.
As we and the farm have matured, a little more balance is necessary. The dance has become less frantic putting out fires, and more about the delicate details of pulling in all the variables and planning properly. Little details that now include a life outside the farm, now that it’s grown and we know how to provide what it needs in advance. The choreography now includes our human needs of down time, social connection, exercise, rest, play, normal household duties, and pursuits or hobbies outside of the farm. Too much of any of those, including farm work, can leave us discombobulated and not our best selves. This more intricate balancing act is, of course, more challenging, but also even more beautiful when you pull it off.
There’s this trend in yoga to take a picture when you first start trying a pose, or really anytime. Then to take another picture trying the same pose each year of your practice (bonus points if you’re in the same place wearing the same clothes) and place the pictures side by side to see your improvement. I’ve never done this but today as I was cleaning out old files from the filing cabinet (what do you do on rainy days?), I found this newspaper clipping from our first Hickory Farmers Market in our first year of farming here.
Oh! How far we’ve come since our humble beginnings all those years ago. It’s good to look back sometimes and cringe—to see represented in photos all the things you’ve learned, all the improvements you’ve made, to see how far you’ve come.
This is the week we’ve all been preparing for. Our farmily is complete this week and we all move to full-time work. We jumped right into teamwork to cover our last two high tunnels to prepare for pepper planting this week. Then all of the tunnels will be completely full and our outside fields are filling up fast with cool season crops. Kelsey seeded our first warm season outdoor crops today in the greenhouse and we’re off and running.
This week kicks off the rush of the season. Both Charlotte and Boone farmers markets begin this Saturday and so every week adds more and more harvest time to our busy planting and crop-tending schedule. Since Jason and I have been slowly entering the realm of whitewater kayaking, a kayak metaphor seems appropriate.
It’s as if we’ve been paddling down a placid river and have suddenly encroached upon a waterfall followed by a long series of (insert whitewater lingo here) super-fast and challenging rapids that will last until at least September. It will be chaotic and slightly terrifying, with one challenge after another with no reprieve, but we’ve paddled this route before and managed not to die, and we know more or less which lines to follow down the course. Every run is slightly different, of course, but we’ve practiced and we know how roll when we get in trouble. And there’s the promise of celebration at the end!
I’ve never considered myself an adrenaline junkie before, but market farming is not so placid—the season moves fast and furious—so maybe I’ll have to reconsider that image of myself.