“You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory” wrote John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley. Now, I didn’t grow up in North Carolina from birth, but I did “grow up” so to speak in my farming career in central Piedmont North Carolina. I took sustainable farming classes at Central Carolina Community College, worked for Peregrine Farm and EcoFarm and Weaver Street and Chatham Marketplace there in the triangle of North Carolina, got to know all our mentor farmers there, and even had a little “practice farm” on borrowed land with borrowed equipment where we sold our meager harvests at the Durham, Hillsborough, and Fearrington farmers markets. We were very involved in the local food and ag community there.
So, in a large sense, central North Carolina has loomed large as our farm “home”. We left 17 years ago, not for greener pastures so much as for bigger hills, wilder rivers, and fresher more open markets where we could grow with the marketplace, or at least a smaller pond where we could appear to be bigger fish.
I returned “home” this past weekend to attend a local agriculture conference that I hadn’t attended in over a decade. This conference played a large part in my early farming career, and even though I would have told you I had no expectations, I found myself dazed in a completely unrecognizable place. I barely recognized a face in a crowd where I once knew everyone. The only people there that knew me had grey hair. All my mentors were retired; my peers, either moved on or too busy farming to attend this conference. The community I remembered had just lost one my oldest farm friends and mentors, and very few people there seemed to even know him. I was a stranger in a strange land.
There I stood, in a city once empty of people except panhandlers, now brimming with hip young vibrancy, at a conference once known for its, shall we say “hippiness”, now teeming with professional high caliber content, an older-perhaps obsolete-model of my enthusiastic budding farmer self of yesteryear. It’s an age-old story: the mothballs of memory, indeed. A decade of dirt now covered my footsteps here. Without google maps, I wouldn’t have recognized the paths I once tread.
Reading over this, it seems tinged with a bit of sadness, which, I suppose is honest—it’s weird to return to an unrecognizable home—but also not the complete story. There is also comfort and satisfaction to see an enthusiastic crop of budding new farmers coming up through a much more sophisticated and professional system of education. A feeling like, “yes, these kids are going to be just fine”—a sense of relief that we’re leaving the land and our food supply in capable hands. There’s also the reassurance that our mentor farmers can retire. Farmers can retire! This is not necessarily a “till death do we part” career! And, there’s the excitement of new adventures to come in my “new” home where I’ve been growing (both figuratively and literally) over the past 17 years.
So, as always in the life of a Libra, there is balance. A bittersweet return to the mothballs of memory.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.