At this point it’s pretty cliche to say this is an unprecedented time. I’ve been hearing that word a lot over the past 3 1/2 years, now it’s being applied to describe a challenging time focused on health and well being.
I started farming 10 years ago. It was also at an “unprecedented” time, we were still on the front end of a financial collapse. I got caught up in the middle of it, lost a lot of money, lost my home and out of that, determined the best way forward was to farm. My guess is, with the increased interest in buying local, supporting growers in your community, connecting with the source of your food — more people are going to decide, farming, in some form, is the way forward. We’re already seeing it. Have you tried ordering seeds? You can’t. They’re all gone, or at least, you’ll be waiting a while for them to come.
People are planting gardens. People who’ve never planted even as much as a seed, are seeing it as a way to connect, to their food, to each other, to the earth. Our Maine farmers are being turned on their heads with the response to oﬀering online ordering, CSA subscriptions, curbside pickup. Here in Maine, there is a huge craft beer industry. Brewers are overwhelmed with the demand. They’ve gotten creative too, partnering together to make hand sanitizer with alcohol extracted from spirits, turning it into gallons of the stuﬀ.
What does all this mean? To me it means people are realizing that in the midst of a crisis, when things are going to hell in a hand basket, when literally, the world is turned upside down, it’s time to get grounded. I would argue, there’s nothing more grounding than the culture of farming.
Farming is a Culture
From an anthropologic perspective, some would argue, farming has really overall been a disaster. Think about it. Farming, growing things, domesticating and caring for animals, cultivating the Earth has created a whole lot of problems. More food availability has meant more people, the more people, the more food you need and on and on. Living oﬀ the land, a lifestyle which would seem to be so much harder, is actually easier. You eat seasonally, only take what you need, simply gather what’s there rather than spending days and weeks tilling up soil with noisy machines that eat up fossil fuel. Pest management is non existent, the symbiosis of natural beings takes care of it. To put it simply, a lot of our problems began when we, man, decided we knew better.
I’m wondering if there’s an in between. I think that’s where we are with what’s going on. Think if we just decided that individually, those who are able, would just raise at least some our own food. And those who aren’t able to do that, get it from the ones living closest to us, who can. There is an argument that it’s not possible, that you just can’t make or grow or cultivate or produce enough to feed everybody.
But, what if you can? What if you eliminate processed food, the stuﬀ that fills up the grocery basket and has, in this country, caused the largest rise in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and a lot of other things putting people at a higher risk for getting sick when an event like this happens. What if we find, planting a garden with the kids, cooking together, heck, just learning to cook, is the way forward! Building a coop, collecting eggs from a few of our own chickens, teaching the kids how to care for the chicks, crying together if a fox finds them because we left the coop door open, could actually be a positive outcome of this pandemic.
Remaining Grounded and Connected to the Past
Through this time, the thing keeping me grounded is keeping to a routine with chores and projects, things like building a new gate for the pen to keep the turkeys in for breeding season. Waiting on the arrival of ducklings, cleaning out stalls in anticipation of goat kids arriving, scrubbing down the creamery to begin a new season of milking. This is what keeps me focused through my days.
As much as I agree with the anthropologists that in a way, we’ve created a nightmare in creating farming, at least on a huge scale, I know for me, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Maybe it’s because it’s in my blood. Both sides of my family were farmers, from Ireland on my Mom’s side, Texas on Daddy’s. As a kid, I watched my Dad plant everything from fruit trees to Kohlrabi. In high school, we moved. Our new home backed up to a dairy farm. Sometimes I’d wake up to the distant sound of a cow mooing, lining up on it’s way to the milking barn. Daddy’s garden got a lot bigger. He planted fruit trees and ever-bearing raspberries and strawberries. He grew in sync with nature. There was always a compost pile. Pest management meant when the Japanese beetles arrived, the raspberries disappeared, but you knew, a second crop would be back in the fall. He was a hunter. He had seen the impact of things like DDT on the bird population. Formally, he didn’t teach me these things, but I’ve noticed it’s how I operate. It just makes sense.
As the rules of the coronavirus are slowly being lifted, as we start to feel as if maybe, the weeks of sacrifice and inconvenience are coming to an end, what then? Will we all just go back to our lives, back to our jobs, back to losing some of the connection we’ve experienced through this time. For me, in a few weeks, I’ll have ducklings hatching, goat kids arriving, bottle babies to feed, does to milk, cheeses to make, caramels to batch, stalls to clean, gardens to tend. My days will happily be filled with the work of a dairy farm. I’m grateful for that and for the connection it provides.
Farming as Sanctuary
I count myself luckier than most. My farm, my home, is my sanctuary, not a place where I feel a prisoner. Because of the past few weeks, not being out and about as much, for the first time, I tapped trees and made Maple syrup. I baked more and taught my new puppy a few tricks. I knitted a lot, I took naps. I sat in the woods. I walked alone, by the sea. I’m grateful I only know one person so far who got sick and thankfully has recovered. Unfortunately, I also know one who died. I have friends living in New York, in Boston, places where they almost can’t keep up with the counting. I also know, this is not over.
As we wend our way through this time, I am looking ahead. The uncertainty of it all is actually a comfort. Living close to the ground takes patience. It means realizing we are not in charge. It takes paying closer attention to the details of everyday life. Do we really have to lose everything we know to learn that? Maybe. Does it take a global pandemic to teach us. Perhaps. Does this Earth know better than us, what we need? Absolutely. Maybe this pandemic will bring out a little bit of farmer in all of us. I see that as a good thing.
Dyan Redick is an artisan cheesemaker, writer, and fiber artist is coastal Maine where she operates Bittersweet Heritage Farm, a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses and caramels made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, and fiber from her Romney flock. Follow Dyan on Instagram, visit her at My Maine Farm Girl and Maine Caramel Company sites and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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