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Waltham Fields Community Farm (incorporated as Community Farms Outreach, Inc.) is a nonprofit farming organization focusing on sustainable food production, fresh food assistance, and on-farm education. For more information about Waltham Fields check out our website!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Notes from the Field: Bringing a Moment of Beauty to the World

I was talking with the radiant Reverend Molly at the end of the CSA pickup on Saturday and she mentioned that the cycle of Biblical texts read at church services repeats itself every three years. favaShe was preparing a sermon on a text that she had preached on three years earlier and was looking back through her notes from that time for reminders, inspiration, or words she could use as seeds for a new relationship with the text and her parishioners.

On the farm, our cycles repeat as well, though in ways that aren't always predictable -- while summer always follows spring, and fall summer, one growing season might carry echoes of another, or things might seem to repeat themselves from week to week or day to day. This week, for example, we had some flat tires, first on our "Mini-K" tractor, then on our big Massey-Ferguson. We had some finger injuries: Dan hurt his moving irrigation pipe, and I seem to have injected mine with a tiny cucumber spine that makes it swell up and difficult to bend. Everyone has Band-Aids on at least one finger at this time of year. And this week we had some potent reminders of 2009: the cool, rainy day on Friday when the weeds seemed to grow six inches between morning and noon, the warnings from UMass about late blight making its way up the coast to Connecticut, a group of amazing weeders who saved our sweet potatoes in memory of our dear work share Cary, who left us two years ago last week.

tomatoesI've been thinking often, too, of longer cycles -- for example, the cycle of rest for the land and farmers that, in the Old Testament, is required every seventh year. Coincidentally, the "sabbaticals" that I have taken from farming because of the birth of my children were seven years apart, in 2003 and 2010. During that 2003 season, one of our most thoughtful and skilled colleagues here in the Boston area wrote an essay called "Why Farm?" I revisit it as a canonical text during the cycles when I am thinking about the big picture instead of the sore finger or the flat tires: why do we do what we do? Why even bother with this seemingly quixotic effort to grow food on land that is so high value that it is nearly impossible to make the enterprise cover its costs? Why continue to do a job that is backbreaking, heartbreaking, infinitely changeable and ultimately leaves us with very little in the way of equity for all the sweat we put in? When something as uncontrollable as late blight can wipe out the entirety of a beautiful, healthy tomato crop in under a week, why not throw in the organic and local towel and go back to eating predictable, processed food from the grocery store?

In his essay, Chris argues that the reasons to farm need to go beyond the personal rewards reaped by the farmer. He suggests that the economic, social and environmental good that is served by local agriculture as part of a larger movement towards justice in our society is what gives farmers their real staying power in the profession -- and is also what moves consumers to support them, even when the bok choy is full of holes or the tomatoes don't come in at all. It is, he says, "an understanding of the role this work plays in the great issues of our time that sustains us in the long run."

raspberriesDepending on my place in the cycle of the growing season or my approach to farming, I have remarkably different responses to Chris's essay. This week, in the heart of this growing season, with all its echoes of seasons before and foreshadowing of seasons to come, I think he's got it backwards. Don't get me wrong -- I firmly believe in the connection of local organic farming, with all its contradictions and complexities, to the great issues of our time. This is what got me into the work in the first place, and what brought me to a farm that addresses many of those issues, both directly and indirectly, every day. But what sustains me, as privileged and personal as it might seem, is the fact that when I let go of the intellectual and physical challenges that we wrestle with both on a daily basis and in the big picture, farming is something that I can help do to bring a moment of beauty to the world. It is clear in a moment like Saturday morning, when the farm, full of healthy food and happy people and flowers and memories, was something a little greater than the sum of its social, economic and environmental parts.

There is nothing about a farm that will stand the test of time --the beauty of a farm in July is fleeting, giving way to the senescence of the fall and the beauty of those other cycles we were talking about earlier -- winter into spring, spring into summer, rest and renewal into mud and hard work again. Anything built of soil and water and light is both eternal and gone in the blink of an eye. And I'm no artist -- I can't capture this beauty in a painting or a song or a sculpture that both represents it and connects it to the great issues. All I can do is honor the cycles of plant, cultivate, harvest, sore finger, flat tire, late blight, and try to stay awake enough to hear the echoes of the larger cycles when they come around again.

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for Andy, Erinn, Dan, Larisa and Lauren

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