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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!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Notes from the Field: Resilience

Mid-June is a transitional time on the farm.  The big planting pushes of the spring are over.  While we'll keep putting in successions of carrots, lettuce, beets and greens until September, only one more big block of planting -- our fall broccoli and cauliflower -- stands between us and autumn.  The major tasks of the next few weeks are getting those plants in the ground, keeping everything as weed-free as we can, staking and tying our acre of tomatoes, and feeding the crops as they need it.  The harvests are manageable up until the first big pick of the season -- the garlic -- in early July.  At some point later this week, nighttime temperatures will climb out of the fifties and we will start picking squash and cucumbers three times a week.  The plan is in place, the die is cast, and a big part of what we have to do now is pay attention so that we know what to do when the time comes.

There is a lot of talk about resilience, in farming and out of it, these days.  A resilient small farm, in a somewhat dry dictionary sense of the word, is one that is able to respond to unexpected adversity with strength and flexibility.  This week, as I've been thinking hard about the ability to bounce back, to grow stronger through challenges, I realized that I have spent the better part of a decade trying to create a plan for a farm where nothing can go wrong.  This, of course, is nonsense.  Unexpected adversity is as much a part of farming as it is the rest of life.  Adversity, absurd or appalling, makes an appearance in every farm season whether we look for it or not.  It might be a pest that devours eighty percent of our spring peas.  It might be a tractor that stubbornly refuses to start no matter what we do on a day when the sun is shining and we need to cultivate, or a flood that washes away a crop and a field with it.  The challenges we take on ourselves -- the everyday hard work that is just part of farming, like training for an athletic endeavor -- are a very different thing from the sudden hailstorm, the unforeseen blight, the dry spell that becomes a drought before your eyes.  The real strength of the farm lies not in somehow, through superhuman effort, barring the door to these troubles; it is in realizing that there is no door.  All that we have is our ability to adapt, survive, and, if we are very lucky and very wise, build something new and beautiful from the aftermath.

We build a resilient small farm with three kinds of strength, woven together like warp and weft through the work of everyday.  One is an internal strength, the work that we do that's almost invisible.  It is soil building, team building, creating systems and practices that are both extremely effective and totally dispensable if need be. It is incorporating farming methods that we believe are good for the environment and adaptable to the vagaries of the new normal weather patterns -- cover crops, beneficial organisms, and all the old artistry of organic agriculture that it takes a lifetime to learn.  It is the constant work of maintaining a mental state that can create and believe in a complex plan -- for the day, the week, the season -- and let it go at a moment's notice.  This kind of strength has as its basis  the courage to be awake enough to see the thing you least want to see, whether it is trivial or tragic, and to let go of your former plans to begin your preparations for a new reality.  It is the strength to give up on a practice that you have come to rely on, that feels familiar and easy, because it is no longer serving the larger purpose of building a healthy farm. It is the fortitude to cut your losses, to turn in the crop that won't make it despite the work you have invested in it.

The second kind of strength is the strength of patience and healing, the adaptability to move beyond the rift in the pattern we had planned and begin to weave a new one.  It is the ability to dig deep, to recognize that scar tissue can be strong.  It is the backbone both to grieve and to not take it personally.  This is the strength that turns the loss, after the initial shock is past, into an opportunity -- it is the ability to re-plant the empty bed, to know that if the soil is good, some other mystery will take root there to be harvested.

The third strength is the strength of community.   In all the work that we do on the farm, we are dependent upon the understanding and responsiveness of our community (you) to support us through the hard times, and we owe you a constant stream of explanation and education; in crisis, however, community support means freedom, the chance to take the time to reflect and make good decisions instead of responding based on debt and fear of loss.  The resilience that comes from community also means all of the other things that community brings with it -- conversation, connection, mutual learning and respect, shared meals, generations, friends of friends, mistakes and missteps, and, if we are very lucky and very wise, deepening knowledge and increasing flexibility.

As we move into this mid-season pattern of tending to the plants, watching the skies, and interacting with each other through our various programs, I am hopeful that our farm's strength is this kind -- not the strength of that barred imaginary door, but the strength of the open window that can't shatter, of those "prayers that are made out of grass."

Enjoy the harvest.

Amanda (for the farm crew)

1 comment:

Anna Linck said...

Amanda this is a wonderful piece of resiliency, you have really got me thinking :)

-Anna (field crew)