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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!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Notes from the Field: the Zen Thread

There's a lot of mention of the weather in these Notes from the Field, most of it uncomplimentary. As many people have mentioned, farmers are never happy with the weather. Maybe it's because it affects us so powerfully, physically and mentally, both in our daily work conditions and also in the outcome of the work that we do. It is the most obvious manifestation of nature, the impersonal force with which we struggle to work in concert as organic farmers and by which we occasionally find ourselves blindsided and outwitted. Last week's forecast, beginning with the mini heat wave and ending with the ominous threat of rain, high humidity and cool temperatures (perfect for plant diseases like late blight) was a head-scratcher. Despite the warm weather and the rain, crops didn't jump the way we had expected them to. Scallions, onions, carrots and squash all stayed pretty small, victims of the drenching rains that washed all the fertility out of the soil two weeks ago. Each morning's harvest was an exercise in trying to make more from less.

While the rain held off in the afternoons, we transplanted successions of cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, lettuce, and beets, staked and started to tie tomatoes, spread compost to prepare the fields for our fall broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collard greens, and cultivated, cultivated, cultivated. Our wonderful field crew, only in their second week, held on through days of intense heat, sudden downpours, and tricky harvests.

Sutton told someone this spring that the only way to drive a tractor straight is to imagine a "zen thread" from your heart to a distant point on the horizon. You let go of all your attempts to micromanage the tractor's direction and simply sit, hold the wheel, and let the thread pull you forward. As may be painfully obvious from my fretting and storytelling in these field notes, I am the opposite of zen in most things, Irish by heritage and temperament. In farming, as in the rest of my life, I lean towards the messy attachments that lead to suffering and sometimes, to joy. Letting go of those attachments feels scary, like admitting helplessness or apathy. But the wisdom of the zen thread has surprised me this season. When you drive a tractor with the thread, it is not like closing your eyes and throwing up your hands; when you get it right, it is a moment of calm awareness that allows for a nearly effortless straight bed while at the same time allowing you to see the rest of what is happening around you on the farm with a remarkable clarity.

When weather conditions are so messy and confusing, it can feel difficult to move forward, to make good decisions on the farm. So often strategies and systems that worked last year seem to be failing us in this season's funny weather. That makes all my attachments appear in high relief and a deeply unflattering light. As I told Dan last week, "I'm trying to be smart, but I just don't have it in me." That's where the zen thread comes in. We can't control the weather. We have to have enough faith in the almost unconscious wisdom of our own experience and our own hearts to attach our vision to a point on the horizon and let it pull us forward, to the blue days of October. Then we can really be in the moment, responding to what the season asks of us, instead of scrambling around for logical answers in our tired brains. The season is underway. Its momentum will pull us forward, and we will do what we can. Wish us moments of clarity and beauty and calm in the midst of the storms.

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for the farm crew

Photography courtesy of Saul Blumenthal.

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