When school groups come to the farm for field trips, I’ve noticed that, among the parents and teachers, there exists one of two ideologies about the kids’ farm education. When we take the youngsters up to see the baby chicks or the calves and piglets, the question of longevity inevitably comes up. “What happens to them when they grow up?”, “Where are all the mommy pigs?”, “Why do you keep them inside pens?”… When these sorts of investigations arise, I always take a glance at the parents to see how graphic I need to be. Can I use the word slaughter? That is only for the most extreme (often those alternative outdoor experimental schools). Can I talk about hamburgers and bacon? Sometimes the parents react more strongly to this than the kids.

On other occasions, the teachers are gung-ho about delving into the steak-ness of a cow. The other day I was leading a group of third graders through the farm tour and their teacher wouldn’t let up. During our visit to each of the animal pens he pressed the kids about what meat that creature was good for. By the end of the field trip I was surprised that the kids weren’t looking at each other and trying to figure out what the most tender cut of human would be.

Truth is, I don’t really appreciate either of these mentalities in the chaperones. I think that an over exuberance about the end product misses the point just as completely as an inability to talk about the difference between a beef cow and a dairy cow. I think the parents can learn just as much as their kids from a trip to the farm. What I know about small scale farming is that all the details have to be intimately connected in order to sustain a healthy system. Whenever Jamie leads a farm tour, he talks a lot about biodiversity. We are trying to mimic a kind of natural biodiversity in which plants, animals, fungi, lichen, bacteria… all work together. If we focus too much on one part of the system then we blind ourselves to the beauty and intricacy of the whole.

We don’t raise animals just for meat. That is a part of what we do. But we also manage our cows on pasture in such a way as to increase the nutrient density in the soils, prevent erosion, protect from drought, and encourage other pasture critters to thrive. We put our hogs on land overgrown with multiflora rose and scrubby trees that we hope to turn into pasture after a time. We keep our goats out on poison ivy and privet control. A local bee-keeper has several hives around the farm to help pollinate our fruit trees and pasture flowers. While it’s important to acknowledge that the animals do die and that they provide us with delicious, fresh meat, it’s equally important to understand that the animals are an imperative part of the farm ecosystem. Not just in their death, but in the way that they live and interact with all the other forces that are in the constant flux of birth, growth, and death.

I know that’s a lot to take in for a third grader. It’s a lot to take in for an adult! That is what agri-tourism is all about, though. I hope that at least some of that will make it through to the folks who come visit this place, or any farm for that matter.

Sweetbread

I recently finished reading Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, a new book written by my cousin-in-law, Fred Bahnson. Fred is director of the Food, Faith, & Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He and his wife Elizabeth, live on a small homestead in Transylvania County, NC with their three sons.

Soil and Sacrament is a deeply personal account of Fred’s search for a life of faith, community, and work. It is also a beautiful study of the way in which food and spirituality are profoundly and inextricably connected. Fred visits several food-and-faith communities throughout the book and finds that “soil work reveals the joyful messiness of human life…”

I like thinking of farming as a representation of a spiritual truth as well as a reality in its own right. Everything on a farm or in a garden is so profoundly interconnected that the work does force us to pay close attention to each component in order to sustain the health of the whole system. I know that the only way for me to maintain a healthy outlook regarding work, and to maintain a healthy ecosystem within the farm, is to meditate on the relationships that exist there without assuming certain truths that may, at first seem self-evident. Fred’s book made me realize that the communities of grasses, fungi, animals, and trees on the farm are, in many ways, similar to the communities of people that live here. There are interactions in the natural spaces that mirror those in the human ones and are mirrored again on a spiritual level.

I found great pleasure in reading Fred’s book, not only because of the interesting stories he tells, but because his writing is beautifully crafted. The depth of thought and intentionality that drives the book is so apparent in every page. I also know firsthand that Fred is a masterful gardener and his knowledge of the actual work about which he writes gives that much more credibility to his prose.

You can pick up a copy of Soil and Sacrament, as well as Fred’s other book, Making Peace with the Land, at the farmstore. I definitely recommend that you do! (wow, this feels just like a grade school book report only, I enjoyed doing this one. Funny how you can’t stand something until you age out, then you wish you could go back and do it again!)

Sweetbread.

So, I’m thinking of buying a car. This will be the first vehicle I’ve ever owned and part of me is sad that I won’t be forced to walk everywhere anymore. It may have made my life a little more difficult at times, but there was something grounding (literally and figuratively) about not being able to just jump in the car whenever I felt like it. The pace of my day moved a little slower. I had to think ahead and build in 15 or 20 minute to everything I did to account for time spent walking to and from each event. Most of all, I love walking to work. The house that I rent now is only ten minutes from the farm on foot. I like the walk to work in morning when I can think about the day ahead and enjoy the beauty of the waking world around me. I like the walk home in the evening, too, when I can let my body stretch after a long day and maybe dunk in the stream by my house to cool off from a hot afternoon.

I saw a statistic the other day that only two percent of Americans walk to work. Two percent! I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’m proud to have been a part of that small number, even if I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

I still probably walk several miles at work every day. I guess I just like how connected my day feels when it isn’t broken into separate categories by a commute or a significant distance. I’m moving to a new house in November. My roommate is getting married and I won’t be able to afford the rent by myself. I’ll no longer be able to walk everywhere I need to go. That prospect has made me realize that I’m so blessed to live in a place where my community, my work, and my family are so closely intertwined. I can just as easily walk to my parent’s house as I can to my best friend’s, or my job. Walking allows me to know very intimately what those distances are and what lies in between. It makes me pay attention to things that I normally wouldn’t; the ripening of berries in the summer, the daily change of color in the leaves of an old sycamore, the way the clouds move across the sky at night. It makes me aware of my own limitations and also of my own capabilities. I can make it to certain places but only within a relatively small radius of home. I can get rides of course, but that only makes me more aware of my dependence on my friends and community.

I hope that this new drive (only about 8 minutes by car) doesn’t make me less attuned to my sense of place or community. I know it may sound silly, but I think a thing as simple as that will have an effect on the way I perceive my home and my place on the farm. I guess it is a step away from the farm. I’m still not sure what it is toward, but I hope that whatever it is, I will be able to hold on to the lessons I have learned here from a life that moves at the speed of my own two feet.

best,

Sweetbread

My little house. I’m moving out at the end of October and I’m sad to say goodbye.