Spirit of the Farm
As spring begins to slowly awaken the land here in New Hampshire, I'm pulled once again by some unseen force to begin sowing, planning, preparing for the seasons ahead. I've always been this way, perhaps a nod to my family's agricultural roots, but now I feel it more intensely as I look out over the land we own. Almost four years into this farming adventure, I've struggled with doubt, both physical and mental exhaustion, and frustration. At the end of each growing season, I entertain thoughts of packing it in, giving up on the farming dream. Somehow, when the sun shifts and daylight begins to lengthen, my heart and mind are inexplicably pulled toward the need to continue the cultivation of this land. Is it the months of rest and recovery by the warm woodstove? Or is it something deeper that keeps me coming back for more?
I spent several months looking at farm properties when we first moved to New Hampshire. My job was to visit farm listings and curate a select few to revisit with my husband. Most were eliminated by the time I exited my vehicle because they just didn't feel right. Our realtor tipped us off to this farm and pushed us to see it right away that weekend since it was to be listed the following Monday. When Scott and I first pulled up and got out of the car, I remember looking at him and nodding my head. Despite the overgrown...everything...and the decaying house, something about this place felt right. Not knowing anything about the history of the property didn't deter us from making an offer right away. In the first few months of ownership, while still living in an apartment as much needed interior renovations were underway, I would drive out to the farm each morning to tackle a long list of tasks. I usually began my mornings by sitting in the shade of an old maple and soaking in the feeling of the place. The renovation list grew longer and much, much more expensive than anticipated but through it all, we kept up what would become our coping mantra, "But the land is beautiful!"
This mantra started out as a joke, a way to get past the financial reality of owning a 200+ year old house, but four years in, it has evolved into the very reason I want to stay. Having spent almost every day working somewhere on this property, I have come to know it well. I take daily walks, now with my dog Suzie, around the perimeter to see, listen, and observe. I like to say we're going for a "peramble", a play on the word perambulate which means "to walk or travel through or around a place or area, especially for pleasure and in a leisurely way." Through these walks, I've found the spring that feeds the vernal pond on the edge of the woods, the almost chapel-like shade of the old sugar bush on the hill, the low bush blueberries growing in acidic poor soil in the eastern edge of the pasture. I've observed hawks hunting, owls silently moving through the tree canopy, bluebirds and barn swallows patrolling for insects. I've seen the change of the seasons, monitored the death of an old ash tree, watched a monarch caterpillar munch on milkweed. I stood at the top of our property just after loggers had cut down 3 acres of woods to open up old pastures, choking back tears and feeling the loss of the trees and the wounds to the land, knowing that this step was needed to breathe back the agricultural life into this farm. Now I walk to the top of the hill and see the view of the surrounding mountains and the future green pastures to be, the wounds healed. But the land is beautiful. It is through these walks and the sitting sessions under the maple tree that I grew to know, and love, the spirit of this farm.
This spirit keeps me going each year as I am now driven to take care of this place. I feel keenly that this property is to be cultivated, cared for, kept alive in order to preserve its spirit. All of the projects undertaken to improve the soil, grow vegetables, keep livestock in the pastures, increase wildlife habitat are done with the goal of tending to the spirit of the farm. Yes, I want to have a viable farm business that will provide us with an income. But the incessant pressure on farms to become bigger just won't fit here. A farm doesn't have to get bigger to be better. It can just become better as an end goal. Perhaps tending to the spirit of the farm and sharing that with others can be enough. When was it that farming became removed from the idea of tending to the land? Perhaps a shift to farming as a way to tend to the spirit of the land we love can shift something deeper in us. A tending of our own spirit.
In the thick of my "recovery" period last fall, I came upon this article by Jonathan McRay in Eco-Farming Daily that struck a chord. Still reeling from the craziness of the growing season and wanting to not think about farming for a while, I tucked the link away where I could find it when I was ready.
And Happy Spring!