ContentsPutah and Cache: Capay Valley

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Lost Soul on a Cyberspace Bulletin Board

Annie Main

The mechanical aspects of our farm fall apart yet again. Lawn mower breaks in half, washing machine quits working mid-peach-harvest and is still not fixed by the next peach bloom, van, trucks, cars ache to be placed in the Good Humus graveyard along with their predecessors, and wheel barrows lie upside down, legs kicking, waiting for their replacement. We look at each other and wonder, what are we doing here, what kind of life is this? Do other farmers wash their produce outside in the icy early hours of a wintry morning? NO, I'm sure they know how to manage their time to avoid such tasks! Why is our farm life such a struggle, not to mention the motherly and fatherly duties, and fragile relationships with husband and wife, and with ourselves. How do I, as wife, mother, partner, and human being continue?

I look at my best friends, who are also farming, working on the land, and our struggles may not be exactly the same, but oh, they are there. We talk on the phone and boost each other out of yet another farm or family crisis. In the anguish of others I hear that I am not alone. Can that thought keep me going? If I let my analytical mind work too long on the business and economic side of the occupation I think I would be packed and driving with tomorrow's sunrise.

Jeff and I started our marriage and our farming endeavors twenty-four years ago when marriage was not a common event, and "organic" meant unaesthetic, holy, wilted produce. Veritable Vegetable, the only organic wholesaler around, was as young as we were, women finding a place in a man's world at the wholesale market, and there were only a few Farmers' Markets in all of California. What motivated us to farm? College degrees in Civil Engineering and Renewable Natural Resources did not give us the educational background. But living in a cooperative agrarian household during college did provide some. True to the times, we left school with thoughts of a cooperative, self-sufficient community living and working on the land. Cooperation and community was perhaps in the future, but there was no question in our minds; we were going to live with the land.

One of the strongest impressions during my childhood that turned me to farm life was spending summers with my grandmother in Santa Rosa, California. On her small family farm I picked prunes, trod on sweet pennyroyal while picking wild blackberries, ran through freshly cut hay fields jumping over the bales with my cousins, and watched and helped my mother and grandmother preserve the fruit of the season. That history, that connection, living with the earth, ran deeper than I knew.

Idealizing or romanticizing the farm and married life, we worked, we lived for the farm and farmed to live, and we survived from one year to the next. And every year I would say, "I will never go through another year like that one, we can't keep going like this." As the years passed, I stopped saying that. It became a challenge to see how we could survive from the lean times to the fat times, year after year. We knew nothing else. Our family and friends watched us struggle to farm for a living; some advised us we couldn't make it, others shared with us their wisdom of farming. Others just did not understand our choice of occupation and "trying to live in the 18th century." We kept going with our own stubbornness.

In the mid 1970's we helped create the Davis Farmers' Market to sell our produce. This market began as a place where small or beginning farmers could deal directly with the customer and not be forced to compete on the wholesale market. Over the years our farmers' market has become such an ideal outlet for many farmers that the market is more and more competitive and no longer completely fills our needs. As is the case with most small family farms, we found there is a constant need to be flexible and on the lookout for new niches. Then came the idea from Japan of community-supported farms and farms supporting communities. What a great concept! Members prepay for their food, and the farmer knows exactly how much to pick and deliver to a local home or business where members then come together and pick up their produce. Consistency and variety to keep the members happy can be a challenge, but the concept of a community supporting our farm has been most exciting, and has rekindled the old ideas about cooperation and community in our lives.

Then came mid-life reevaluation and a need for rekindling of breath. I started comparing my lifestyle with mainstream America and struggled with these comparisons. Living a rural life, I many times have felt very "Third World." I had a hard time being proud of our farm and our occupation. With the realization that no matter how hard we worked we wouldn't achieve the wealth and sparkle we saw all around us, I wondered if we had chosen the wrong ideals to live by. I could see that the stubbornness wasn't going to keep me going for another 25 years. I needed to look for sustainability in my work, and for myself.

As closely as I have worked with the land I came to the realization that production farming was not satisfying my spiritual needs. I felt that I was starving for a reconnection to my soul, that giving my life to farming had sucked me dry. As Wendell Berry wrote, "In light of the necessity that the farmland and the farm people should thrive while producing, we can see that the single standard of productivity has failed." From the community of people who purchase our produce and receive our weekly Community Supported Agricultural newsletter, we often receive comments saying "I enjoy your produce, but more than anything I enjoy your newsletters, it's like a letter from home." I feel that not only am I starving for a reconnection, but many people are being starved from the land, their food, and don't even know why they are hungry. This has helped me realize there is a need to rekindle not only the community of people who eat our food but also the community of farmers who are set in desperate competition against each other. Strengthening the connections between people, the land and their food will strengthen and honor our place in life. I search for guiltless ways to rekindle myself as I steal time away from the farm to care for my body, mind, and spirit.

Marty Strange, a past director for the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska, sums it up well. "Human community . . . is as other parts of the biological ecology, a delicate cycle and balances, involving competition and cooperation, continuity and change, give and take between people who share a place and can't conveniently turn each other off like a cyberspace bulletin board. Community is not all sweetness and joy. It is sometimes a pain in the ass. It is making your peace with each other. It can only happen in a place."

What keeps me going is not clarity of mind, but the burning flame in my heart. To care and listen to my friends as they go through their struggles, to share my own struggles, to share with friends the gifts we bring, to learn from each other's wisdom, to learn from the land's wisdom, to believe that what we are doing on our farm is on our right path, this is the essence of my life. I devote my path to the healing of the earth, to the healing of its people, and to learning to live within the earth's bounties and boundaries. In my heat there is a true knowing that this is necessary, that to feel the heartbeat of the land is to feel the heartbeat that keeps us all alive.

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