Ask any farmer or avid gardener and they will likely tell you that farming is not so much a choice as it is a deep inner calling, something they have to do. Those folks find satisfaction so deep and fulfilling in the work itself that the backbreaking labor is somewhat insignificant – often enjoyable. For me personally it started as a very young girl. I think back to summers spend with my Grandpa George tending to flower gardens, planting vegetables and playing with the hose. Hours and hours of playing in the dirt and eating warm fruits and vegetables. I didn’t know I was farming. I thought we were just having fun passing the long summer days together. We would talk and laugh. I remember asking my Grandpa where he learned to grow all of these things. He replied simply, ” My Dad taught me”. I spent summers this way until I was twelve and my Grandpa passed away.
Fast forward about ten years – I find myself working in a garden center growing and selling flowers and vegetable starts. Until then work was a bother. Something I had to do in order to pay for my car and apartment. I was living for days off, time that was an annoying job didn’t interfere with my priorities. I thought that was what a job was, a means to an end. Little did I know working in that greenhouse was about to change everything for me. I realized almost immediately how at home I felt. I liked the way the greenhouse smelled, how warm it was in there even when it’s cold outside, just as long as there is a little sun.
I started to pay close attention to the weather. I could not make good decisions without knowing what mother nature’s part would be. I still loved spraying the hose and watching all the plants grow. I couldn’t help but think back to those long summer days with Grandpa George and I realize just how much I learned from our time together. I also noticed that all of the customers were happy. They didn’t have to come to the greenhouse, they came because they wanted to, because is filled them with inspiration and joy. They came to learn and were really excited about all of it. These were my people! We fed off each other. The more information I shared with them the more questions they had. The more questions they asked the more I researched and learned to share. I realized that although we were all finding great satisfaction in gardening, it was meeting different needs for each of us. For some, it was a reason to spend time in nature, the more in tune you are with nature the better you garden.
For others, it was a pleasant physical activity and healthy food, some took pride in perfecting skills and working through new challenges, always looking for a new technique or a plant they had never grown. Others had a desire to share their abundance. Growing way more than needed to freed friends and neighbors and enjoyed the opportunity to be generous beyond belief. Many were on a mission to be more self-reliant. I felt a bit of all of these but my favorite were the old-timers. They grew because they always grew because there were those years when they would have starved if they didn’t and because they had also received the endless gifts of agriculture, year after year, and to choose a life without those small miracles just didn’t make any sense. I loved them. They were the most skilled growers, practicing year after year, learning lessons that can only come with enough seasons under their belt. I learned things from conversations with them that couldn’t have read in a hundred books. Every time they taught me something new, I tried it. I would report back to them and they would share more. Only divvying out the knowledge as I was ready, knowing that these things can’t be rushed. I saw that their bodies couldn’t do the hard physical labor that mine could yet their results were usually better and I understood that I would have to put the time in. No class or piece of equipment was going to give me the magic they had. And I have been putting the time in. Year after year the satisfaction only grows deeper, the meaning of it touching parts of my heart that I never could have imagined.
My connection with nature has become very special to me, like an old friend. The seasons really mean something. They dictate what I grow, how it tastes, the techniques I use, the tasks I perform. It is a collaboration with nature and if I forget that my failures quickly remind me that this is not my show. My work stopped being a job a long time ago. It is threaded into my life in a way that no longer has boundaries and it could not be removed without a great deal of pain. I think sometimes when I am out in the field about people 500 years ago farming. About how much of their time was spent just like me and I have to believe that they were getting much more from their days farming than food. I get excited eating a squash that is so perfect that it hasn’t been tampered with for hundreds of years and my modern body still needs it and enjoys it just like theirs did. I feel the pull of that need to farm and it’s deeper and stronger than my personality or my preferences. It is the pull of a thousand ancestors calling me to the secret. Imagine my delight when I discovered through a census record from 1900 that Grandpa George’s father had listed his occupation as farmer. When people ask me how I learned to grow all this stuff, I am proud to say, “my Grandpa taught me”. Believe me when I tell you that my kids will say “my Mom taught me”. It is the most precious gift I have to give.