Reflecting on Summer”¦

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By Jeff Main of Good Humus Produce, courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop

It seems like a long time since I’ve had a chance to touch bases with all of you, as a matter of fact, it has been a long time.

Jeff and Annie Main of Good Humus Produce

So much has changed on the farm and so much has stayed the same. Like all summers, we feel like we barely made it through by the skin of our teeth. At the end of each summer Annie remembers when she used to say “I will never do THAT again”, meaning work as hard as that particular summer demanded. And each spring like the rest of us, she started the year over, hoping that this summer we would be a little better organized, a little more experienced, a little more durable. Those summers, a long time ago now, passed and she quickly stopped saying, “I will never”¦” because each year, she went out and did it again. And I went out and did it again. And all the people in our farming community went out and did it again, until 35 years after that first summer, we look around us and realize that the summers have stayed the same, but we and our community have changed.

The community around us has changed, but the summer impulse stays the same for all of us, young and old. Summer is another chance to put all of our powers of endurance, and understanding, and creativity, and actually every possible talent that we can bring to the table, to get through the summer. It is a pretty good challenge, and for those of us that love a good challenge, it makes us feel alive.

Of course, the aging process like all of nature is inexorable. Delaying it, hiding from it, skirting it are all possible, but the end result is the same. We are older. There are challenges now that seem OK to let go. As the world of the young farmer, and now even the middle-aged farmer, begins to fade a little, the thought of continuing to rely on the same physical, mental, and emotional powers that have always carried us, carries less assurance. At a certain point, the future involves consolidation of past accomplishments, and building slowly and carefully on those rather than seeking out new accomplishments. We are looking at what has happened on our farm and to a future built on that, and know that if the foundational experiences of the last 35 years are good and if we proceed with grace and trust, then the future holds promise. That feels like a real change in attitude to me, because building on the past has never seemed as important as grabbing and enjoying everything the future could possibly bring.

Our farming community has changed around us, too. Our sons and daughters are now about the age we were when we started our lives. A full generation has passed while we were busy building our farms. Instead of being the few young farmers that are not nearly enough to replace all the farmers over 60, we are now the farmers over 60 that there aren’t enough farmers to replace. Strangely, through all the passing years, that fact has remained unchanged. It is strange to hear the same claim that I heard when I was starting farming.

In the intervening years, the support for the farmers that produce the food we eat has been one of the biggest changes in the community. First “organic”, then “sustainable”, and now “local” each describe a step in the past 35 years in the belief of more and more people that what we eat is important to our health, how it is produced is important to the world, and that knowing our choices of food sources is an empowerment of the individual. I love my solitude, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without the relationship with those who eat the food we harvest. The inclusion of the caretaker of a piece of the earth as a respected member of, and provider for, the welfare of the community, is a sea change in my lifetime.

I’ve gotta tell you a little story. I’ve been watching this ongoing documentary about the life of our farm, and one thing that has rankled me is watching myself run around the farm with a notepad in my hand, talking about being “so behind”. My first thought was, “Well of course you are. You’re running around talking instead of getting on your tractor!” But then I realized I was probably late because I was trying to do too much and got caught, as usual halfway through critical projects. Then, I got to thinking that being behind is a perennial part of my life, and it is often a perception, rather than a reality, because, yes I’m really behind, but guess what? Everything turns out OK. After thinking about that for awhile, I remembered that the perception of a farmer is working dawn to dusk plus, never slowing down and addicted to work. Which is true, as far as it goes. But then the final piece fell into place. Earlier in this newsletter, I described nature as “inexorable”, and it is true. We are living on top of Earth processes that proceed irrespective of our needs, wishes and desires. So when a farmer agrees to interact with those processes, that farmer locks into a life without negotiation. Human relations and society are based on compromise and negotiation. But I am driven today, and petrified of being late or behind, because tomorrow will come and there is no negotiation with the cycles of nature.


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