by Jeff Main of Good Humus Produce, Courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop
Ryan Dolan stopped by last week just before picking up his son Milo returning from a trip to Hawaii with his Grandparents. Milo was born while Ryan and Liz were working here, and now he’s off to see the world. While Ryan was wandering around the farm, the words that came to him were “farm in transition”. Now Ryan is a pretty awake guy, and so when he told me about that thought, I figured it was a good thing to take in and spend some time with. Unfortunately, he didn’t say much more about it, and so I have been left to my own resources what to make of it. Fortunately, there are a lot of thoughts that have come up, and so it was a very timely comment, making me aware that it is really good to have friends who will tell you what is on their mind. Most of the time”¦..
His comment was given freely and so gave me free rein in my thinking and so, naturally, my first thought was a negative thought about myself, aging and unable to maintain the farm the way it has always been and hence, Ryan notices a “transition” in the look of the farm. This speaks to one of my deepest fears as I grow older: To a creeping inability to do what I have always done, unable to keep up, unable to maintain the forward momentum of life, unable to hold the enthusiasm and mind open to new opportunities that is so essential to living and small farming.
Then, as I defend myself against myself, I remind myself of a great lesson that myself remembers in cases like this. If the farm and I are not in transition, then we are probably not alive and certainly not learning much. I remind myself, again, that life is a transition from one moment to another, that a farm that is alive is in transition from one moment to another, and this is not positive or negative, waiting for me to judge, but is available to experience.
Luckily, at some point in the week, I leave this line of thought and feeling and take a walk around the farm myself, some physically, and some in my mind’s eye, as a retrace of Ryan’s walk. And as I see my own visions of transition, I begin to get a sense of reflections of my transitions that are physically embodied in the life of the farm, and I wonder about the impact that transitions in the life of the farm have on me, who is, naturally and inevitably, an intimate part of that life. I recognize a thought that has come to me recently, a thought that I see reflected all around me at this moment, and I wonder to myself how this thought may have come to me. It is not a far stretch to imagine that my recent awakening to a new part of my work on the farm is a product of that life. I am working to understand that my work on the farm includes the production and maintenance of habitat and food for all species that rely on the farm for life. All of these, none in permanent domination of others, deserve the right to fully participate as individuals and as communities in the cycles of life and time. As I watch the world around me, I have come to believe that the richest, most stable and most giving food systems are those that create the greatest number of niches for life. Diversity, diversity. We’ve felt its power and here’s another way to say it.
That transition, to a celebration of the interaction of all species, is difficult for a farmer. Letting go a little bit of the tiger, risking and seeing crop losses in new ways, risks total loss of control of outcome. As if I ever had that control! But the transition in attitude allows me to see a field of a diversity of plant species (“weeds”) going to seed in a different light. Check for diversity, check for hosting issues, check for insect life in balance, check for soil effects, check for impact on crops to come, check for the will of the farm. Give thanks for the chance to continue to transition and to learn.
In thinking of Ryan, and his astute observation which has more layers that I will need to continue to explore, I have been reminded of past visits by friends that have resulted in memorable moments. A fellow farmer, years ago, came to the farm as a new farmer. He came to the farm in which I had struggled mightily to get to where we were, and significantly, at a time when it appeared that there was never to be financial reward. I remember so well him saying, “I don’t see why you can’t make a lot of money in organic farming.” I couldn’t see how you could, and laughed to myself, figuring to let him learn. He grew incredibly rich growing organic salad mix, and we are still here. Another farmer, a close friend, strolled the farm one day in late spring of a particularly difficult time in our farm life, looked and looked, and said “I don’t see anything happening here.” He was right, I couldn’t either. He is one of the most energetic and capable farmers that I know, has built a large farm enterprise from scratch, and I rely on him often, because he always has something going on. I try to do the same, and we both are still here.
Finally, one of my best friends, several years ago, one spring when life was overwhelming, said “I’m worried about you. If a farmer can’t be excited about spring, then maybe he should quit.” I thought about that and although there have been days in the spring, summer, fall and winter that I would rather forget, I try to remember to stop and participate in the excitement of spring. He is, naturally one of those people who is capable of great excitement, has a family and farm full of exciting people in their own right, and to this day anchors the community that keeps us excited about being here.
So much transition, Ryan. Great thanks to you for the food for thought, and I will continue to search for what you really meant.
by Jeff Main of Good Humus Produce