This year we celebrate ten years in business as Big Train Farm. I have to admit that at this juncture it’s difficult to know what to address. So much time, money, people, fun, heartache, and work has passed into history. Physically the farm has changed almost completely, relocating from one location to another over the past three years. Mindy’s graduating class address was given by a woman who referred to the Argo, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts, being completely destroyed and then rebuilt again, nothing original remaining. I find that to be mostly accurate in our case as well. Nearly everything I’ve believed about work and farming has changed over the past ten years, from method to intent. I’ve had the opportunity to reexamine my past in all my roles: a student, a teacher, a boss, a boyfriend, a husband, a writer, a musician, a farmer. Now, looking back at the past ten years I’m struck by how much I still recognize myself even though my ship is nearly fully renovated.
I realize now that, even as an employee working for other farmers, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to comprehend the intimacy of farming for a living when you are solely responsible for your land, your employees, and your customers. When farmers say that what they do is a lifestyle, they mean it. The farm holds you in a way that is difficult to explain. Yes, farming is hard work, but when words like menial or drudgery start floating around your daily vocabulary it’s time to re-assess your practices. Farming is a joy. Nature is a joy because it offers an example everyday of reality in all it’s beauty, power, love, cruelty, and inexplicably. When you revel in a rainstorm, a blizzard, a hundred degree afternoon, or a cold spring morning you experience a sublime joy. A sensibility like this is something I liken to grief or love: It has the power to destroy you or make you a better, deeper person. So perhaps you have to be tough, but you also have to be receptive. Work on the farm offers this to a high degree. Farming has offered this to me and I’ve tried my best to appreciate it, deserve it, and share it with others.
A farmer I respect spoke about the state of the nation. He said that only two percent of Americans are farming these days. He then said “I’m not sure what the other 98% are doing , but they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much.” This is a bit hyperbolic of course, but it resonated with everyone in the room in kind of a tribal way. Those of us lucky enough, privileged enough, to do what we do revel in it. Yes, we are not motivated by simple pleasures. We are motivated by deep commitments to things and we try to actualized them for ourselves and for our customers, friends, and neighbors. I don’t believe that the rest of the country is not enjoying their lives and ought to be farming in order to do so. I also don’t believe that the sublime connection to nature I refer to is only enjoyed by people standing out in their fields in a hail storm. However it is clear to see that we have a problem in this country in regards to how we treat ourselves and our landscapes. Agriculture needs a place in our communities because farms foster purpose in our landscapes that transcend simple needs like gasoline, burgers, cheap mattresses, or hiking boots. Green places offer solace, calmness, confidence in our lives simply by being there. The term chlorophila is one that people need to think about more. It means love of green (or literally : love of chlorophyll). We all have an innate love of green hardwired in us. Our society has simply ignored this basic need in designing our food system, our suburbs, our cities, and many of our rural areas everywhere except our most affluent communities. This is obvious to anyone when you simply think of a green place you’ve counted on being there suddenly disappearing to development or some other disturbance. Nature offers one of the only solid reprieves in our lives and should be highly valued and integrated into our societal fabric.
So, ten years. Is it even very long? It seems like both yes and no, and is all relative I guess. Some instances seem so very far away, others so naturally familiar. What to do with it all? I always gravitate to the philosophy that you should go into the world half-baked rather than not at all. Meaning even if you haven’t sorted everything out on a subject dive in anyway and get dirty. I haven’t been shy about getting dirty these last ten years but maybe I have been too reserved on some issues. This New Year requires more than a New Year’s resolution. It requires a Ten Year Resolution! What will be the goal of the farm and of myself over the next decade? So much of the first ten years was just trying to hold it together! To make a living on two acres of marginal farm land in Cranston took some intrepidness and plenty of focus. Three years of moving my business from one place to another did as well. But now things are a little more streamlined, a bit more organized, even a little dialed in. Despite a horrendously difficult growing season to be transitioning from one farm to another we managed to hold it together and accomplish many of our goals for 2017. For that I am not only thankful but feel unbelievably blessed.
I have a lot of hopes. I want success for everyone who is involved with Big Train Farm and Urban Edge Farm. I want something in people’s lives to be owed to the farm, hopefully a bright spark of some kind. I want my wife to be strong and happy and I want my friends and my dog and cat to thrive. For myself I want a better understanding of how farms and farmers can benefit, make more money, support their communities and propagate more growers. I want to take all I’ve learned over the past ten years and flesh it out, research farming methods and grasp the healthiest, most efficient ways to grow food, sequester carbon, and provide profit to farmers. I also want to bridge the gap between the best food in our communities and the neediest people in our communities. I hope that whether you are a friend or customer (or both) you and I can work it all out and check in again in 2028.
Lots of love and respect to everyone who made it possible.
You know who you are.