Tripp uses this edge of the table at the wash station as his "finding place."
When we're washing produce or packing bags, he's running around looking for new things to add to his collection. Lately, his little assemblage has included half-ripe blackberries and carefully selected pieces of gravel. Walking by this particular collection caused me to pause and to think about why he does this.
I'm sure it's just that he finds one or two categories of things interesting and wants to line them up at eye level. He does this with his cars and trains, as well as nails and little shards of plastic he finds on the ground (it's really safe here, promise). We find "Tripp Piles" all over the place, little collections that he puts together while we're working and he's entertaining himself. This one though, for some reason, (maybe the red stains from the berries?) reminded me of an altar. A little toddler altar, made to honor raspberries, rocks, and all the wondrous things there are to discover outside. But the stains...the stains make me think about blood and then that made me think of sacrifice. It was probably painful to pick those little berries with their sharp little thorns! But he did it anyway, many times over, anyway.
And this makes me think about the work we do and the sacrifices we make as farmers, day in and day out, over and over, when our backs are hurting and our hands are bleeding...we do it anyway.
And I don't mean to throw around the word "sacrifice." I think there are so many words that are now watered down, because our modern lives, thanks to technology, are nowhere near as hard as they used to be. These days, when we talk about "making sacrifices," we're talking about working more hours or going without a cell phone for awhile, or not eating out. I'm not say this to diminish your personal sacrifices, I promise, I just don't think most of us mean (and I'm about to commit the ultimate writing crime here): "an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure." (google dictionary).
And I don't really mean that either, but let's explore that idea for a minute...
Sacrificing a person or a lamb to God/the gods was a way of trying to control or appease the crazy brutal cycles of nature...and we're all up in this, y'all. Every single day we come face to face with Mother Nature's armpits, elbows, and gnashing teeth. She's on our heels, day in and day out, waiting for us, preempting us, trying to throw us off-course. I TOTALLY get the idea behind sacrificing a valuable living thing in the hopes that Mother Nature will JUST CHILL OUT FOR A MINUTE.
It's gotten a little bit better over the years as we've learned to "roll with the punches," i.e. expect death or failure at every turn. Nothing surprises us anymore. Being successful in farming requires that you acquire a zen-like attitude toward all things.
There are so many things that we probably haven't shared with most of you, and probably never will. I typed up like five different stories, all examples of Mother Nature's cruelty, but deleted them. We recognize that "farm" in people's minds is usually an idyllic, romantic place in the country...and if we want people to stay pumped about what we do, we probably don't need ruin that idea.
But farming can be brutal, that's just the reality of it.
I will share one story...we'd lost two flocks of chickens to different predators. Maybe we were dumb and it was our fault, but maybe the "wildness" of this place had invited the predators in over the years and our chickens were just sitting ducks. Anyway, this was our third flock and we'd been losing one chicken per night to an opossum. After we'd figured it out, we'd tried just about everything we could think of to keep it out, including extra electric fencing, a stronger coop, a sound machine, a light machine, moving them next to the house, and locking Delilah outside. Nothing worked. I'd become desperate, since every night (around 3:30 am) we'd listen to chicken screams and felt like there was nothing we could do. I learned to shoot my uncle's rifle. I was determined to end the life of the thing that was ending the life of the animals I'd cared for and fed and loved for months. I tried to stay up all night with floodlights on in the electrified fenced-in area. I'd planned to shoot the opossum when it came to kill one of our chickens. I'd fallen asleep, because I was pregnant and exhausted, but was awoken to chicken screams. At five months pregnant with Tripp and barefoot, I grabbed my rifle and ran off into the darkness, hoping that there was something I could do. But it was pitch-black and there was no way I was going to hit anything in the dark.
We listened until the chicken stopped screaming.
The next day, Joe and Julia adopted our chickens.
That night, the opossum was caught in the trap we'd set many weeks before.
It's always a cruel joke, a bittersweet moment, a back and forth, a push and a pull. When we work with Mother Nature, we're trying to brush hair and she'd rather it be full of weeds. We try to wash her feet, and she'd rather they stay dirty. We try to feed her and shes bites us with her sharpened teeth.
This is not to diminish the times that we walk with her hand-in-hand, or plant and harvest with her blessing, but we've come to expect that those times are rare and special, and that we must savor them, as with all things.
So I get why people of ancient times made sacrifices. They would do anything in the hopes that they could break a drought, or continue a good harvest, or stop the heavy, flooding rains.
As farmers, I think our sacrifices fall more along this line: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Hebrews 13:16
Our sacrifices are all about doing the right thing, no matter how hard it might be or become - for the good of ourselves, for the good of future generations and for the greater good of the planet. Although a farmer might thank a meat animal for it's own sacrifice to the nourishment of our bodies, a farmer's day-to-day sacrifices are less sanguine, and more personal.
A farmer gives up her body to the work, her brain to the business, and a certain amount of privacy to the marketing. He gives up peace of mind and a lot of control. He or She sacrifices time, energy, and attention to the farm, and is at risk of neglecting her relationships (family, partner, and otherwise). A farmer's sacrifice is also about giving up a steady income, access to healthcare, and occasionally relying on foodstamps in especially bad winters.
As I write, there are people and organizations working hard to make sure that these sacrifices are made less adverse to farmers. We are so, so grateful to them. In the meantime, these are things we sacrifice day in and day out as small, sustainable farmers in Middle Georgia and we do it willingly. Maybe it's stupidity or maybe it's blind idealism, but we all chug along against the odds, trying to make the dream of access to good, sustainable food a reality in this region.
When you buy from us, you're throwing your hat in the ring, putting your chips on the table, and jumping in with us. We couldn't do it without you.
In a few weeks, you're going to see a video and a donation campaign for The Middle Georgia Growers Co-Operative. The Co-op is a group of farmers who intend to grow and sell food collectively so that we can remain viable and continue to farm in Middle Georgia, and therefore, reduce the strain of the sacrifices that we all make.
Please help out if you can.
In the meantime, know this; despite Mother Nature's backward advances, we continue to farm anyway, many times over, anyway. Our altar is the farm and we sacrifice ourselves. Our harvest, the half-ripened berries. Our customers and Farm-Share Members are the rocks that keep us grounded and stable. Thank YOU for lessening the burden and taking part in this grand sacrifice.
We couldn't do it without you.
p.s. If you're feeling especially donate-y right now, donate HERE to help us with our hoop-house rebuild.
This picture, right here, is CSA.
If you didn't know already, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It's a system in which community members "buy-in" to a local farm and thereby support said farm from the ground-up. When members "Join Our Share" up front, they provide the needed funds for us to buy seed, amend the soil, and get plants in the ground before the season starts.
We call ours a Farm Share, but that's neither here nor there.
What matters is not what it's called, but the people who do it.
So back to the photo above. It shows our son Tripp looking happy and content. He's looking at the camera with this happy, trusting expression...and you know who he's looking at? A CSA member. Once a week, she welcomes Tripp into her home to play with her own son, eat, nap, and grow, so that Bobby and I can work all day on the farm without distraction. I got this photo in a message at lunchtime after four long hours of weeding, planting seeds, and shoveling compost. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to see this picture and to know that Tripp was safe, well-cared for, and happy in the hands of a trusted member. I guess I can tell you though, that I knew that I could run headlong into four more hours of laying drip-tape, putting down weed barrier, putting up trellising, and transplanting cucumber seedlings with certainty because I had peace of mind. Because of this beautiful arrangement called CSA, I'm able to put my hands in the dirt and grow food for people with confidence and pride.
The most awesome thing though, is that the support this CSA member has shown us is not an anomaly. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways our members have supported us. I guess what I'm trying to say is this; we are here because of our members in so many more ways than one. They support us financially through buying our Farm Share, but the exchange is so much more than just a Paypal transaction.
Here are just a few ways that our CSA members have made farming possible for us:
-One of our members adopted our chickens and now supplies eggs to the farm share.
-Another "adopted" our sourdough starter and will now be baking bread to supply the share.
-The sheep who are fertilizing our fields and trimming our pasture belong to a CSA Member.
-A CSA member owns the bees who will be pollinating our summer plants so that we can have squash, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, okra, and tomatoes to put in our share boxes.
-This summer, a member will be driving out to the farm to watch Tripp while we pack CSA boxes.
-When Tripp was born, and we were spending time in the hospital, a CSA member wrote us a card and gave us badly-needed money.
-Another member has passed down baby clothes to us through her box (once she emptied her box out of veggies, she'd put baby clothes in for us to find when we picked it up!)
-Members have helped us advertise by sending emails to their friends, posting on social media, and even changing their profile pictures (thanks guys!).
-We've had a member offer to give us an interest-free business loan.
-Many of our members have contributed to our crowd-funded projects like our brick-oven, our kiva zip loan to buy the cargo van, and our hoop-house rebuilding fund.
-CSA members attend our farmers markets, our farm dinners, potlucks, and parties.
-Several of our members have become employees of the farm.
-Our long-term members have been patient with us through all of the times we messed up in the early years.
-Our pastor and his wife are members and they, along with other members of the congregation (who are also members of our CSA!) have shown unconditional support since the day they invited us to come talk about sustainable farming one week.
-Our land owners are CSA members, and have supported us from day one in too many ways to count.
We love farming through CSA, because: we want to be an integral part of this community, we want to feed and support this community, and because we love this community. We got into this knowing that it would be a long. hard, dirty, and stressful road, but the unexpected part of all of this is how much our community has loved and supported us back. We are so grateful.
When members trust us to grow their food, they are not only giving us the financial tools to succeed, they are giving us a vote of confidence. Knowing that we are entrusted to grow what's going to be served on their tables and what's going to bring nourishment and energy to their bodies ennobles us to work harder and longer, and to do the work that we love with a smile. We imagine these seeds growing not only food for bellies, but fodder for conversation. We imagine meals being made with our food becoming center-pieces for family discussions, tokens of fellowship at potlucks, and building blocks for young, growing bodies.
So as we go forward into our season, we want our members (past, present, and future) to know that we are so so thankful for you, that we are here for you, and that because of you, we farm.
Thank you from the bottom of our dirty, sweaty, grateful hearts.
Bobby + Chelsea
We grow tasty veggies, bake bread, host farm events, manage a farmers market, raise an energetic little munchkin, cook, restore this farm property, read books, and try to bring more good food and good things to middle Georgia!