“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple
We've been working so hard at Babe + Sage for four years now, trying to make it all work, trying to keep our heads above water. Just now, in the beginning of our fifth season, I'm starting to really remember why we chose this field of work in the first place.
After years of re-inventing the wheel every season, we've finally begun to find a rhythm. It wasn't an easy journey though - and I've had to work my way though all of the distractions I could throw in front of myself before I finally learned to settle into the farm. Our first year was trial by fire, and took everything we had just to make it through. There were so many things we just didn't know how to do. Our second season, we decided to get married and that just totally consumed every free minute I had away from the farm. Our third season, I found myself pregnant and trying to navigate how to manage the farm, nanny for extra money, and host lots of events (to try to make up for my lost labor in the field) without losing it. Last year, I became the market manager for our farmers market, became a GC ENGAGE fellow, and remained Tripp's full-time caregiver until the fall. When two of our apprentices quit, instead of hiring two people to replace them, we hired one replacement, found someone to come watch Tripp at the farm, and then put me in rotation as the extra farm-hand.
Finding myself back on the farm full-time has been the greatest gift. You know how they say "You never know what you've got 'till it's gone?" Well I didn't know what I'd been missing until I'd been forced back into it because we really couldn't afford to hire someone else.
I didn't realize how much I miss being out in the fields, even if that means weeding for seems like forever, or dumping compost by bucketfuls on rows, or seeding wispy thin lettuce seeds by hand, hunched over wet soil, back burning in the sun. I miss being outside. I miss the muscle-ache at the end of the day. I miss the freedom of being severed from the internet for hours on end.
I'm thankful for cycles and seasons and learning and growth. I'm thankful that the farm was still here for me to come back to. I'm thankful that Bobby has kept things going in my half-absence, my "trying to figure out what's going to make me happy," semi-committed farm phase. I'm thankful that there was a place for me, waiting, and that I didn't have to struggle to carve it out for myself.
I'm thankful that Bobby had the grace and the presence to let me take over parts of the farm that were showing neglect. In the fall, I did a re-hauling of our budget and our record-keeping systems, which really forced us to look at what we can make work and what we can't (read our last post for more about what that was all about). I'm grateful that we were able to work together to trim away the parts of the farm that weren't working for us so that we could re-focus on what we have always been really passionate about: growing food for people, making a living doing it, and really enjoying the farm-life.
By whittling down the things that were distracting us, we've snowballed forward into seeing the other things that have weighed us down. We've cut our greenhouse labor time down to about 1/6th of what it was just last year. We've moved four cargo vans full of unused or broken materials off the farm. We've changed up our harvesting and marketing schedule to allow for more time on the farm to actually do all the work it takes to grow food well. And I could go on and on about how much we've grown just by really focusing in on our systems, but that's probably for another post.
To me, the most important outcome of all of these changes (so far) is that by really tightening up our focus, we've opened up brain space for noticing. We're not so over-loaded that we "walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it." We notice the wisteria, take evening walks, talk to the lambs, stop to watch bee swarms (warily), and play with our son, often.
And that's what inspired me to write this post. I'm grateful for the meaningful and valuable work, but I'm more grateful for the new space in my head that allows me to really live and to really love this job and this life. Without the constant panic that "we aren't going to make it," that minute-to-minute fear buzzing through your brain (that I'm sure that most farmers have experienced), I feel like I'm apprenticing back at Round Right Farm in WV, noticing every little thing, feeling every little breeze, and it's wonderful.
And on that note, let me tell you...
The wisteria has been glorious this year.
It's draped over everything like a lover's arms; sweet, pungent, and bright. I've never noticed how irridescent the fragrance of a wisteria bloom is - it's this bright, clear, purple scent - and it's almost comical how "purple" it smells. Like those scented toys we used to get when we were little? Or the grape-scented markers you weren't supposed to suck on (but you probably did)? I'm just so in awe of how much the whole farm smells like confection, especially in the evening when the mist starts to settle. All of our azaleas are blooming now too, and they mix in this fairy-light "pink" smell, and our pear trees, in their very last blooms, throw in their heady musk. Walking around the farm right now is like walking through those praline shops in Savannah - it's unreal how sweet the air is and how much you can taste just by breathing!
I'm in love with the way the sheep poo smells too. It's a warm, grassy, farm-y smell, one that reminds me of my grandfather's farm. It's a completely different smell from vegetable waste, which, if taken care of lazily, is a ripe, hot, and terrible smell. Visiting with the sheep in my work boots, stepping in fresh fertilizer, a pure sun-to-grass-to-soil-nutrition conversion, in a field that would have taken me hours in the hot sun to mow brings me happiness.
Noticing sunsets, watching the mist fall over the pecan grove in the evening, walking the fields with our dog Delilah, and our newly adventurous cat, Olive (she follows me everywhere!), trying not to disturb the wren who's sitting on six eggs above our walk-in cooler door, and above it all, watching Tripp learning to love nature, has brought me such a sense of contentment with this life we're living.
And I'm telling you this because there have been so so so many days, weeks, and months when my feelings have been so opposite (and I'm not going to say they'll never return, farming is cyclical after all!). Right now, in this moment, I feel like a "pear tree - any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!" (that's from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, a.k.a. it's my favorite book)
It's inevitable that the stresses, physical and otherwise, of farming will trip me up sometime this year, but I hope that by taking the time to record little bits of it here, a clearer and more holistic vision of Babe + Sage will start to emerge. In the meantime, I want to commit this evening to memory:
Tonight, after the rain, we took Tripp outside to run out his energy. We visited the sheep who are grazing near the graves of the farmers who came before us. We watched twilight come and stopped to smell the wisteria blooms coiled around the old "Cedar Ridge Farm" sign on the way back to the house and were grateful for the use of this land that we share. We scraped the wet soil from our boots and walked inside to the heavy and comforting smell of freshly baked sourdough bread; just two loaves baked for pure pleasure, not seventy-five, baked full of anxiety and expectancy. We sat together and ate the warm slices, one piece each for dessert, and crunched through the thin, crisp, crust and gobbled up the warm chewy center. Tripp stuffed his face with his slice, clearly letting us know that this was better than the kale, grapes, and smashed potatoes he'd not eaten earlier. This kid will never be able to enjoy store-bought bread.
But that's the point, isn't it?
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!