By Chad Wiens, Slow River Farms
In the Winter I turn towards introspection. Every year as summer fades I find moments for reflection. Inevitably, the question of “why farm” comes up and it’s never entirely clear as to why I am asking. Perhaps it stems from self doubt, or maybe it’s my attempt to answer what I suspect my friends are also wondering. Or maybe, I’m just passing time.
This line of questioning isn’t currently too important. What is though is this new realization which I began uncovering this past spring.
What I grow is vegetables. Both from seed and from transplant. Seven years in and I realize once again I still have so much to learn.
The process is incredibly beautiful. Watching and waiting every mid-March for the onion seeds to emerge. The days hold the returning warmth of the sun only to lose it to those cold, crisp snow laced nights. In time the geese return and as the snow melts the early anxiety over germination shifts into curiosity about those night time lows. This process is one I have gone through enough now to know I am only just beginning to notice its rhythm. While I am learning the dance, I know too that it is one which will always hold a sense of mystery and unexplored potential. And herein lies a part of this new answer of mine.
The power of the sun in June will never be lost on me as I watch the growth rate of plants change in hours. Returning to market and greeting old customers with selected winter stories and new garden offerings is a true delight. Perhaps even more than the power of the Sun I remain in awe of the energy given through these social interactions.
Mid-July holds its own special kind of power. As the season really gets going many unknowns begin to reveal themselves. The garlic did indeed survive the winter, the onion seed germinated, was transplanted, watered, weeded and will need to be harvested soon. Spring is a distant memory and summer is now fully present. It’s too late to retry some failed crops but there is still that beautiful potential in the unknown of late Summer/ early Fall. If we plant cabbage now, will it mature? How many more rounds of lettuce can we squeeze in? First frost is not even a thought and here again, in these hot humid summer evenings lies my answer.
It’s in observing, learning, retrying and learning again where I find a surplus of joy.
By September the entirety of August has whipped us by like a swift gust of wind. I find myself standing in a field cover cropped and ready for winter, chatting with a local beekeeper about the season. He mentions his community garden plot and the mysterious case of the missing green tomatoes. I explain which part of the hemp plants will be harvested and relay that the bees have been thick in the flowering fennel as of late. We both agree the weather has been marvellous and we share a moment of gratitude for it all. And here again, is my answer.
As the weeks go by, I am driving down a side road remembering a recent conversation with a hunter friend. He has been coming out periodically to the farm with the intention of harvesting a deer. What’s on my mind is the amount of gear and set up that he invests in all for that slim chance. It was after sundown; he had left his stand and was packing it in for the night. He said it was a beautiful evening and he glimpsed a red fox through the brush. I didn’t think much of it then, it seemed right on to me. A quiet evening spent up in a tree observing, waiting and reacting as necessary. So, while I’m driving, I’m wondering how much money all that equipment costs. The bow, the stand, the clothing. I realize then that the answer does not matter. He saw a red fox and felt fulfilled by that. Maybe next time a deer. I savour this realization and draw the comparison to my own life.
The hours spent watching plants grow, the money put into tools, a new greenhouse and those fancy straw hats. And when the sun sets on the season, if someone were to ask me how it all went, I know my answer wouldn’t be a practical one. That’s never been the deeper motivation. It’s that moment in the field with the beekeeper. The handful of new personal lessons I’ve learnt and all of the beauty I’ve had the honour of interacting with that will surely define my answer.
What I realize is that I’ve been farming for the feeling.
Winter wraps itself around December as another season is laid to rest under the freshly fallen snow. And in this moment, I ask myself if what I’m farming for is a feeling then how can I reconcile this motivation with the undeniable fact that drought doesn’t care about my feelings. Nor does the lending agency and admittedly, I don’t find much solace in the howling spring winds.
I want to stay immersed in the beauty of the world, in the mystery of my interactions with plants, soil and the sky. The sound of the wind and the birds passing by. But I must accept its harsher realities as well. Doing so feels like work and honestly, at times I’d rather turn my head and just focus on the beautiful. But what good is that? And where will that turned head lead me? It’s as though I’ve been given the entirety of my new answer to the question of why in pieces. I hold the image of what it can look like, and I know why I want to complete the image, though first I must put all these pieces together. Work, yes. But also, an incredibly fulfilling task to take on.
I’m holding on to all of this now, as I enter back into the meandering hallways of mid winter, the season I love most. I reflect on all that I have learned, with the – joy in learning, of course, being that there is always further to go. I’ve dropped the original question of why and what I wonder now is: how? And so, the seasons carry on.
What are you farming for? How do you do it?