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Why We Farm

May 23, 2012

By Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Excerpted from Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement.
© Zoe Ida Bradbury, Paula Manalo, Severine von Tscharner Fleming.
Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

Farming is hard work, good work, but not to be taken lightly. It takes motivation. If we weren’t motivated, we’d be doing something easier, more accessible, more acceptable to the rest of society. But here we are, farming — energetically farming, passionately farming. Why? We each have our reasons. It’s a process that starts with that first season spent out of doors, covered in bug bites, doing someone else’s chores.

Apprenticeship is the portal into farming and, for many, a time of profound self-realization. For one thing, it’s often a lot of time spent alone in a field, in a quiet barn in the morning, bent in strain against a heavy load you’re not quite up for. It’s challenging and it’s solitary, with plenty of contemplative space. That space can be difficult; the quiet can be lonely. But that’s part of the deal — figuring out who you are when you’re alone, what you like, when you giggle to yourself, how you keep your mind still while forcing your body to work harder than ever before, how to comfort yourself, how to train your thoughts along a constructive trajectory — snipping off the side shoots and moving forward. You use the time and the space and the silence to think things through, and to come to some big conclusions. Our education hasn’t always trained us for this — but in fact this is the critical self-reflection of being human. Transformation is a big word, but so is what happens on a farm over the course of a season in the inner world of a new farmer.

Ultimately, we come to our own conclusions about life, and about how we want to live it. What role in society feels right and good, which physical space we will inhabit, what it means to farm. For me, it’s about having a dependably sensual daily life. I’ve become a sucker for sights, smells, textures, and rhythms. The sheer materiality of it — greening up pastures, strong round eggs, shiny clean jars and the sounds of their lids, the firm little legs of piglets, the snapping succulent stems of spinach. The swing of it all. I got myself some nice old tin buckets with wooden handles just so I could swing the pig slop better.

It’s true — if we wanted to do something easy, we wouldn’t have chosen farming. And although that decision to farm might marginalize us geographically (far from the big-city lights) and economically (yoked to our partners, to our animal chores, to our land and the neighbors it comes with, tied to the seasons, the toil, the weeding, the irrigation), it is also freedom. And that freedom, to think for ourselves, quietly, out of doors: That is a freedom we cherish above all.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming farms in the Hudson Valley of New York. She is founder and director of Greenhorns, as well as a cofounder of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition and director of the documentary film The Greenhorns.

Greenhorns is available in our web store.

Join a free online talk with the authors on Thursday, May 24, 6:00-7:00 pm EST.

To find out more about opportunities for the next generation of biodynamic farmers, apprentices, educators, activists, and others inspired by biodynamics, check out Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation (BING), a project of the Biodynamic Association.

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