The Gift of Farming
By Jeff Schreiber
Originally published in the Three Sisters Community Farm CSA newsletter (Sept. 18, 2013).
At a break-out session of this past year’s biodynamic farming conference, a young couple explained to the group a motivating impulse behind the difficult work of getting their farm up and running. What they really desire, they said, is to give the fruits of their labor to others. They want to offer the things they produce on the farm as a gift to others in their community.
Salty, perhaps, from a couple challenging years of trying to get Three Sisters off the ground while working other jobs and weathering an epic drought, my first thought was to chalk such silly talkup to youthful idealism and naiveté. But these young farmers were sincere, and the group open-minded and encouraging. As we talked more, I realized that this impulse – to selflessly use one’s skills and gifts to meet the needs of others – has been expressed, sometimes in different forms, by many young people I know. Many are farmers or aspiring farmers, but not all. Some are tailors, bakers, or health care workers. Together, I think, they are creating a new, living local economy.
When one works with intention – with love – out of a desire to understand and meet the real needs of others, the result is much different than the result of work done simply to obtain a profit or a wage. Consider the home-cooked meal, lovingly prepared by a friend who knows your dietary likes and dislikes. Far more satisfying – right? – than the hurried, tasteless stuff from the fast-food drivethru.
That home-cooked meal, prepared with love, is of a different quality – it has a different value – than the fast food. And this value is somehow different than monetary value, different than value defined by the market. To put a price on the meal cooked by your friend would diminish it, demean it. Those working out of the impulse of the new economy are interested in providing things like this, things of real value to real people.
And so the gift. To gift is to say: “Here is the product of my unique skills and gifts, the product of love, which I made for you out of an understanding of you and your needs. It has no monetary value; you cannot pay me for it.” It is an attempt to begin to reclaim the many values that have been taken from us, to stop in its tracks the ceaseless commodification of every aspect of our lives.
Of course, the gift is not “free.” In a living economy values are exchanged in direct, trusting relationships. Each party works to meet the needs of the other, and both benefit. Because the farm participates in the money economy to a certain degree, some of our needs are indeed monetary. It’s to meet these monetary needs that we charge a fee for membership in our CSA.
Still, it is important that you know you are not “buying” vegetables through the CSA. Your money (or labor if you’re a worker shareholder) meets our (modest!) needs so that we can put everything we’ve got (and we do) into lovingly producing the highest quality, highest value food we can for you. We take this work very seriously, and are extremely grateful for your support. Enjoy the gift of your vegetables this week!
Jeff Schreiber farms at Three Sisters Community Farm in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, a community-oriented farm serving the greater Milwaukee area.