When the world becomes your library…
Travel and farming do not go very well together, or do they? Not too long ago, at a dinner, I heard a comment from a food writer that “no real food producer of any worth could leave their business for more than a couple days.” It was in reference to Terra Madre, a four day festival of all things food, in Turin, Italy. I may have blushed at the comment, because I was very far away, and happily sitting at a dinner table in Italy. It made me think of the fact that I, as a producer, face that very same issue every time I step away from the farm. Did leaving for International conferences make me a bad farmer? Was I neglectful of my responsibilities? I continued to eat, and to think about farming, travel, and the exchange of ideas. My immediate response was perhaps a bit defensive, not only because of my own choices and actions, and of course my decision to travel, but I was also thinking of the needs of other producers.
I believe that right now, the exchange of ideas is more needed than ever. We are making up for lost time, as at least one whole generation knows little about agriculture. Though I am a very private person, I feel that sharing of ideas and experience is critical to our survival, as well as our ability to thrive, particularly on issues relating to food. I decided to accept an offer to travel to Slow Food’s Terra Madre 2016, in Turin, Italy, and it was life changing. I was on the verge of burnout, if not well into a burnout. I was so tired that I didn’t know what to do at the farm. The feeling was overwhelming. You may have noticed, my website remained without updates, blog posts were not written, the to-do list was so long, that I did not know where to begin. Most farmers and food producers can relate to this.
But for me it was part of the plan to push the boundaries of what one person could possibly do. I had begun this as a one person model, in a drought, with a failed crop, on a piece of land that was not farmed. I decided to write my own plan, and see what one person could do for food. The goal was not to be destroyed by burnout, but by getting there, I knew my limits. When one knows their limits, they now have a benchmark so to better understand what they have created. For better or for worse, burnout is a great signal that something must change, or the whole system will collapse. If I were writing my own farm plan, why could travel not be a part of it? What part of the term”producer” meant tied to your work 24/7/365? Why is a break of any kind considered an invalidation of one’s worth?
It seemed to me that on one hand, we wanted small food producers, but on the other hand, this comment, and many more, also implied that we were to be tied to our work…even til it hurts. It didn’t sit right with me. We want small, beautiful, inspired, and well thought out products, but you are not allowed to step away to harvest inspiration for ourselves. It seemed like an impossible, undesirable, as well as contradictory.
What if I gleaned information from the world at large, and then allowed those ideas to influence all that I meet? Would that life inspired, become farming inspired? I do love to be in the field, to be muddy or dusty, or even sometimes too tired to eat. But I also know, and love that the world is my teacher, and if I neglect to honor that, I will be doing a service to no one.
So what if my learning about food and farming also included exchanging knowledge on a global scale? What would that look like? I could breed strong, healthy, plants that didn’t need me all of the time. I could develop systems that functioned or even thrived in the existing state, without my fussing. Curing, and storage of squash, and irrigation, and fertilization of the soil could all be developed into a strategy where they grew naturally.
This system development would allow for not only a chance for me to step away so to learn, but also to teach, to write, and speak, about what I have learned. If you are reading this all the way to the end, then I gather that sharing of ideas is important to you too, and I thank you for that support.