"They spent every day together-three meals a day at the dinner table-when you saw one you saw the other." These were the words spoken over and over again at Nathan's mothers funeral this past May. His parents had grown up together, raised kids and grown older on a family farm. They were together every single day. It was obvious that this was rare in this world we now live in. Most families live in homes where at least one of the adults work outside of the home, if not both. I heard those words and they sunk in and stayed with me for weeks. I knew what people were really saying, "how did they spend that much time together, day after day". I knew it, because we were trying to figure it out for ourselves here at home.
I think and write a lot about collaboration as it relates to community work and development, but lately I've been thinking a lot about collaboration in the home and particularly on a family farm. Through a lot of work on communication, expected roles, respect, boundaries and dream sharing Nathan and I have been able to overcome many obstacles that could have prevented us from using our gifts, talents and abilities to serve others. It's been a long hard road and there were times when I didn't know if we would see the other side. There are times when I realize there may never be another side, but rather a constant give and take as we figure out the next season.
Here's the gut wrenching, hard to say truth. There are days when collaboration, respect and communication has to be fought for...and it's not always pretty. It's true that what often fills your heart and mind with love for another can be the very same things that drive you crazy once you've been married for a while. The man I fell in love with was a good listener, honest and worked hard. On days when I was overwhelmed with changing diapers, making dinner and felt lonely those same characteristics felt like I was living with someone who didn't care about how I was spending my days. Nathan was drawn to my strong, bold and energetic spirit, but after coming in from working hard all day to a wife who seemed restless he didn't know how to respond...or if he even should.
After becoming a stay at home mom and getting some rest and re-focus in my life I started to look around me, think things through and recognize that I could contribute to society beyond my four walls. I felt like a wild horse some days-literally pacing the room and looking for an escape-Nathan was left wondering if he should try to break me or set me free. Being a mother was a blessing, but I knew that my life wasn't limited to the daily to do list I saw laid out before me-and that I wasn't designed to live in isolation. I knew that in order to be the best mother possible that I couldn't ignore my restlessness, but must use it as a reminder that women are designed to be helpful in their homes, but also contributors to society with endless possibilities.
I believe in asking my husband for protection and leadership just as I have learned that I deserve respect, admiration and support. My mind races and I multi-task which makes me a horrible decision maker. There is a sense of safety knowing that I can go to my husband for protection in a situation or leadership to make a good, sound decision. But in those days when I was pacing the floor it was because my mind was full of ways that I could help Nathan farm full time and help those in our community. Lists of fruits and vegetables we could be growing, ways to encourage more people to buy local, dreams of what our farm may one day become. He was resistant because he didn't know if I understood what I was asking for-the hard work that would become our days and nights. In many ways he was afraid to fully hear me because he wanted the same thing and knew that once he said yes there would be no turning back.
I see where we are now and how far we've come and realize there were several obstacles that stood in our way. The first is that we were too busy. I was busy picking up messes, dealing with clutter, running around from here to there. It was only after we slowed down, removed clutter from our lives and cleaned up our diet (so we could feel better and have clear minds) that we were able to have focused conversations on how we really wanted to live our lives. And most importantly how we could each contribute in our own unique way. In the beginning these conversations always began in a reaction to one of our "triggers". For me that meant too much silence and not enough action and for Nathan that meant too much work and not enough time. Our conversations almost always became arguments and for a long time we left feeling empty and worn. But over time we realized that the arguments were getting shorter and the revelations powerful. We began to really listen to one another and began respecting our differences-even seeing them as strengths when we work together. I learned self-control on the timing of our conversations and Nathan learned to make time-every single day-for us to talk about what was really happening in our lives, how we felt about it and how we could prioritize and plan for the days ahead.
Over time, this collaboration has become more effortless. Nathan leaving the marketing, food options and email answering to me and I've realized that I don't have to prove myself on a tractor or in the field in order to gain respect. As difficult as the hard conversations were they were necessary for us to learn how to live together day in, day out. It's created space in our lives for more rest, dinner at the table and the ability to continue serving others in our community. Its simple now. When I tell Nathan "I need you" he knows what I mean and exactly how to respond. I've learned when a distraction for Nathan is necessary and how often I can take care of things on my own.
By no means do we have everything figured out, but I do know that learning to fight the barriers that progress has presented has made me a better mom. And we have seen the benefits to our children learning how to contribute their unique selves to our family and the community. Together we are teaching our children that collaboration means giving of yourself while expecting nothing in return and having the faith to watch others rise up and do their best. I am thankful for a husband who has learned that he can trust me while I dream big and pace the floor while challenging me to become better, patient, more faithful.
It's important to remember what we're fighting for. Not one another, not for power or to prove who's right. We're fighting to bring back love, encouragement, support, trust and faith to a world that is desperate for it. Fighting to allow the good inside each one of us to be seen and used in powerful ways that brings out the best in others. For those of us who are balancing resiliency, service and hard work it's the only way to continue on and prepare others to replace us.
The gathering of greens and storing of roots feels very much like an appropriate end to our first year of farming full time. A year ago, these winter crops were only scratches on paper as we waded through stacks of seed catalogs, dreamed and made plans. The season began with the hustle and bustle of any new farm venture, but life was quickly complicated by the illness and loss of Nathan's mom, needs of our community along with several personal struggles for our family. In January of 2013 I had chosen LOVE as my guiding word and I was expecting to be pouring love out on others, but instead I found myself needing the love of others in ways I had never known. The loss of a parent and exhaustion combined with being an overly sensitive, compassionate, motivated, change maker left me carrying a heavy burden most of the time. I'm thankful for a loving husband, wise children and friends who carried us through the year and offered us more LOVE than we could have imagined.
Now back to how the gathering of greens and storing of roots is appropriately related to our first year of farming...winter is a time of rest and renewal. And when you offer a year round CSA it's also a time of hope, preparation and sharing of harvests. Our farm has produced potatoes, onions, turnips, winter squash that are heaped up in every bare spot where they can be protected. The last of the white potatoes were divided and shared last week and we already miss them. Like all small farmers we bring the sad and second fruits and vegetables into our kitchen to prepare. As I remove dirt, spots and bruises to reveal the perfectly good food beneath I think about how this life we've chosen is doing the same to me. It's revealing things in my life that need to be removed and more importantly the parts that are uniquely me and worthy of keeping.
We're often asked what we are doing here on our small farm that's holding ground and settled on minimal financial growth. When I explain that we are growing food for 35 homes and that our customers are encouraged to eat seasonally we often get responses like, "why would you do that when progress has brought us so many options in the grocery store"? It's a good question and one that I've spent a lot of time thinking about.
Four generations ago my great-great grandmother was growing her own food and depending on her community much like we are doing here at Need More Acres. I'm sure that she welcomed progress, but I can't help but wonder what she had that we seem to be searching for. And then I see it. There where the white potatoes once were I find hope for the next harvest. My prayers are more meaningful than before as I find myself with needs that were once protected by convenience. There's work that can't be done without the help of others. And thankfulness overwhelms me when Nathan brings in armloads of Kale after a cold snap that could have meant great loss.
I'm reminded of the first night of single digit temperatures. We stayed up late and while Nathan paced the floor hoping that our efforts will be enough in the face of potential ice I wondered if this was what it was like before we became dependent on a global food system. Wondering if the work of the day was enough to save the crops that would sustain our bodies through winter. Hoping that there was enough stored away, adequate warmth in the ground to continue growth. As I thought about these families who have intrusted us to grow and gather their food I was reminded of this quote from one of our favorite authors.
"A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves." -Wendell Berry
The plants were covered and protected as well as possible and we waited. And when morning came we uncovered the food standing and still alive. The fruit of our spirit grows in ways that may not have been possible in the same way before.
This farming life and support from our community is like the gathering of love and compassion deep in our heart and soul. It carries us through winter. And so now we prepare ourselves for another year of hard work and determination. We will move on in hope for ourselves, other farmers in our community and for the families who support each of us. We hope you'll join us.
Michelle is a wife,