A great visionary, organizer, and leader: Tony Kleese (photo credit to Carolina Farm Steward Association)
Some people just stand out. They’re exceptional. We all know someone like this. Their gifts are so many and their vision so pure that the world can barely contain them. Stephen Hawking was one of those people. And for the sustainable agriculture community, so was Tony Kleese. The world let him go this weekend, but his giant legacy will live on.
There likely isn’t an organic farmer in the southeast who hasn’t learned something from Tony, or been enriched by his vision and advocacy. He touched our lives through his organizing and educating and his friendship. He was a pioneer in organic certification, and worked tirelessly to maintain the integrity of the label. Honestly, I’ve been a bit frustrated by the National Organic Standards Board recently, but I can almost hear Tony urging me not to give up on it. His vision for organic agriculture is no small part of the reasons we farm this way. Humble farmers like us wouldn’t exist without the Tonys of the world, and we’re sad to see him leave it. T
he best tribute to this agricultural super hero is to keep farming with integrity and transparency and that’s just what we intend to do.
First harvest day with help since last October!
For weeks now I’ve been slowly getting further and further behind in the yearly schedule. As Jason was absorbed in the building of the heated greenhouse, I was attempting to run the farm solo all the while harvesting and going to market, which we’re not accustomed to doing in the winter. Years ago we vowed not to take on too many winter projects for this very reason, but somehow we failed to acknowledge that two very large projects (winter growing and building a heated greenhouse) are the equivalent of “too many”.
We haven’t panicked though, because we knew that a rescue was on the way. And the super heroes have rushed in to save us this very week. I am overflowing with gratitude for the folks who wish to do this work. Together, in less than an hour, we knocked out a daunting task that has been haunting me for weeks—one that would probably have taken me a week. Phew! Now we just need mother nature to cooperate so we can begin clearing out the way overcrowded greenhouse!
Purple makes life better
I am a lovestruck teenager. Every pop song on the radio is suddenly speaking to me. Or at least this is the impression I’m giving myself. I saw yet another quotation that inspired me: “The pursuit is happiness.” Cue the choir.
This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi means (I think), at least partially, when he talks about “flow”. It’s an appreciation of the process—of all the little mundane tasks that add up to the big picture—in the pursuit of mastery. Cue the choir.
So I’ve been working toward reckless optimism, and now toward loving the process. What I’ve learned is that this is so much easier when the sun is shining. Sunday and Monday, I found myself loving every little everything about my job—from painting Mallory’s cabin bright purple (because I heard a cute old lady on the radio say that purple makes life better) to spreading stinky feathermeal. “Flow” and “the pursuit is happiness” all made perfect sense. I felt like a language student who suddenly finds themselves speaking the language they’ve been working so hard to learn. It seemed so easy!
Today, when it’s 36 degrees and drizzling, and my fingers are nearly frozen, it suddenly all seems so difficult. What can I say? Heartbreak comes just as easily as love to that teenager. But the sun will come out tomorrow (sorry, I know that’s stuck in your head now—but I couldn’t resist).
I’ve never considered myself an optimist. I always thought I preferred the pessimistic view because then you’re either right or pleasantly surprised. It’s a win-win right? But then I became a farmer. And honestly, you can’t be a farmer without at least a little bit of optimism. I mean, you take this tiny little seed and plant it believing that it will eventually end up a crop and you’ll earn a living. That’s pretty optimistic.
But sometimes pessimism creeps in. When optimism seems like the wrong approach and you start to plan for the worst because you believe that’s the safest path. But Taylor gave me this print last week and I embarked on a whole new path of thinking. One of reckless optimism.
Suddenly I feel free in a way I’ve never felt before. I’ve always aspired to be a realist: to accept things the way they are and not hope for better. But why not hope for better? Why not, indeed. For a long time, I’ve accepted that I’m pretty much average, which is probably not a terrible idea, but why not be optimistic that I can become above average? Why not work toward loftier goals? As Taylor put it, “Choosing to be hopeful and confident, even when it feels reckless or irresponsible to do so, gives you the freedom to see choices where you might otherwise see dead ends.” Well don’t mind if I do try that.
I’ve been listening to the audiobook: “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” today. It suggests a societal shift in our work has led to a corresponding shift in what motivates us. It’s a shift away from maximizing profits toward maximizing purpose. Harkening back to past presidents, he suggests that there presidential purpose can usually be described in a sentence or two (Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, FDR lifted us out of the depression and won a world war, etc.). He asks, “what is your sentence?”
I immediately thought of my sentence, “She brushed her teeth at farmers markets.” You laugh, or at least I hope you did, but I seriously think that’s what people are going to remember about me.
I related with the book on this point though: I need a purpose driven work life (not just good oral hygiene). I left a world of solid middle class to one of filthy hands and sore backs and a small living, but one that is filled to the brim with purpose. And that purpose is nourishing you. You are my purpose. You are the reason I get up every morning. I hope my sentence is actually, “She nourished her community.”
Last week, before the rain, I put my gloves on, got my pruners and trowel out, and played at being a gardener. Not that our herb garden isn’t larger than any home kitchen garden would desire, but it’s the smallest scale of anything on the farm and it, quite honestly, felt like play. This is an aspect of gardening that you lose when you transition your hobby to your career: the play aspect.
This is why it’s important to grow foods that you love (hence, we grow a lot of peppers), and to have little projects or patches that you might have to ignore most of the year (you should see our landscaping!), but that, occasionally, you get to “play” in. For me, this is the herb garden. It’s important to me, even if I have to ignore it when we get buried in the larger scale crops.
The awesome volunteer crew!
I’m not gonna lie: we’ve been getting a bit down in the weeds lately (so to speak) with the weather challenges and this whole winter growing experiment. We got used to looking forward to the seasonal changes in our lives where we switch from rural hermits to seasonally retired “townies”. Probably if the weather hadn’t gotten so extremely cold, our temperaments wouldn’t have been so afflicted with missing yoga and pickleball and hiking. But it got too cold for too long and, to be frank, we’ve been a bit grumpy lately.
But then, as usual, the community around us lifted us up. It wasn’t a warm day by any stretch of the imagination, although it did, at least, get above freezing. But still, a dozen folks braved the cold and showed up on Saturday to volunteer to help us cover the new greenhouse in plastic. Suddenly, the day felt so much warmer. Anytime you’re reading the comments on the internet and quickly losing your faith in humanity, remember this: these people (you know who you are) gave up their Saturday morning for free to come out and help us do this thing. I get choked up just thinking about that.
Shipping logistics-two different shipping companies arriving at the same time!
Everything is amazing! Did you know that you can call Iowa after 3 p.m. to order a widget and that widget will arrive at your rural farm before 3 p.m. the very next day!!!! It’s true! It happened to us. Also, I found out that in some places (not our rural farm), you can get a widget THE SAME DAY that you order it!
Modern logistics are truly mind boggling. Our lives are so much easier than the lives of our ancestors, yet we find plenty of reasons to complain. I mean, I did plenty of complaining before I made that call to Iowa. But take flying, for example. I recall sitting on a plane that was slightly delayed because of a safety check and a couple of people around me were complaining. I, for one, was happy that they were checking out a potential safety problem, but also: we were about to make a 10 hour trip in 2 hours while sipping soda and munching on pretzels!!!
The way I figure it though, is that complaining, even though everything is amazing, must just be an integral part of the human condition. I mean, the weather! The weather has always, and will always exist for the sake of complaining. If we ever find ourselves in a situation where we just can’t find anything else to complain about, there will always be the weather. I'll try to remember that next time I'm tempted to complain about the amazing world we live in.