Winter is the only time of year that farmers get to read, to dive into flights of fancy or to chew on technical dissertations. In case you haven’t noticed, winter is almost over, and my reading list is still pretty long.
Nonetheless, I’ve had the chance recently to crack open Carol Deppe’s The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, searching for bits of wisdom and inspiration as the growing season rapidly approaches. Carol’s a brilliant botanist and seed saver and farmer, and you can’t read anything she writes without getting ideas for something new to try in the fields this year. But her book is no how-to guide. Rather, it is a philosophical treatise, advocating for paradigm shifts in how you view your world, your craft, and your place within it all.
At the end of a chapter entitled “Flexibility”, Carol wrote something that really struck me here at the boundary between winter and spring, as we all in the farming / gardening world prepare to firmly affix our nose to the grindstone for the next many months, pursuing our passions with every last bit of us.
I hope you don’t mind if I quote it in full.
“We humans are social creatures. We don’t thrive in isolation. We don’t need to produce all our own food, tools, housing, recreation, or protection. Instead we use our individual brains, skills, talents, and resources to specialize. Then we trade the best products of our brains and labors for those of others. We aim not for independence but for honorable and companionable interdependence. We don’t need to have all possible abilities and skills. But we do need to have some skills that give us something to contribute. In good times, our jobs are a big part of what we contribute. In hard times, our ordinary jobs may become irrelevant. Simpler skills, including knowing how to produce, preserve, and use food may be what matters. Having such skills enhances our resilience. A community in which many people have such skills is a more resilient community, a community best positioned to thrive in good times and survive the rest.”
I thought about that quote this weekend as I sat at Rooting DC, marveling at all of the good and talented people working for dedicated and innovative organizations / companies within the DC food / farm / garden ecosystem. I rejoiced in the sheer number of interested amateurs, inspired for some reason to deepen their knowledge of and involvement in the food movement. I left exhausted and yet energized by the fact that I’m clearly a part of something much larger than myself.
Farming can be a solitary venture, and the folks drawn to it can sometimes be solitary people – like yours truly, to be honest – who are attracted to the ideas of self-reliance, of capacity and creation, of independence.
But events like Rooting DC expose that fantasy for what it is, reminding us that we’re part of something big, that we’re part of a collective, and that we’re much better off for it. There are peers with whom to collaborate, there are teachers from whom to learn, and there are students to teach. Within a resilient community, we all have a part – or many parts, more likely – to play. We’re doing this together, and we need each other.
This week, as I’ve been silently seeding in the greenhouse or slowly prepping the farm for spring, that knowledge makes me excited for all that’s to come. Because not only am I part of this rich and wonderful community of local farmers / gardeners / educators, but I also get to work for a neighborhood-based farm that actively invites people into the fields, into the life of our organization.
“Honorable and companionable interdependence.” What a joy that’ll be.