Perhaps you've wondered why I haven't written a new SLAW entry since July fourth of last year.
The long, busy days of summer, the whirlwind of a vegetable-driven existence, are certainly one reason every farmer has trouble keeping in touch for a part of each year.
Another reason is more personal. On the morning of July fourth, 2014, my father collapsed from a cranial hemorrhage. He remained unconscious in the hospital until he died on July 16th.
I have puzzled over how much to say about this in a journal of farm life, but I see now that I cannot write about anything else until I say a bit about my father.
Neither of my parents, who were born and lived in Brooklyn, New York (Mom still does.), were farmers. But somehow I am able to do what I do because of them. In the past six months, I have been learning a lot about everything my father taught me. When I am in the field harvesting the best food I can find, moving as efficiently as I can, enthused by the bright green grass, cool blue kale, and melodious bird and frog songs, while simultaneously pondering hiring decisions, production issues, supplies or repairs needed, recipes and marketing ideas, and personal dynamics on the farm, I stop and think, "That's my Dad."
He knew how to work diligently and creatively, and how to love it, and he passed that love along to me.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about how much of my job here is to be a teacher. In my more cynical moments I have been known to complain that many of the people who come to work here arrive unskilled, and have a difficult time learning.
When I take personal responsibility, I realize that I can't do much about the fact that the skills involved in farming are no longer commonly held or taught. The quality of physical and manual dexterity, alert and active observation, discipline and self-motivation, creative problem-solving-in-action, patience and perseverance found in every day farm life may not be present in a more specialized position further removed from the natural world. Instant electronic communications have rendered certain kinds of planning and organization nearly obsolete.
So I don't have much control over the shortage of trained professionals wanting to work on farms. But I can affect what people learn once they come here. After I stopped blaming others and expecting someone else to clean up the mess, I realized that it is time for me to improve my teaching. Both of my parents were teachers; very good ones. Why should I not make an effort commensurate with their legacy?
After my father's passing many of his students and friends sent beautiful letters of condolence, and I was fortunate to read a lot about what he meant to all of them. In describing what he valued about Dad's teaching, one student wrote, "He met me where I was at."* When I think about it, all of the best teachers in my life have generously and lovingly done the same for me. Why should I hesitate to participate in the flow of this abundance? Isn't this what life really is?
As I begin another growing season I will continue exploring the ways in which I can treasure my inheritance.
* A tip o' the pen to Kale Good (Yes! That IS his real name!) for this quote from an inspiring letter.