One of the wonderful but strange things about farming is that people are always asking if they can come out to the farm to help. It’s wonderful because yeah, often we can use an extra hand. But on the other hand, we’re a for-profit business. It’s unusual to donate your labor to someone else’s business (How many folks offer to volunteer at their dentist’s office?).
Last week, 20 friends and CSA members joined us at the new land for a workday. Folks crammed shovels and wheelbarrows into their hatchbacks and drove out to Cedar Grove to help us spread a gargantuan quantity of compost (like, over 30 tons). We gave some rough directions, and everyone got to work filling wheelbarrows and raking compost. Soon we were all shedding layers and joking and talking. And suddenly, two hours later, we looked around, the piles were gone, and the compost was thickly and beautifully spread.
Sure, we could have hired someone to come out with the right equipment and spread the compost for us. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun, and what would we have told all the people who kept offering to help? At the end of the day, people were thanking us for allowing them to do manual labor on our behalf. One friend said that it felt like a free therapy session. It showed me that even people who don’t farm have a deep need to be involved in growing food, and to work outside. In the coming years, Gordon and I want to find more creative ways for our CSA members to be able to spend time at the farm.
Spending time on other people’s farms is what seduced Gordon and me into becoming farmers. Now, having people out to our farm feels like a way to pay it forward. If you’re interested in farming or in growing food, find a farm or community garden to visit and ask if you can help out. Get out there and get your hands in the soil.
You may think of farmers as self-reliant, independent creatures, but that is only partly true. A thriving farm, like pretty much any enterprise, relies on a network of supporters, allies, and neighbors. Particularly a small farm like ours. After decades of agriculture becoming more and more mechanized, the new, local agriculture is people-powered farming. Both because more of the work is done by hand and because we sell directly to our customers. The way we see it, the more people are involved in our farm, the more resilient our farm becomes. If more people spend their afternoons shoveling compost or planting garlic on their local farms, then more people will value the work farmers do and develop a new respect for soil. And that’s a future we’re excited about.
Standing out there, on the new land, as the afternoon sun dipped low in the sky, we felt immense gratitude. We felt grateful for finally having a home for our farm, for good soil and rich compost, for all the marvelous people who spent their afternoon spreading compost with us, for the joy of working together as a team, and for the feeling that we’re not taking on this huge project solely by ourselves. It’s heartwarming to know that a bunch of people care about us and the farm, and want to be a part of it in whatever way they can.