The sun is warm on your back, the gentle breeze wafts the scent of fresh mown hay across the field to where you work thinning carrots and gently guiding the pole beans up their string trellis. The children frolic, climbing trees and making forts as the june bugs drone and a hawk cries out high above.
Yep. That’s real. It happened to me.
I smear myself from head to toe in oil meant to keep away mosquitoes. It works pretty well most of the time, but this spring the farm has become the hellmouth for mosquito demons. Every day I ponder how many clothes to put on, balancing the careful need to not die from heat exhaustion versus the desire to not feel the stinging injection of a thousand tiny mouthparts sucking my blood. I unplug the electric fence and head into the garden with my artisanal lettuce seed blend and heirloom tomato transplants. I have my hoe, and my hori hori. I am ready for epic battle. I feel the first twitchy desire to slap away the burning of the mosquito feed. I wiggle, but I am strong. I will resist!
No I don’t. I spend the next three hours attempting to get my work done while slapping only the most desperate of bites: the ones that crawl down my pants, (Damn my buttcrack!) or attack my eyes.
This too was real.
I’m no longer a farm manager at a small CSA like I was. I’ve moved on from that life. I am focusing on being a writer and an artist and it’s been good for me. However, I’ve studied organic horticultural production, winter hoophouse management for greens production, food systems, and worked at various organic farms around town along with keeping my own gardens. I can tell you that farming is hard labor, with tight profit margins, and a fluctuating climate with more wild and intense weather patterns every year. I can tell you that our national food distribution systems are incredibly fragile and that in the race to keep food prices low, agribusiness can look a lot like the worst imagining of Lovecraftian doom.
I can say, with authority, that supporting local farmers and growing your own food is one of the best ways to help the earth, your community, and yourself. For reals.
This year I’m helping out with a local community garden. I now live in a townhouse with no yard of my own and had to abandon all of my carefully tended herbs and perennials. But don’t worry. I’m starting a vermicomposting bin (that’s composting with worms) and doing some straw bale gardens on my back patio.
So you want to be a farmer?
It’s well worth your while to turn some of your yard into raised beds, get some chickens, or even raise rabbits for meat. As Pagans we often feel a deep connection to nature, either to the majesty of the Earth Mother or the wildness of a Horned God. It’s hard to know how to take that joy in nature and turn it into something useful. Do you buy organic or free range eggs? Is it better to grow your own vegetables with some judicious use of miracle gro or buy meat from a local farmer? You can’t do everything, and in the attempt we often fail, and do nothing. So here’s my suggestions:
- Grow your own veg. Start with lettuces, radishes and herbs. Move from there into tomatoes and other larger things. Try to minimize pesticides and herbicides. There are lots of great books on the topic. We Pagans are great at reading!
- Buy local over organic. “Organic” as a food certification is run by the US Food and Drug Administration, it’s clearly biased toward big agribusiness, which is nothing like what most people think of when they envision a “farm”. I really believe it’s better to support a local farmer who uses chemicals than a distant one that doesn’t. Get to know your farmers, support local farmer’s markets, buy a share from a farm using a CSA model, or think about investing in a deep freezer and buying a whole pig or a half a beef cow from a local farmer.
- Avoid processed foods. When you’re at the grocery store try to shop for ingredients rather than boxes. Choose a carrot you have to peel over a frozen, dried, or canned one. Think of the peeling and chopping as Pagan earth meditation, because it is. It also gets you used to dealing with real veg. Real veg has dirt and comes in weird shapes. Sometimes it has bugs or holes. The best broccoli I ever made my family had scale all over it. I had no idea at first. They just kept telling me how tasty this boring steamed broccoli was. Scale is this weird bug that plops down on a plant and doesn’t move. It looks like little grey bumps. I noticed that under the florets there were tons of them stuck to every bite. My family was happily, radiantly eating bugs. I didn’t tell them until after dinner.
- Improve your protein sources. I’m not a vegetarian, and really can’t be for health reasons. I actually think most people need some amount of animal fat and protein in their diet. However, some of the worst and most horrifying practices in our modern food industry come from the meat industry. I know how to kill a chicken now. I’ve killed chickens, ducks, turkeys, and rabbits, and helped to butcher goat, deer, and pig. This was a big ass deal for my suburban self. Butchering your own meat is not a skill that everyone can learn, but some can. Think about buying local meat, or learning the skills to raise, kill, pluck, and dress a chicken. It takes time, but it is doable and will teach you things about Samhain that you never dreamed.
So you want to be a Pagan farmer? Maybe you are one of those rare individuals who love to be outdoors, are dedicated, comfortable with solitude, able to lead, and want to be a pillar of community in your area? Go find some land, or better yet, go work for a farmer. I wish you nothing but success. It’s a tough job, but a desperately needed one. After all, we all gotta eat. I’ve watched a heron wade through a ditch a few yards away while I picked row after row of beans, and weeded beets in the pouring rain. Growing your own food can be amazing. If you want to connect to the land, learn to farm and learn to love your local farmers.
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