On January 21, 2018, my partner Hanna (@tapalouflowers) and I hosted a work party at our farm - Tapalou Guilds - in southern Vermont to “skin” our new 26’ x 84’ greenhouse. The project, started in October of last year, ran into some obstacles that prevented its completion before the snow and wicked cold settled upon the land. The main culprit was my frequent inability to see a task through to completion before starting on the next one! I am often at my best when I can just wander from project to project on a bit of a whim, but it doesn’t necessarily bode as well for the charge currently at hand.
So when I saw the forecasted 45 degree thaw day with little to no wind projected about ten days ago, I thought, “A-ha! A chance to get this thing wrapped up and ready for early spring planting!” Winds of potential redemption whistled across the landscape of my brain and I was determined to sing along. We had already missed the boat on getting a winter crop planted and spring is just around a couple corners. I put out the call for help to friends and farm supporters in our community and people responded in a big way.
I worked one-on-one with a few different folks on various phases of the project - Gary moved some compost piles, Jason pushed some earth around and drove some posts, and Travis built the actual structure with me. But the Sunday buzz of fifteen or so people who were eager to contribute and bring this project to fruition, well, it was invigorating and inspiring to say the least.
And it got me thinking about our vision and mission and what we are building on our farm and in our community. There is something magnitudes more valuable than dollars in our pockets or tokens in our digital wallets and that something is social capital - the currency of community. After living off-the-grid for five years with intentions of self-sufficiency, I found that the idea of “self-sufficiency” is mainly just that: an idea, something ephemeral that fails to apply in a world that does not respond gingerly to our attempts at avoiding nuance. We rely heavily upon the trajectory of our collective past to imbue us with the strength and wisdom to carry on with our own sense of purpose in the present. I imagine there are very few Dick Proennekes out there and I wouldn’t be surprised if those rare people confessed to feeling an electric connection to something greater, coupled with a diminished view of self-importance.
We moved back onto the grid nearly three years ago when we found our current home with its barn and pond and wild orchard and acres of open, arable land. So many different forces, marching steadily along with time, influenced the canvas which we inherited. We are simply the latest in the line, stewarding and trying to nudge the landscape in the particular direction that corresponds with our ideas.
I have come to learn that my comfort level falls squarely in a bin of differently shaped pegs, where I can ride tangential thoughts into an orbit of irregular comprehension or get loose sliding down a hypotenuse, finding new acuity in the angles of the angels. Where I can look for a sign and be fine if one is never seen, only hoping that I land in between this rock and a place that maybe is just a little less than hard. Where I can reach out to others with information and ideas and questions and theories and watch as the shapes come back slightly altered or brightly colored, radically different or dulled down like flint, ready to be assembled and ignited, an effigy of our burning desire to do better.
The manifestation of all these thoughts was on clear display on a partly sunny winter day. I looked around at all of our friends working toward this resilience and hoped that it didn’t feel so much like they were helping us as it did that we were all helping ourselves, together. Sure, it happened to be on “our” land, but the nature of farming means that we are only leveraging the bountiful elements at our disposal to encourage outputs of food and life, health and joy, things that are anything but disposable.
There now exists an altered growing space, protected from the harshest winds and the most biting colds, lending itself as an environment that’s fractionally more hospitable than it was as bare earth. But often, it’s only a matter of a few degrees that leads to a rising understanding and an extension of friendship. The common denominators in all of this - collaboration and community and creativity - can take an action that appears infinitesimally small and relatively insignificant, but then, when projected out to infinity, rapidly grows by leaps and bounds, leaves and fronds, drawing a radical spiraling geometry of humanity and humility.
Then the seed meets the soil, the cycle repeats, and we pray for the chance to meet again with soft eyes under kind and forgiving skies.