Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Urban Farmer

Who fed the chickens? “I did. “
Who stacked the hay? “I did.”
Who milked the cow? “I did.”
On this fine day.

—Children’s song by Ella Jenkins

In the shift to urban culture, it has been a long time since most of us lived on a farm. In rural Ohio where I went to college, I used to bike through the farmlands and imagine some ideal pastoral existence. At least until some friend point out that I’d be working my butt off, getting up way too early in the morning to milk cows, feed chickens and stack hay, dealing with pigshit, bugs and deer in the garden, coyotes in the hen house, the loud roar of tractors, the whims of the weather, a surplus of zucchini and so on. Living on a farm wasn’t exactly Thoreau leisurely bonding with nature around Walden Pond— more relentless work and responsibility tending to all the different demands of farm life, with no vacation in sight.

But in some ways, not too different from my life in the big city. Getting up by alarm to go to school, feed the little chickens so they will offer the fertile eggs of the future, organizing six different curriculums like neatly-stacked bales of hay, coaxing the milk of spiritual nutrition from piano keys and xylophone bars. And if I’ve chosen my work well, planted the garden that suits my appetite, raised the crops that will help feed others, considered carefully where to put fences around too-many possibilities and left some land alone, why, then every day is indeed a fine day.

The song goes on as an exercise in personal pronouns. Next verse, sense of self and other—“you did.” Then gender identification—“he did,” “she did.” Sense of identity with one group as distinct from another—“they did.” And finally the grand climax of inclusiveness— “we did.” And if you are so fortunate as to be in a community where everyone has consciously chosen and crafted their farm, then the excitement is contagious and the love palpable, the world refreshed by whole groups of people working side-by-side tending with tenderness and care the crops they grow, inch by inch, row by row. Husbanding the animals they have chosen relationship with in exchange for eggs, milk, cheese, meat and bagpipe skins. Planting the fruit trees in good faith that nature's bounty will provide.

And yes, there are days when we curse the crow of the rooster, times when crops fail through no fault of our own, seasons with storms that sweep through and topple in an instant our carefully crafted work. But if we are properly humbled and grateful and accept our station in the grand scheme of things, these too can count as a fine day.

So whether on an actual farm or living in the city working in an office, most of the daily round is farmwork responding to the constant demands of raising the things we have chosen, the things that need our attention and the things we need to feed us. Having sprinkled the grain of these black-and white letters in the henhouse of my blog, I’m off to re-stack my CD’s. A day in the life of the urban farmer awaits.

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