News From the Farm | August 14, 2017

It is easy to become intimidated by the challenges defined in news cycles and their focus on overwhelming problems like climate change, hunger and poverty, sowing the seeds of hopelessness. Many of these issues are framed in a way that makes us feel overpowered by their magnitude. Those in the political and business worlds often use the theatre of power to keep us in a state of incredulity, disarming the ability to act.  Global warming, for example, dwarfs any potential contribution that an individual might make and intimidates many by its magnitude.

We are in need of pathways forward that allow us to see clearly our power to instigate positive change and ethical renewal. Those contributions must be simple, satisfying, accessible, replicable actions that might inspire others to become part of large-scale action. The actions must be creative and resonate for all with a positive message. They must combine hope with action, building a new design to empower and join in rethinking parts of the design that fail to enhance health and beauty. These acts must be leavened with love and empathy. 

I have been thinking about the unique relationship that we have tried to build with our patrons – those of you who have chosen to eat the food we grow and support our farm. Many of you are CSA members, about 1,000 families who receive a share of our harvest. Others may support us at farmers markets, farm dinners, or by buying our produce at your neighborhood store. We have long held to the principle that we need to be authentic, transparent, and honest in order to gain your trust in our intentions – what we hope are ‘right intentions’ that reflect values that are timeless: honoring the history of rural peoples, and building and supporting diversity in all of its forms here on the farm. 

Building a farm is never a finished project. For us at Full Belly, the design and present experience of this farm are ongoing with some principles that inform this evolving design. We are seeking to make a farm where complexity becomes simplicity and where we optimize the harvest and storage of energy in its myriad forms (solar, biological, plant, animal, and human). We loosely seek to make the whole healthy by understanding and working on the health of the parts that make up a farm. The larger focus is on health, while the day-to-day brings new challenges to improve upon all of those aspects that contribute to the complex integrated whole.

Some things are pretty clear. We must power our economic health with good yields allowing our income to exceed our expenses. We must be able to differentiate our product in the marketplace and have a strategy for doing so. We must put the many forces of energy to use on the farm, harvesting the biological potential of this land by optimizing the solar gain that we can achieve through plants and photosynthesis. We have embraced biological diversity as a core component of farm health and resiliency.

Diversity itself can take many forms as we think about design.  It seems that the more that is added to a complex system, the greater the potential for new insight and for new interrelationships to become clear. We can grow more beneficial insects for example by growing more flowering plants, leaving weedy edges, or planting hedgerows for habitat and food. Those insects attract more birds that come to feed, and add a dimension of life to farm edges. The edges harbor more spiders and generalist predators who snatch flying insects from the air. Bats show up and make their home here as a stopping-point in their cycle of migration, doing their own harvest of insects – working while we sleep. More pollinating insects also arrive, some who work when it is cold, expanding the range of workers out here visiting flowers and transferring pollen.

We can act to benefit a part – in this case insects – and watch as a myriad of new interrelationships come to add their own piece to the symphony. If we were to spray all of the field’s edges with a herbicide, as many farms do to keep things looking clean, the opportunity to see who comes and fills out the farm would never present itself. 

So plant trees and flowers in your neighborhood to collect carbon and add a small part to reducing greenhouse gasses. They will make the shade to cool the asphalt and attract the birds and insects to live there. Bike and walk more – it is good for your health and the planet. Grow more layers of life by adding seeds and plants every year. Focus on health, tend the earth, and watch the results. We are all the designers of a healthier world and in being so we can wrestle back parts that help to make all of us whole in the wonderfully beautiful and complex web of life that is waiting to show up and add their part to a more complex pattern.

Thank you for being part of our Community. We appreciate your commitment.

— Paul Muller