News From the Farm | July 3, 2017

There are some fertile stories that ripened this past week: The 114-degree heat that blistered the farm; Whole Food’s meeting the Amazon piranha; California’s listing of Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer) as a carcinogen; the many tweets and twitterings around health care…. all captivating stories. However I am more compelled to write about a passing that like many other moments in time requires us to stop and reflect on our own humanity.

This past Saturday a good Farmer, responsible steward and friend of Full Belly passed away after a prolonged battle with Multiple Myeloma. Nigel Walker, founder of Eatwell Farm, a 105-acre farm in Dixon, was a forward thinker and creative force in the organic farming community. Since its inception in 1993, Eatwell Farm has been a model farm in its beauty and complexity, integrating rotations of lavender, clover, vegetables, livestock and fruit with a vibrant CSA and farmers market community. 

Nigel was respected as an innovator. He forged his own path in energy use by powering his farm with used vegetable oil and energy efficient design. He was an innovator in crop rotation by utilizing legumes, chickens, permanent edges and vegetable crops to create a healthy farm eco-system that wasn’t supported with the addition of imported nutrients.  He nurtured community with a farm open to his customers as a place to visit, pick lavender or strawberries, camp, or make tomato sauce. At farmers market, Eatwell was known for quality heirloom tomatoes, wonderful eggs and a philosophy of responsible stewardship. One couldn’t buy his vegetables without getting a good dose of philosophy and farming reality.

There is a union of good farmers with place, where an intimacy with the land is united with timeless reason and rhythm.  Nigel got a bit closer to that knowledge by designing a farm that wasn’t of a huge scale. He was mindful of his choices and in touch with a universal responsibility of his business to the future of the planet. He was a unique character where his exhibition of kindness, good humor, generosity, empathy, thrift and respect for life was made manifest in how he ran his farm and how his farm touched others. He grew with his farm over the years, demonstrating love for what had been designed and for the outcomes produced from that design.

To be in love with all of the life on a farm is the best and most pleasing result of practicing the art of farming. To become integrated into a place and have the simple and timeless acts of stewarding the resources of a managed yet free environment become stitched into the heart of the farmer makes for whole farms. Nigel reflected that integration and extended it to a community outside of the farm as a teacher who validated the truths of what he produced through the flavors of the crops that he grew. He will be missed by many, including his wife Lorraine, sons Andrew and Eric, his family of farm workers and his many customers. He was only 56 years old.

The following poem by Wendell Berry reflects upon the association of farmer to place.  It is from the book, Leavings. 

Thought he was ill and in pain,

in disobedience to the instruction he 

would have received if he had asked,

the old man got up from his bed, 

dressed, and went to the barn. 

The bare branches of winter had emerged 

through the last leaf-colors of fall, 

the loveliest of all, browns and yellows, 

delicate and nameless in the gray light

and the sifting rain. He put feed 

in the troughs for eighteen ewe lambs,

sent the dog for them, and she

brought them. They came eager

to their feed, and he who felt 

their hunger was by their feeding

eased. From no place in the time

of present places, within no boundary

nameable in human thought

they had gathered once again, 

the shepherd, his sheep, and his dog 

with all the known and the unknown

round about to the heavens’ limit.

Was this his stubbornness or bravado?

No. Only an ordinary act

of profound intimacy in a day

that might have been better. Still

the world persisted in its beauty

he in his gratitude, and for this 

he had most earnestly prayed.

Sometimes someone touches our lives with their mindfulness, reminding us of our common humanity in the most simple and timeless acts of growing food, sharing its sweetness, being responsible to all outcomes and closing the space between worlds and realities. Although never completely perfect, their life becomes a gift, a lesson lived, revealed by the strength of their character and beliefs in a cycle of living and dying that turns, always beginning never ending.

— Paul Muller