News From the Farm | June 26, 2017

Proximity and Kinship

There is a game that I like to think that I made up but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a commonplace practice of cartographers. If I named it, I would call it something like Proximity. To play, you take a blank piece of paper and you draw a star in the middle of it to represent yourself. Then you think of every place in the world that you feel you are connected to and you draw a dot on the paper to represent those places in relation to your own star. If you wanted to add complexity to your map, you could code the dots in different shapes or colors to signify the type of connection. In drafting your map, you have to estimate distances and create your own scale, using your own brilliantly subjective mind. I like to riffle through my memory and think of places I have been in the context of people that have nurtured me and whom I love. The point of this abstract game is that, in the end, you have a unique, and ever-changing constellation of your own lived experience in proximity to place, people, experience and time. Like roots, you can conjure a map of the places that ground you and the places that have fostered your personal growth as a human being.

For me, Full Belly Farm is it’s own Milky Way of dots. Within this one location there are literally hundreds of individuals, places and experiences that I gravitate towards; with whom I have made beautiful and intense memories; from whom I have learned some of my most profound lessons; individuals who have cared for me in my darkest hours; people with whom I have laughed, cried and grown up, places that have wordlessly shown me the sublimity of existence and the inevitability of death.

Hello, my name is Ingrid and I have a six year relationship with Full Belly. Like most lasting, intimate relationships, it started on the internet… I was in my mid-twenties and, had this terrible sinking feeling that my life had no purpose and that I had nothing significant to contribute to society. I felt deeply sad at the thought that I was given such a blessed life and that I would not make anything meaningful of it. And, like too many souls in these post-modern times, I felt flooded with the problems of the world which are too vast and which I had no capacity to fix — there was nothing I could do to change the course of humanity. I felt that my well-paying job was meaningless and my own privilege and comfort were at the cost of something unfathomable and yet sinister, and this haunted me. I was fervently looking to find meaningful employment in my life.

Somehow Google, in all her omniscience whispered in my ear “Full Belly Farm”. And so I wrote them a letter of inquiry. Hallie wrote back and told me to stop by for an interview. I came and a few months later, I started work here. The trajectory of my life was changed forever. I became an apprentice for two years and come back every summer to the farm as an agritourist of sorts for one scorching month of hard, glorious labor.

I know that many of you have visited Full Belly (the individual experiences as varied as the weather), and many more of you have not (yet) visited for Hoes Down, summer camp, a tour or a farm dinner, or to work and live here for 2 years as an intern. Put it on your bucket list. Six Flags and Paris have nothing on Full Belly Farm.

The farm can appear at first glance to be a sublime paradise of majestic trees, sumptuous beds of flowers buzzing with beneficial insects, honey-sweet fruit, choirs of bird songs and baby animals in every direction. It can also feel like a smoldering inferno in the heat of a summer day’s work. Industrious workers maneuver irrigation lines and rotate livestock, coordinate delivery routes, hustle to adhere to regulatory red-tape, and acres of the best produce known to man will spoil in the field if not harvested within a few hours. My mind races with the dozens of other surging demanding systems that must be maintained or that will collapse. The farm, like Dante’s Divine Comedy, has it all. It is both a heaven and a very real boulder of Sisyphus to pull up an eternal slope of work. I think we call that feeling “the grind.”

When asked “is it worth it?” my experience has been that the farmers reply has always been a ponderous and complex “yes”. My mentor Bob Canard speaks of this constant demand on farmers as nature’s steady state; work with momentum, deliberate and thoughtful in movement and, like a metronome, your effort will perpetuate itself and sustain you.

There is symbiosis and there is the tension that comes from the push and pull of disparate logics collaborating. With every innovation and solution, a new dilemma or challenge emerges. That is the nature of existence and evolution. For me, I return each summer to Full Belly because it is my own personal place of worship. The stewardship of land here allows me to sleep under immense, celestial cathedrals, languish on a hot evening in a creek that is a life-blood rife with dragonflies, song birds, native grasses and myriad invertebrates. Fish jump and naked children skip stones and practice holding their breath underwater. Watching all of this activity, I, like a toddler, mimic and relearn the essential phenomenal life lessons and it feels oh so good. Life again, has a palpable meaning that our complex and nuanced society do not afford me.

This Beet letter is a strange sort of call to arms, asking you to think of your own relationship to Full Belly and to share your own narrative with us. By sharing each of our own lived experiences we can better understand the threads that bond us as interdependent members of one organism, we can reinforce the motivating fibers that make us kin. Because as much as the farm feeds and nurtures others, as much as it is a vibrant, vivacious, pulsing force to be reckoned with, it is a reciprocal relationship and the energy returns to the farm by the investment of literally thousands of people. Yes, in their purchasing produce but also in their care, dedication and proximity to this place.

I am the kind of person that worries that humans are slowly destroying our planet, that is a conversation to be had at another time and place. To me, Full Belly is a bastion of resistance to that fatalistic narrative. Life here is by no means a fairytale. Daily there are multitudes of challenges that demand compromise, sacrifice, doubt, negotiation and resilience. In farming, as in life, there is no quick fix or simple answer. But the quality that endures here at Full Belly Farm is commitment, compassion, humility and a profound faith that this dream can and is daily being realized. This place instills in me the belief that our small choices do have an impact and make a difference in the lives of those whom our lives and work touch. There is such a sense of pride, integrity and commitment by the people that farm this land to take the many laborious steps to challenge the consuming materialism of our globalized world. Although we live in an inequitable society that is tragically hierarchical, the people here believe in their own capacity and take deep pride in their work and the farm is a highly physical iteration of so many of the beautiful structures and systems of our communities that are striving to change things for the better.

It is almost the new moon and as I listen to the crickets and watch the stars in the satin sky, I connect the dots, my dots. I trace my map with my finger and, in my mind’s eye, I see Isabel, Joquina, Panchi and Catalina, who diligently triple check every order that passes through our packing shed, teach me with patience how to sort and handle the produce to ensure the best quality as well as how to raise beautiful children with integrity; Judith, a measured and dedicated, advocate for workers, farms and the land, diligently carving time to steward native hedgerows as well as the the needs of the people that reliably show up at 5:30 every day to work the land; the land itself, a sanctuary for the wild creatures who are quiet and essential keepers of life sustained through balance; Andrew surveying the labyrinth of tomatoes and stone fruit glowing still from the heat of the recent 110 degree days, glad to share his knowledge, still a teacher at heart; Dru, after a full day of connecting the hundreds of acres of produce and flowers with buyers, baths her grandson and milks her goat with a sigh that is hushed affirmation of life; Paul a surgeon for machines, fusses with the combine and smudging grease onto his brow as he wipes the sweat off, follows a stream of consciousness that courses with a momentum on scale with Niagara falls. Jan and Bonifacio work with the crew leads, by listening and paying attention they empower their team to share their knowledge of the fields and share in the leadership, likewise as we listen to the earth, it will provide abundance and health, and finally there is Antonio the shepherd, who communicates with the livestock so fluently that he can wordlessly move a flock of 100 sheep across the farm to new pasture with a simple whistle and gesture. This is because every day, in every minute action he consistently builds trust and they know they can rely on him to lead them safely to a better place. These are just a few of the stars on my map of Full Belly, individuals that fill me with faith that where we are going is not some place to be afraid of, but rather something to work hard at. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French writer and aviator said that to live is to be slowly born and to live on this farm is an unforgettable labor.   

— Ingrid Lassleben