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Lessons from the Land: Resilience

A Mother’s Love

Farming has helped me heal and I’m so grateful for it, so I thought I’d share some words about it.

I wasn’t a person before I started farming. Okay, sure, I had all the qualities of a person—hobbies, favorite bands, a preferred season, a skeletal system—but when I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize my reflection. Who was this college dropout? Did I even like them? Did they have any sort of purpose, like, at all? If they did, it was unbeknownst to me. I simply didn’t know them.

I now understand that this is a symptom of trauma—personal trauma and generational trauma bequeathed to me. My seven-year eating disorder, a mother whose free spirit was crushed by compulsive heteronormativity, a grandmother who never had a chance to discover who she really was, a great-grandmother who never even wanted to have a child, a great-great grandmother who lost all but one of her children to illnesses and had to flee her home country as an adult. It can break your heart to tiny pieces if you start thinking about it for too long—the compounded suffering, each maternal generation laying the foundation for a house—my body—besieged by trauma.

It was June of 2017 when I first started volunteering on a small organic vegetable farm in Belmont, Massachusetts. Twenty-six years old and just realizing that farms not only existed but that I, a regular person, could work on one.

I was in love.

There was nothing better than taking a bus and three trains home smeared in dirt. I wanted people to ask why I was so damn dirty so that I could exclaim about post-hole diggers and summer squash and collecting eggs from real-life chickens. It felt like I had discovered a secret. Not just a secret, but the secret, and if only people would ask I could gleefully pour some soil into their hands and watch their eyes brighten.

By September I was working on a larger organic vegetable farm in Concord, Massachusetts where I finished the 2017 season. This was followed by a full-time apprenticeship on the same farm in 2018. I was buzzing from connecting with the Earth. My serotonin levels climbed higher every time I slid my hands into the ground. My confidence was stick landing intricate backflips in front of cheering crowds as I learned how to drive tractors. Staying an hour or two extra to set up irrigation as the sun slipped away was like talking to a therapist.

Farming was medicine. Physically draining, ache-inducing, sweaty medicine.

After the vegetables, came the animals. Six months on a small goat dairy in Maine showed me just how much work goes into making the goat cheeses, yogurts, and other dairy delicacies that I do so love.

I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand the hours in the dairy scooping curd or wrapping cheeses for farmers’ markets. Couldn’t stand machine milking goats for two and a half hours every other night. But, oh, the goats. Stealing away to the barn for ten minutes here and there to sit with these caprine creatures calmed my nerves. Their unfaltering gazes, their curiosity, their measured and rhythmical chewing as they worked at their cud—this was why I was here. The small moments where I could thank them for their gifts.

In my earlier twenties, I had suffered a short period of extreme gastrointestinal pain and goats’ milk kefir had played a significant role in healing my gut. How else could I display my gratitude than by giving them the gift of my devotion? Our gut health is vital. My gut health had been ravaged by an eating disorder. Their gifts had helped rebuild my health. I could give these goats six months of my life in return.

After the goats, I farmed for one more season, but I didn’t return to farming after that. Farming is more than a full-time job—it’s your life. And all the hours I gave to this lifestyle made me realize that I have other passions in need of my time. Even in this way has farming helped reveal parts of who I am. I am an artist and a musician and I didn’t know how badly I needed to fulfill these parts of myself until farming showed me.

The mothers on my maternal side did the best they could in a world where womens’, AFABs’, and queer spirits are squashed by capitalism. But I had to turn to our shared Mother. I needed to fill my house with her sunlight, soil, and creatures, and it was by farming that I was able to do this. I can now look at my reflection and see an artist, a nature-lover, a musician, and an armchair herbalist, amongst other things. But mostly I see myself, and I like them.