review by Bob Banning
Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib have been making love while farming for over thirty years.
You’re thinking, they must be great multitaskers. Also, they have a lot more stamina than we do.
Once you get into the book, you realize that although as farmers Deb and Ricky do need to keep track of a lot of tasks, and although “making love,” in the usual sense of the phrase, actually is one of those tasks, having sex while doing farming chores is not what the book’s title means. You also learn that, far from letting the multitude of tasks make them anxious or distracted, they are probably two of the most focused people you’ll encounter.
As for stamina, they do work as long and hard as necessary to keep well-considered promises but also strive tirelessly for balance, so as to care for themselves and thereby preserve their ability to care for other people and all other beings in their sphere. In fact, to the extent that they have pushed the limits of their endurance, they have done so, according to the book, in order to help other people pursue that same balance that they themselves are pursuing. And Making Love While Farming serves that same mission.
The book is both a memoir and a kind of self-help book. As a memoir, it narrates how the authors have learned and grown throughout their lives as they have strived to “grow food everywhere” organically, justly, and locally, for themselves and others. This story includes the history several enterprises they’ve founded in order to empower others to create a life aligned with their deepest values. Woven throughout is the story of Ricky and Deb’s spiritual journey—and journeys: both together and as individuals they have practiced deep listening so as to discern and honor the sacred in themselves, each other, all people they encounter, and the land and all its creatures. Episodes of the story make up the first of each of the book’s eight chapters.
The second part of each chapter is the how-to part, fulfilling the promise of the book’s subtitle, that the book would be a Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose. Each field guide section offers questions and recommended “practices” for those who want to go on the “journey of a self-created life.” The practices include both productive movement and stillness. Ricky and Deb have found that in order to cultivate balance in yourself and others and to set and passionately pursue goals truly aligned with your heart’s deepest values, you need to frequently be quiet and listen to your heart. For Deb, this has involved yoga; for Ricky, meditation informed by reading of various spiritual masters. Each day, having centered through stillness, they seek to maintain the heart/value connection during the workday by frequently incorporating rituals and acknowledgment of the sacred into farming tasks.
The chapters are so packed with details and insights that they’re hard to summarize. The best way for me to serve readers may be to enumerate a few specific ways that Deb and Ricky have sought to fulfill their mission and then suggest at how these activities have “made love.”
In 1996 the authors bought the land in Orange that would become their farm. The farm became the home base for reaching out to others in various ways to spread the joy of “a life of passion and purpose” through growing good food and eating it together. The authors have taught apprentices how to farm, welcomed children onto the farm for visits, helped area schools start and maintain school gardens, and led workshops for adults. An important service to area youth has been the SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden. Deb and Ricky had learned that in their new community “there was no shortage of need to guide youth towards positive activities,” and by teaching the youth to garden during weekly visits throughout each spring, they enabled them to learn valuable skills and grow in respect for themselves and others.
In 1999 they founded the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange, Massachusetts, which the event website calls “a celebration of the artistic, agricultural, and cultural bounty of the region.” In recent years the festival has attracted 10,000 people, who, because of the organizers’ devotion to recycling and composting, generate a total of three (3) bags of trash.
As I read, I enjoyed pondering what “making love” means to the authors and what it can mean for all of us, in the biggest sense. Certainly one thing it means is sex, and Deb and Ricky are not shy about recommending sex as the joyful work of paying loving attention and honor to another person’s body. But as the story progresses, the meaning of the book’s title ramifies in many interesting directions, because making love, in the sense of generating love, is what the authors are trying to do in all their relationships—with those they teach, with their neighbors, with their community allies, and with the people and other creatures who collaborate with them in various enterprises. Including the earthworms under the cardboard—“the worms’ perfect singles bar.”
Ricky and Deb realize that strong love requires a sense of humor, and this comes across in the way they tell many episodes of their story. They know that love means taking risks on people, and then learning from the results, whether positive or negative. And they know that love is always looking for reasons to be grateful, sometimes to people and sometimes to “the universe” or whatever force caused something good or beautiful to happen that one had not planned or did not deserve. And so along with gratitude, love needs humility.
Making Love While Farming makes me want to be a better lover. And also, more than ever, to go to the next edition of the Garlic & Arts Festival, September 28-29. See you there?