This issue of The Natural Farmer focuses on the ways that working with plants and animals helps people — prisoners, autistic children, the mentally disturbed, the emotionally abused, anyone with a troubled soul — to heal.
That such healing happens sometimes on farms has been well known for centuries. It is validated these days by many studies and PhD programs, and I believe many farmers have experienced it as well. We have certainly felt it on our own farm.
For years now Julie and I have been hiring young men (and at least once a young woman) who have been in trouble with the law — mostly for drug-related offences. Their status as ex-prisoners made it hard for them to find jobs (discrimination, revocation of drivers licenses, lack of vehicles to get to work, required absences for drug testing, probation meetings, etc.) But once hired some of them stayed for several years and became not only excellent employees, but trusted friends.
These are people who have been through hard times – broken families, unhappy relationships, truncated schooling, loss or betrayal by friends, jailhouse withdrawal. They have been thrown back onto themselves, I dare say, harder than most of us have ever experienced.
Yet a few days of planting seeds and caring for new life, feeding baby animals and moving cows to new grass, somehow touches that loneliness and can point the way to wholeness.
None of us knows how healing happens. But it has something to do with trust, with responsibility, with care for the helpless and with witnessing the miracle of life. Perhaps Wendell Berry says it best:
“Healing is impossible in loneliness… To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”
And where better to attend that feast than on an organic farm?