I amble down the slope into the fields, plastic bin in hand – for basil, or lettuce, or kale – and descend into the layer of cool, moisture-laden air lingering in the low part of the farm. At the bottom, over the pond, the early morning has gathered as much of this dampness into itself as it can hold, and it overflows in gossamer veils of mist hovering like a dream over the cattails and reeds. I pause to take it all in, and at that moment the sun bursts over the shoulder of Pilot Peak and illuminates the tens of thousands of dewdrops condensed on the field, engulfing the slope in light. I am no longer in myself – there’s no sore back, no payroll, no endless tasks that will never get done. I am simply present.
It was moments like these that kept me farming.
I decided to farm when I was in college studying environmental science. I came to believe that it is our disconnection from the environment that is at the root of environmental degradation. I went on to study how people interact with, and derive sustenance from, their land, and so I began thinking – and then dreaming – of farming the land myself. By the time I finished school, farming had come to represent not only my personal freedom from the “artificial” world around me but also the vocation by which I could align my fundamental beliefs and actions. I was 24 years old and unreasonably idealistic when my childhood friend and I found 10 acres to lease back in my hometown in Northern California.
On our certified organic farm we grew diverse row crops sold through our 100-member CSA, six farmers’ markets, and a handful of local grocery stores – everything from fruit, to greens, to root vegetables, and much more. We had five employees, and virtually all the labor except soil preparation was done by hand. It was a staggering amount of work, and because farmers must wear so many hats in our jobs (besides growing food we are marketing, coordinating with produce managers, and running the farmers’ markets, to name just a few), we forced ourselves to work 80-90 hour weeks the first season, and still left so much undone. Our lives were imbalanced, our relationships suffered, and we never made enough money.
So my idealistic endeavor instead became one of personal survival. It was only the sunrises over Pilot Peak, or the magic of the planted seed that sprouts, or the cry and whirl of migrating sandhill cranes – harbingers of fall and the diminishment of my labors for the season – that kept me farming. These daily gifts were a reminder of my littleness in the scheme of things and of my connection to the awe-inspiring world around me.
I farmed for more than four years, and it is a time my mind wanders back to almost everyday. How beautiful that life was, how brutally hard, how vivid and alive.
I have some regrets from that time, but mostly I think back and wonder what I could have done differently.
Could I have worked harder? I don’t know.
Smarter? Of course.
Could I have eventually found a way to live a balanced life as a farmer? To make a living, support a family, and even now be an eight-year veteran of the fields? I am not sure.
Yet part of me feels that I gave up too easily, that I should have sacrificed my personal needs and comforts for the greater purpose. Because for me, that is what farming was. It was the opportunity to work at something far greater than myself – in fact, greater than my capability – and to somehow meet that challenge. Modest farmers, farmers of small tracts, faithful stewards of the land, those who pay homage to the myriad natural processes upon which we depend – that is what our society needs, for it has forgotten from where its food, health, culture, community, and so much more has come.
Farming left me humbled, enriched, and thankful. I am grateful, too, for those who still farm and for those who will later embark on that path. I likely will not farm for a living again. Yet I still strive to shape my life around those same ideals: to live close to the land, respect the natural world to which I am inexorably connected, find that endeavor larger than myself, and strive for it.
Since his last season farming in 2012, Logan Egan has worked as the gardens manager for a 20-acre community in Hawai‘i, and as a landscaper and permaculture designer in Grass Valley, CA. He is currently attending UC Berkeley’s Master’s of Landscape Architecture Program.
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