By Grace Leuchtenberger
As Rose said in her last blog post, about every farmer we visit asks us a similar question: “why did you choose this program?” And as Rose said, we all have our set spiel, rationale, and anecdotes which illustrate why we’re laboring in a field 7 hours a day, 3 days a week in 90 degree heat (in long pants and shirts, nonetheless). We usually point to a class, a long-standing question, or an experience that led us here.
While those prepackaged reasons may be the initial reason we chose the program, I for one know that my interest in agricultural biology is not the entire explanation for why I love the program.
At each farm we visit, either for work days or seminar days, the time we spend there is filled with constant dialogue and questions for the farmers, whether we’re asking where to put the harvested peppers, or what they think the future of agriculture will be. From there we poke a bit at their reasoning, and unwittingly, we learn who the person really is; what/whom they love, what they’re passion is, why they came to the farm in the first place. Take Rocky Casillas, the director of community outreach at the Main Street Project, one of the farms we visited. In asking why he came to work at Main Street, he responded that eventually, he may want to homestead and that working at Main Street would give him the proper experience to do so. I prodded further about why he wanted to homestead, and he said that he wanted to do it in Kenya, where he works (remotely, right now) for a nonprofit that serves to protect lions. This revelation unraveled much of his life story; he grew up in Northfield, majored in conservation biology at the University of Minnesota, met his fiancé there, and has fostered a passion for big cats for the past 10 years of his life. A whole person, a whole life had appeared before me, just by asking a couple questions.
I love this program because we get to meet the complicated, beautiful, real people that help run these farms, businesses, and education programs. They hope to expand their farms, grow better produce, find better markets, and achieve new dreams. But sometimes they don’t weed their onions for a month, they forget to put oil in their tractor engine, they have to close a store, or they can’t afford to switch to more sustainable equipment, fertilizer, and techniques. Everyone has their different reasons for implementing certain practices on their farms, or why they even want to farm, but they all truly care about their plants or livestock.
With politics, corporations, and powerful people constantly trying to manipulate either our vision or their public image, us in the 2018 HoH cohort dove deep into this program and struck the most bare reality we could find, in the form of prickly weeds, dirt, heat, the process of starting an agricultural business, and people who are just trying to make a living off the earth.
I think we love this program because it is such a departure from the twisted cacophony that assaults our ears and eyes every day. Not just in a “back to the land” type of way which misguidedly romanticizes the difficult life of a farmer, but precisely the opposite of that. We have been given license to find the truest truth about agriculture that we could find, and again, have found that breath of fresh air that is the barest, most plain reality. We see cows with mastitis; pepper plants wiped out by fungus; the floral smell of fresh melons; the tortuous, roundabout life paths of local farmers, and we fall in love with the clear vision before us, which presents us with the flawed and beautiful things that we’ve been missing.