Photo by Ben Sklar
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
Reckoning with exhaustion and overwhelm this week has forced us to ask deeper questions about our work here at the Farm. Is it possible for us to admit that the scope of responsibility currently undertaken by the folks at the core of the Farm is wildly unsustainable? Is it also possible that those in the broader community who love this place and love us will have no idea that this is so unless we find the courage to say the words aloud and then try to ask for help in more specific and direct ways? Is it possible that if we want to give food away our primary responsibility must be to learn to ask for help – to make requests – specifically and directly? Almost certainly the answer to all of these questions is yes. And yet we find ourselves bumping into the awareness that we have received no cultural training in how to enact the sort of nuanced reciprocity we long for. How do we determine when we are giving enough? How do we differentiate between our needs and our desires when we formulate requests? How do we take responsibility for our feelings when we tell ourselves we are being taken advantage of? And how do we keep turning from the easy seduction of grievance towards the hard, honest work of grief.
Spoiler alert: Don’t expect any easy answers to these questions. We don’t have them. We’re not offering any solutions. We will be the first to admit that we have no idea how to do what we are asking you to consider joining us in doing. This is a Plea rather than a Plan. And we are immensely grateful to you for giving us the opportunity to do this work for over a year now.
The Stand will be closed this coming weekend to allow us to catch up on sleep, do our laundry, and imagine how we might better invite others to help us tend to the fragile seedling that is the Farm – in a time of increasingly unpredictable rainfall.
Here is one specific request: We maintain an email list we call the ‘Helpers List,’ and send out occasional requests for assistance with Farm Projects outside of the Sunday Work Days. We would love to increase the number of folks on that list. If you are willing to receive these emails (0-2 per week) please respond to this letter with “Please add me to the Helpers List.”
We will still host a Work Day this Sunday 4/18, from 1-4pm. We would love to have you join us! You can find more information and Sign Up here: bit.ly/brushbrookworkdays
**Our next Soup and Bread Gift Distribution will be Friday 4/23 from 4-6pm, returning to our summer schedule.**
Many thanks to all who gave financial gifts this past week. We received $1382 in gifts last week, which leaves our remaining April request at $2811. Would you consider making a gift to support our work? You can do so HERE.
Broken Leg, Broken Village
If you’ve ever broken your leg and worn a cast, you have probably noticed how quickly muscles atrophy when they are not used. This image has been helpful to us as we wonder what becomes of a society – and the Life it feeds upon – once the whole human population stops asking the question, “Am I sustaining, or feeding, all those who sustain and feed me – humans, animals, plants, soils, waters, weathers?” We could imagine that there have been people in other times and places – even some who looked like us – who have exercised this muscle regularly, that the time they devoted to such contemplation has been considerable, and that the qualities of their relationships to the world have been very different from ours. We could imagine that something broke them of those habits, that casts needed to be applied.
Learning to walk again once a cast is removed can feel a lot like stumbling. And much of the time that is what it feels like we are doing here at the Farm. This past week it has felt more like hobbling. And it is humbling to hobble. And so, we are asking one another some hard and painful questions. In this letter, we will invite you to consider them with us and, if you are willing, to join more deeply in the conversation. What follows are some of those questions and a couple of stories that may help bring them to life.
How do we understand the difference between receiving, taking and stealing?
How do we behave when we think no one is looking?
How do we determine whether our presence on the scene does more to sustain or to destroy Life?
Contemplating Theft at the Gift Stand
After some wildly well-attended Soup and Bread Distributions in March, the past two weeks have been very slow, with only a handful of people stopping by during the two hours we staff the Stand. Come 1pm, we set the remaining Soup and Bread out for Self-Service, and do this again on Sunday and Monday. The small sign at the Stand reads, “Please help yourself. If you would like to leave a gift, there is a box just below the Brush Brook sign.” Neighbors stop by in a steady stream to pick up food until it is all gone. We are currently making more Soup and Bread than ever before – almost three hundred loaves and over a hundred quarts of Soup, which works out to more than three hundred servings. And the freezers here at the Farm are still packed with frozen greens and quarts of tomato from last summer as well as beef and lamb and rich bone broth. The root cellar overflows with fall-harvested turnips as well as hundreds of pounds of squashes and root vegetables offered as a gift by a handful of local vegetable farms who set aside the scratch-and-dent and the starting-to-go for us to sort and salvage. We have so much food to give away. And our Budget Request has been covered by many different sized donations every month now for a year. People are stepping up in every way we have asked them to. By all measures, our work has been a success. And there are some moments that feel this way, when the surprise and beauty of the thing takes our breath away. Why, then, is the work so brutally painful on other days? Why does it so often feel like we are failing to live up to what is being asked of us?
Last Sunday when I closed the Stand, I found the Soup cooler empty and only a couple of loaves left on the table. Wow. So many of our neighbors had stopped by to pick up food! The closing responsibilities include emptying the Gift Box, the sculptural mailbox with a drop-slot where people can leave cash or checks as contributions towards the Farm’s Budget Request. The box is never locked, but it does require a knife or screwdriver to pry open the rusty-hinged door. The following morning, realizing I had forgotten to do this, I rode my bike over to clear the box. To my great surprise, the box was empty. This was a first, and the knot that formed in my stomach let me know that something was wrong. Over the following hours, mired by this discomfort, I found my way to the following question:
What does it mean – or is it even possible – to be ‘stolen from’ when you’ve offered everything as a gift?
The money wasn’t taken after all, but had been collected by another member of the Team and tucked safely away. But the unbidden contemplation set in motion by the possibility of theft proved a potent teacher. The mystery of the Self-Serve Gift Stand wasn’t so much solved, but rather renewed and deepened.
Pondering Reciprocity in the Ramp Patch
Wild Leeks – or Ramps – grow in spreading patches in the woods nearby the Farm, emerging from the leaf-covered ground seemingly within hours of the final spring snowmelt. Ramps have, for thousands of years, generously sustained human peoples here in the North Country, renewing a winter-weary spirit with their distinctly delicious spicy sweetness. I began harvesting Ramps a couple of years ago, and have found the experience to be, in turns, profoundly joyful, delicious and surprisingly painful. The experience of the empty Gift Box and the Self-Serve Gift Stand last week helped me to understand why harvesting these abundantly-growing plants can instigate so much sorrow.
Imagine, for a moment that you are the one stopping by the Self-Serve Gift Stand. When you pull in, you don’t see anyone else around. The loaves are piled high and the cooler is full of Soup. The label on each package says, ‘This food is offered as a gift to anyone who is hungry for any reason.’ What an interesting and confusing thing these people are doing, you think, leaving food out for anyone to take. An all-you-can-eat buffet – and for free!
I am out on a run when I notice that the recent warm weather has peeled back the winter snow cover from the forest floor. I turn off the road, cross over a familiar fallen log and drop down over a roll to the South-facing slope where the Ramp patch lies. To my great surprise, they are already beginning to push up from the dark soil. Mid-morning Sun shines through the leaf-bare hardwoods and seems to urge the courageous leeks skyward. The slope is carpeted with these miraculous little points of green. Over the following days and weeks, I return to this spot often to check on the steady growth of these treasured food plants. I think that I might begin to harvest Ramps for this year for the Farm’s Soup Pot, as our supplies of stored onions and garlic are running low. As the Ramps grow – and the day of first harvest draws closer – I notice a knot forming in my stomach. Something is wrong. Here, at the bottom of the slope, I am not visible from the road. There are no other humans around. All of the sudden, as if I am being stalked, those questions come ‘round the corner and I find I am facing them square, and that I have no idea how to answer them.
How do I understand the dividing lines between receiving, taking and stealing? What could reciprocity even look like between these human hands and this greening slope? How do I determine whether my presence on the scene does more to sustain or to destroy the Life that unfolds in this place? And how will I behave when I think no one is looking? And how will I ensure that the Soup we give away does not carry the violence of over-harvest, of wanton taking, of theft?
“Okay, okay,” you say. “This seems a bit dramatic when you are just deciding how many Ramps to harvest. If you are really concerned about over-harvesting, why don’t you just set some stakes and make a string-grid and count the number of plants each spring over a few years to try to gauge your impact.” And then you realize that that would be quite a sizable research project, and that is just one of hundreds of different foods that you eat regularly. Imagine looking into the sustainability of all of that? And then you consider your clothing, shelter, entertainment, transportation, and your head starts to spin, to throb. And then you realize that in fact there are scientists already looking into many of these things, and their findings are not easy to swallow. And then the knot starts to form in your stomach and you realize it might be best to disengage.
When it gets to this point in these conversations, things almost always head in the direction of misanthropy. With a tone of sorrowed confession, someone says, “The world would be better off without humans after all.” It seems that these days this has become a great human achievement: to admit our sinfulness, wring our hands, take a gulp from the cup of inevitability and to continue on our way.
We are asking and wondering if there might be other ways to interact with one another that might break the spell of inevitability that keeps us steadily grinding down the world that we will pass on to those yet to be born? We are asking and wondering if perhaps it hasn’t always been this way after all? If reciprocity is something that human peoples have bothered to concern themselves with in other times and places? We are wondering if any of these questions seem worth asking, if any of these seeds seem worth planting in the ground, and whether we might labor together towards the unlikely possibility that one of them will eventually germinate and survive long enough to bear fruit that could nourish one of the great grandchildren of the young ones just now learning to walk among us? Grandiose, perhaps. Grief-encrusted, definitely. Good-on-you for hanging in ‘til the end of this long-winded harangue. We are honored by your companionship and inspired by your courage. And we look forward to the unfolding conversation.
Here is what you will find in this Letter:
FINANCIAL GIFT REQUEST – April 2021 Budget
With Great Care,
Ava, Erika, Kristen, Erik, Collin, Evan and Adam – The Brush Brook Community Farm Team
BUDGET UPDATE: Thank you for considering the April Budget
Many heartfelt thanks to all who have responded to these invitations by sending in Financial Gifts. If you would like to support our work, you can mail checks made out to Brush Brook Community Farm to PO Box 202, Huntington, VT, 05462, bring gifts to the Gift Stand, or donate through the website. We are 100% financially supported by these personal financial gifts.
Brush Brook Community Farm – Apr. 2021 Budget
|As of 4/14|
|Gifts Received in Apr. – Thank you!||$ 2832.00|
|Estimated Expenses for April|
|Bread Ingredients & Packaging||$ 1,115.50|
|Bakery Overhead (Insur., Electric, etc.)||$ 555.86|
|Bakery Rent||$ 300.00|
|Farm Expenses||$ 1,550.00|
|Farm/Bakery Team Requested Gifts|
|Adam Wilson Personal Living||$ 448.08|
|Adam Wilson Rent||$ 200.00|
|Erik Weil Stipend Request||$ 500.00|
|Collin McCarthy Stipend Request||$ 580.00|
|Estimated Federal/State Taxes||$ 351.22|
|Paypal Fees||$ 150.00|
|Overage from March||$107.00|
|Total Remaining for April||$ 2811.00|
Support the Farm & Bakery
The operations of Brush Brook Community Farm & Bakery are maintained by neighborly working hands and financial gifts. Your generous monetary support propels the gift of food forward to those open to receiving it.