Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
Looking back over three years of Brush Brook Community Farm, there are so many small interactions that could have gone differently. Differences that could have been carried more skillfully. Or simply named more directly. Suddenly, and without notice, we step into the terrain of apology. As the bricks in the bread oven slowly cooled over the weeks following the final bake at the end of last month, a hard truth lurking in the shadows crept steadily into view and asks now to be named directly. Have you noticed how little the bakery has been described in these Newsletters? Why? What does it mean to be a fraud? Or a thief? This is some deeply personal reckoning.
November Budget Request: This is the first month no bread will be given away, which is the subject of this newsletter. The reduced budget request for November relates to the costs of caring for the Sheep and Cows as well as some stipends and rents for the Farm Team. This newsletter can continue to go out because of these stipends. Thank you very much for your consideration. There is still $1319 remaining with just 6 days left in the month. If you are willing to make a financial gift, you can do so HERE. You can find the detailed budget at the bottom of this Letter.
The last time I baked bread to sell was the day the Pandemic was announced. Second Thursday in March. Spring thaw come early. Open ground, Sap flowing strong. Healthy Ewes heavy with lambs. The Valley pregnant with the promise of new Life. On that day I baked about 425 loaves – a standard weekly production – that I would pack and deliver to the stores the following morning. The bake completed and back home, I began to gather my things for an evening meeting – planning for the next Gratitude Feast – and remembered the book I had been reading the night before. I climbed onto the table in stocking feet to reach the book that lay on the loft bed. Just out of reach, I jumped up to land on my belly on the bed. Outstretched hand grasping the book, I allowed myself to slide back down to the table, just below my dangling feet. An unexpected cantilever occurred and I was suddenly falling. My back cracked the corner of the table on the way down. Curled on the ground with a broken rib, breathless, the next chapter of my relationship with the bakery had been handed to me. Over the following weeks the oven went cold. Because of the mass of brick and the thickness of the insulation, this takes weeks. The Virus advanced, the rib healed quickly and the first invitation for Bread Gift Distribution went out by email just three weeks later. The first Thursday in April. Snow falls on Spring Grass. Fire soaks cold bricks with heat. People arrive – masks on, arms reaching for a loaf of bread across the recommended social distance, hearts broken by the days that have settled amongst us. The oven has been continuously hot from that day until now.
Central to this project has been the uncomfortable invitation to talk about money, privilege, and affluence, even reparations. I’ll do my best here to step up to the plate. For the two years prior to that broken rib, the extra profit from the bakery had easily paid all of the bills for Brush Brook Community Farm, and so no financial contributions had ever been requested from the community at the monthly dinners we called Gratitude Feasts. But now, as I nursed a broken rib, I began to tell friends, family and neighbors that I was going to stop selling bread. Instead, I would give it all away. As a plea. From each person over fifty I heard, “But who is going to take care of you?” To each I replied, “I have imagined that you might be willing to help me out in a time of need.” “Why of course I would,” I heard in reply. To which I said, “What if there were forty more like you? Why can’t we live in that world?”
Over the intervening months I have realized that these concerned fifty-and-overs were simply reporting on what they saw from where they stood – no village. Or, said in reverse, they were reporting on what they hadn’t seen.
By all measures I am a highly privileged person. Armed with a family-funded ivy league degree and all of the socially-advantageous, historically-accumulated identity markers, I set out at twenty-two to learn to farm and bake bread. After two decades of this work, when I announced my plans to give everything away, I sat on a small empire of debt-free infrastructure. The bakery alone cost over $100K to build and equip, not to mention the Cows and Sheep, the fencing and farm tools, the tiny house, the car and so on. I owned somewhere between $200K and $250K of accumulated stuff. I had worked my cost of living down to less than $6K per year, and so the $25K in my bank account looked like an exorbitant cushion. So where did all of this money come from?
The first time I baked more than twenty loaves of bread in a day was at a small outdoor oven in the town of Norwich, Vermont. Built by a Boy Scout troop in a town park, the oven was left almost completely unregulated. Following the lead of others in town, I made a couple of small “Bread Today” signs that I put on the main street, packed firewood, starters, flour, salt and buckets of warm water into my beat-up hatchback, and set off on an adventure that has led me to this day. I remember clearly the first time I sold over a hundred loaves in a day from that Boy Scout oven and held the $500 cash in my hands. The next day, the teller at the small-town bank said to me, “Good day at the bread oven, eh?” I learned on that day that bread baking could be profitable. I also learned that we take interest when we see that others have money.
The bread money went right into Cows. And fencing, and a milking machine, and dozens of stainless-steel milk cans, and so on. The bakery has functioned as the economic engine for every farming project I have started since. So where did all of the money come from?
I am going to propose that we could begin to speak more honestly with one another if we replace the word ‘profitable’ with the words ‘efficiently extractive.’ Baking bread is much more efficient at extracting profit from the landscape than farming is. By landscape I refer to conditions both economic and ecological, the two words joined by their common root, -oikos, meaning house. So which room in the house does the profit come from?
Ecologically considered, profit is a fantasy. I’ve heard from the hunters that the Deer are fat this year. Our recently-slaughtered Spring Lambs are fat as well. Regular Rains this summer brought on more abundant Grass than I have ever seen. This is about as close to profit at the nonhuman offers – temporarily stored body fat to be winter food for others – Human, Coyote, Crow. Soil and Weather as shared bank accounts – both with alarmingly low balances these days. I am looking at all of the stuff I described earlier – car, bakery, fencing, etc. (a life’s work) – and wondering how to begin to deposit that stolen wealth back into the shared bank account? How to make amends for all that has been taken? How to practice the voluntary impoverishment that I have pleaded for? How to be of service in a deeply troubled time?
If you work a job in the service sector, the chain of extraction that generates the salary that allows you to access food, clothing, shelter and land is likely very abstract. This chain of extraction includes the legacies of genocide, land theft and enslavement that serve as the foundation for the institutional wealth that we all lean upon today. Things are a bit less abstract for farmers, however. Even if most of the Farm’s inputs are being drawn from distant landscapes – plastics, fertilizers, seeds, diesel fuel, tractors, trucks, etc. – the impact of the on-site farming activities cannot be ignored by the farmer. If your farming methods diminish habitat for local wildlife, your children will grow up hearing fewer birdsongs than you did. And still, if your farming methods destroy habitat for wildlife in the places where your farm’s inputs are mined and extracted – which they surely do – your children will grow up in a world diminished by your efforts to try to be useful by feeding people. If you don’t make your mortgage payments you will lose access to your land. That you were able to access land without inherited family money or a partner with a high-paying off-farm job is no small miracle in a time of skyrocketing property values. If the price of diesel fuel goes up any more there won’t be a farm to pass on to the kids anyway. If you don’t get chores finished by 8pm, you won’t be there to kiss your children goodnight. I you want to finish chores before 8pm, you’d better consider mechanizing, which means more debt, more interest payments and more degradation of distant landscapes – a growing economy, in other words. This is the ghoulish task we assign to farmers when we abandon them to the grasping hand of the market, the fantastical household in which there is always more of everything. The fantasy world in which we are entitled to this more.
By these measures I’ve never really farmed. Instead I have sold – or more recently given away – bread to support a farming habit.
About five years ago I had finally saved up enough money to purchase the long-dreamed-of, $10K stone mill that would allow me to buy all of the grain for the bakery from local farmers. Previously, I had to purchase bags of flour through the wholesale distribution chain, the flour mostly coming from a large organic mill in Quebec that blended grain from many farms across Canada. Flour prices fluctuated with the commodity markets. The local grain would cost a little bit more, but I imagined that I would be able to develop meaningful relationships with the farmers. In ecological and economic terms, the household of the bakery would become smaller and more intimate – and more accountable. These farmers’ names are Catherine, Tom, Seth, and Todd. They farm wheat, corn and rye in Charlotte, Glover and Greensboro, VT. They’ve named their Farms Aurora, Morningstar and Thornhill. And, suddenly, we’ve stepped into the terrain of apology.
Catherine, Tom, Seth, and Todd: I am sorry that I didn’t find the courage to bring you into the conversation from the beginning, to ask you how you would farm if those you feed were willing to deeply pay for it? At Brush Brook Community Farm I tried to extend an invitation for all of us to contend with the brokenness of our relationships and to begin to imagine relationships of repair. I failed to extend that invitation to you and the places where you farm. And I am deeply regretful.
When I stopped selling bread at the onset of the Pandemic, I described the work of the Farm (and bakery) as a Plea to those who eat food. I wrote, the work of the Farm is not to help poor people get rich, but rather to invite rich people to consider voluntary impoverishment as a moral, even a joyful choice in a time of cascading ecological and social troubles. I always included myself in the category of ‘rich people.’ But I also kept buying grain from these farmers at the same low prices that had allowed for steady profit accumulation when the bakery was a business – about $1/lb. These prices represent a high level of mechanization and diesel fuel consumption and the steady mining of topsoil that was then delivered to the bakery as bagged Wheat, Rye and Corn. At these prices, it was easy to have lots of bread around all the time, creating a sense of abundance at the Farm. A sense of abundance that was being taken from somewhere – namely the Soils and the Weathers and the Human and nonhuman bodies of other places. This is a fraudulent sense of abundance.
And yet, these same grain farmers are the ones pushing with incredible courage against the vast forces of industrialism by imagining more honorable ways to feed people locally. For that work I am immensely grateful.
And so, where does the work go from here, while the bread oven sits cold? Clearly, the work of writing as a form of Plea Making has grabbed ‘hold of me. But To Whom might this writing work be of service? First and foremost, I long to be of service to the nonhumans whose lives are ongoingly degraded and destroyed by the ordinary affluence that marks our time. But I have also come to see that farmers are some of the primary intermediaries between human and nonhuman. Certainly, I could include those who harvest from undomesticated landscapes – fisherpeople, loggers, mine workers, etc. But farmers are the people I know intimately. At times I’ve counted myself as part of their fold. And there are fewer and fewer of them. Another endangered species to add to the list. If I say that farmers are the ones who can report from the front lines, I acknowledge that our way of living resembles a war. Soldiers and farmers have higher-than-average rates of suicide. May that we no longer ask them to shoulder the Grief on our behalf. Many thanks to you for reading.
Here is what you will find in this Letter:
- FINANCIAL GIFT REQUEST – Detailed November 2021 Budget
With Great Care,
Adam and the Brush Brook Community Farm Team
BUDGET UPDATE: Thank you for considering the November 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.
|BBCF - November 2021 Budget|
|As of November 24|
|Gifts Received in November – Thank you!||$1,416.87|
|Overage from October||$11.48|
|Tractor, Freezers and Milkroom Rents||$120.00|
|Vehicles (gas, maintn., insur. etc)||$50.00|
|Predicted Human Expenses|
|Adam Wilson Rent||$200.00|
|Adam Wilson personal stipend||$448.08|
|Collin McCarthy Rent||$580.00|
|Collin McCarthy personal stipend||$100.00|
|Total Estimated Expenses||$2,748.08|
|Total Remaining for November||$1,319.73|
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.