Photo: John Hadden
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
Hemlock bends low. Snow draped. North Wind builds, whistling into the snow-muffled Night. We walk the fence lines. Also bent low. In places, pulled to the ground. Our gloved hands pinch the lines to clear heavy clung Ice and Snow, and the lines spring taut again. We are relieved to see that the Cows are still in. They have complaints to share with us, the pasture Grass covered for the first time this season with a blanket of Snow. The older ones will show the youngstock how to push Snow aside with their snouts, coming up with mouthfuls of green Grass. The hour is late and the Sheep fence is surely in bad shape. Nine-thirty already. Lisanne and Bill’s house lights are still on. I knock on the door and ask if we might use their 4-wheel drive to get to the Sheep. We abandoned Collin’s car hours ago in Guthrie’s driveway on our way to a neighborhood dinner up the hill, the heavy wet Snow far too slick for summer tires. And soon we’re driving toward the hill pasture where we’ve left our twenty Ewes. The flock numbered forty just a few weeks ago. Slaughter season. Snowflakes in the car headlights generously part to allow our ship to pass in the Night. The Ewes are glad to see us, their glowing eyes forty pricks of light in the snowy dark. We walk the fence, shake it free. They follow us. No complaints here. Their lanolin-slick wool renders them impervious. Last winter we provided a shelter which they used to scratch themselves upon, choosing instead to sleep in the open. Miraculous animals. Unlike the Cows who move Snow with their snouts, the Sheep find the Grass by digging with their front hooves. The Lambs learn this technique by watching their mothers. If it weren’t for Snow and Ice pulling down the electric fences, the Sheep could probably survive the winter foraging, like Deer. It’s nearly eleven by the time we’re back at the house. Soaked gloves and pants and socks are hung to dry by the stove, crackling now with flame. We climb into bed, obedient to the season and the unexpected nighttime chores. The animals will be safe tonight. Our freezers are already full of their sons and daughters. Plenty of meat to share with the neighbors. Such is our covenant. Sleep comes.
December Budget Request: As if by magic, enough of you voted yes to this uncertain work to cover the November Budget with $130 to spare. It’s amazing, really. Thank you! The remaining budget request of $2500 for December includes the costs of caring for the Sheep and Cows as well as some stipends and rents for the Farm Team. We are working long days preparing to move Adam’s house, readying the bakery to be offline for the winter, and planning for for a second round of slaughtering and butchering. The short stories and essays contained in this newsletter are made possible by these stipends. Thank you very much for your consideration. 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 Broken Weld: A Plea for Farmers
The past two week’s Newsletters, on Slaughter Season and the Fantasy of Profit, began an unintended series that I will call The Broken Weld. These letters amount to a Plea for Farmers – those who labor at the margins to procure the calories that sustain the center, or the town. The word field – the place on the edge of town where a farmer performs their work – is related etymologically to the word weld – that which bonds or joins two things together.(Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age, 2018) The field is the place where human culture meets the wild and the farmer is the one who brokers a deal there on behalf of those no longer tethered to the work of procuring calories. This simple arrangement, or covenant – between eaters, farmers and the wild, including the wild’s savings accounts of soil and weather – gave birth to what we call civilization. But the word covenant implies commitment, obligation, limit, care. The word covenant suggests the presence of a promissory note, the return date stamped carefully on the card inside the front cover. Libraries, like the wild, don’t tend to keep loan collectors on staff. The librarian might leave a friendly reminder message on your voicemail, but who still checks voicemail these days anyway? The health of the relationship relies on the borrowers capacity to maintain their own moral compass, to uphold their end of the bargain. To learn how to remember. It is difficult to imagine human life with this sense of deep responsibility at its center. I know I’ve never seen it. The string of relationships – soil, farmer, eater(or modern consumer) – functions now as a one-directional chain of extraction, siphoning calories upwards, turning soil into dollars into consumer goods. Farmer-poet Wendell Berry says it this way:
We seem to have forgotten that there might be, or that there ever were, mutually sustaining relationships between resident humans and their home places in the world of Nature. We seem to have no idea that the absence of such relationships, almost everywhere in our country and the world, might be the cause of our trouble. Our trouble nonetheless exists, is severe, and is getting worse. Instead of settled husbanders of cherished home places, we have become the willing parasites of any and every place, destroying the source and substance of our lives, as parasites invariably do. (Wendell Berry, The Art of Loading Brush, 2017)
I’ll never tire of the clarity Berry delivers here, beginning with ‘forgotten’ and ‘mutually sustaining relationships’ and finishing with ‘willing parasites.’ His words are piercingly observant of the modern condition, eloquently naming the broken covenant, the Broken Weld. So, then, who has seen a human culture with the weld still intact? Less than a year after I was given the Wendell Berry essay quoted here, I came across David Abram’s fine book, The Spell of the Sensuous. Abram lived for a time in Indonesia and Nepal, attempting to learn from traditional medicine men and women, or shamans. He came to understand that these edge dwellers – to whom he also refers as sorcerers or magicians – provide a function to the society that is as much ecological as it is medical. I’ve read the following passage dozens of times, replacing the words listed – sorcerer, shaman, and so on – with farmer. I invite you to do the same.
The traditional or tribal shaman, I came to discern, acts as an intermediary between the human community and the larger ecological field, ensuring that there is an appropriate flow of nourishment, not just from the landscape to the human inhabitants, but from the human community back to the local earth.
Let us pause here for a moment to consider this observation, that nourishment might flow from humans towards the natural landscape. This I have definitely not seen. Abram continues:
By his constant rituals, trances, ecstasies and “journeys,” he ensures that the relation between human society and the larger society of beings is balanced and reciprocal, and that the village never takes more from the living land than it returns to it—not just materially but with prayers, propitiations, and praise. The scale of the harvest or the size of the hunt are always negotiated between the tribal community and the natural world it inhabits. To some extent every adult in the community is engaged in this process of listening and attuning to the other presences that surround and influence daily life. But the shaman or sorcerer [or farmer?] is the exemplary voyager in the intermediary realm between the human and more-than-human worlds, the primary strategist and negotiator in any dealings with the Others.
What happens to a society when no one undertakes this work of maintaining the weld? We need only turn on the news or walk the grocery store aisles to see what happens. Western civilization is what happens.
The Plea here is certainly not for farmers to do more than they are already doing. Not at all. The Plea is for them to be allowed to do less. The Plea is for eaters to begin the return flow of nourishment by deeply employing farmers to do less. To tend to smaller plots with greater care and to ask them constantly to report on what they see there in the fields at the edge of town, to tell of their constant negotiations with the non-human Others. Are the Soils being preserved or diminished? Are the Weathers consistent or erratic? The Waters healthy? Wild plants and animals abundant or in decline? This type of conversational, covenantal farming will require intimate proximity. And will be expensive. But I don’t actually think money is the limiting factor. The greater cost will be the demand the covenant places upon our attention as eaters. If each calorie – each plant or animal body lying on the plate – requires extensive conversation and consideration, we will be forced to do many fewer other things. Imagine the widespread reductions in loneliness. Abrams describes, “To some extent every adult in the community is engaged in this process of listening and attuning.” Farmers can help to teach us how to do this. As we learn to listen we necessarily open ourselves to hearing that we are taking orders of magnitude more than the wild can sustain. And only then might we begin to respond by changing how we spend time and how we pay attention – as well as how we discharge our dollars.
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 - December 2021 Budget|
|As of December 1|
|Gifts Received in December – Thank you!|
|Overage from November||$131.22|
|Electric for Slaughter and Tractor||$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 December||$2,616.86|
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.