Dirt Eaters

Work, Food, and Communal Transformation

(from the frontlines of a hopeful revolution)

Fear and Excitement are the Same Thing

A farm dies every year, or so they say. In January in New England, it seems like the main activity is making sure the farmers don't die as well. It's that cold.

We chop wood and fix the furnace and put on 97 layers and massage our frozen fingers and toes and sprint from building to building. If we're successful in not dying ourselves, we try to also make sure that animals don't die.

Fingers crossed, but so far, so good.

Once we've succeeded in that primary task, in keeping our physical selves alive, we go to work on the mental/emotional/spiritual side. Winter can be brutal. Dark, cold, and monochromatic, the abundance and freedom of summer feels worlds away. The future is abstract, the future is impossible to imagine.

And yet, imagine we do. Optimism, after all, seems a prerequisite for happiness, for action.

So, once the wood's been split and our toes have been warmed, we spend January imagining the future. We pour over seed catalogs, dive into crop planning spreadsheets, pick apart enterprise budgets, go to conferences, listen to other farmers' stories. We glean inspiration, get ideas, sketch out some plans, and then act. We start making the future happen.

I don't know why, exactly, but during this January the future has been overwhelming. It's like, "Wait a minute, I have to make decisions? I have to pick some things over other things? I have to act and create? I can't just chop wood forever?"

Educational experiences begin as a process of opening, of unveiling all the possibilities that the world offers. It is breathtaking, it is liberating. It is the definition of excitement.

But at some point, you have to plant that excitement, you have to ground it in something tangible, in something real. You have to choose.

That's what January's been for me, a realization of that necessity. Listening to Ben Shute of Hearty Roots Farm, to Julie and Jack of Many Hands Farm, to Garrett and Melissa of The Good Life Farm, the importance of commitment hits home. To create something worthwhile, you have to pick.

And then you have to work your butt off for a decade or two.

So what'll that be for me? I have a thousand ideas, which was exciting in November, and has been terrifying recently. Will I be in North Carolina or Vermont or Oregon or Kentucky? Will I grow veggies or raise pigs or milk cows or sow grains? Will I start my own thing or partner with someone or work for someone else? Will I specialize or diversify? Will I fail or succeed?

Last weekend, our group went to the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New York's annual winter conference, listening to speakers and taking part in workshops and networking with other young farmers. It was fabulous, and it pushed my fear to the edge. There are so many worthwhile, amazing things to do, and they all take a lifetime. There are so many people I look up to, so many farmers and entrepreneurs that I admire, and there's one quality that they all share: they picked. They made a decision, and they stuck with it, through thick and thin.

Coming out of that conference, as winter mercilessly pushes on, I can feel that fear turning back into excitement, bit by bit. There's freedom in options, but there's freedom in decisions, too.

I don't know which ones are the right ones, but maybe thats the wrong way to think about it. The world is full of great possibilities. Maybe they're all the right decisions.

As long as you pick.

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To check out January's pictures, click here...

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