Saturday, October 29, 2011

Goodbye, Farm. Hello, Rest Of Life.

Tomorrow is my last day at Brightwood Vineyard and Farm as an intern. Once evening arrives and my car is packed, I'll be driving to Washington D.C., where I'm attending the American Public Health Association conference next week. After that, I'll indulge in visiting friends on the East Coast, and then head back to Indiana for the holidays.

The end of an adventure is always bittersweet. I've enjoyed this year so much. Susan and Dean have been unstintingly gracious and kind, Autumn and Brian have been amazing co-workers and friends, and I've learned an incredible amount about farming, food, and myself. (Sorry, I know that's cheesy. But true.)

This experience hasn't been without its hardships, though. For one thing, I've had to cope with being the most ignorant person on the crew. When I got here, I didn't know a damn thing about gardening, farming, or agriculture. It's never easy for me to admit to myself that I don't know what I'm doing - is it easy for anyone, I wonder? - but I chugged along, and improved steadily. Whatever farm I find myself on in the future, at least I won't feel quite so stupid and ill-prepared.

More notably, I've had three deaths in my family since this time last year. I've had to deal with my own personal demons on that score, on top of the ever-present cloud of my own curious insecurities. (One memorable day comes to mind, when I was harvesting by myself and sobbed nonstop for an entire two hours, blowing my nose on my shirt as the goat bucks looked on with a nonchalant curiosity tinged with wondering when I would get around to feeding them.) Something I didn't expect, however, was that being on a farm would help me cope with losing some of the people dearest to me. I wrote an entry about it at the time, but since then I've taken part in the circle of farm life myself, killing and eviscerating chickens on my own.

That's perhaps one of the best parts of being on a farm for an entire season - being witness to the cycles that occur here over time, from washing chicken eggs to processing old layers, from watching baby animals grow up to picking up lamb meat from the butcher. Experiencing closely the progression of seasons, the change in the grasses and depth of the river, the temperature and humidity at night as I laid in my tent. And there's something weirdly symbolic, too, about ripping out tomato plants that you planted yourself and harvested for weeks on end while your skin burned and your hands turned green. I wish I could watch over the next few years and experience the even wider circles that I have sensed, but have yet to see.

I have the feeling that certain thoughts and opinions and ideas have solidified within me this year that I'm only now beginning to understand. One of them caught me completely by surprise this afternoon, when I was doing some last-minute errands. Being woefully unprepared in the sartorial department for this conference next week (Business casual? Puh-lease.), I've been stalking the racks at Goodwill for the last several weekends and have managed to accumulate a few outfits that at the very least don't sport the remnants of chicken poop. But even if I could buy tights second hand, I wouldn't. So today I ran to Target for that purpose.

I was, to put it mildly, pretty uncomfortable. As I walked along the rows of cosmetic supplies and clothes and DVDs, I realized how completely incompatible shopping at a Target has been with my lifestyle this year. The whole idea behind farming is to produce something that you and your neighbors can use. The whole idea when you go to Target is to indulge in orgasmic consumerism. Being there made me realize how important reusing and recycling has become to me - not just when it comes to making compost out of vegetable waste, but in my choices as a consumer. And when I was done, I felt none of the temporary satisfaction that making a purchase once gave me. I was just glad to get out of the parking lot.

Perhaps even more surprising to me has been the realization that I could see myself farming one day. When I began this internship, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I saw working on a farm purely as a learning experience, a sort of hands-on aspect of my upcoming graduate studies, and a way to learn the issues facing today's small family farm. That still holds true, but now I ask myself questions like, "How would I do this if it were my farm?" It doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility, at any rate.

The truth is, working on this farm feeds my soul. I'm even tempted to say that it has given me a sense of spirituality that I've never felt before. I don't know what it is - the smell of soil, feeling the sun on the back of my neck, the heft of a shovel - but I've never felt more alive, or more at peace.

There will things I won't miss, I guess. It will be nice to finally be able to sleep in as late as I please. I can't wait to wear clothes that don't have stains from five different kinds of animal poop. It will be an absolute pleasure not to shake out my jeans in the morning and watch five stink bugs fall out. I'm practically panting in anticipation of the day when I look outside at the terrible weather, and know that I don't have to go work in it. I'm looking forward to seeing my family and friends, to using a shower that doesn't flood and lightly electrocute me when I touch the handle, to doing nothing but read bad fantasy novels for four consecutive days.

But, man. I sure am going to miss this farm.


  1. Gretchen, thank you for sharing your adventures! You've definitely inspired me (and my family, although they don't know it) to live more simply. Enjoy the next chapter(s) of your life!
    Kelly Trusty (ITPC veteran).

  2. Thanks, Kelly! I can't tell you how happy it made me to read this comment.