Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Small is Beautiful

Admittedly at times I run the risk here of sounding like the back of a wheaties box. You know the type of prose: packed with superlatives, adjectives drenched in emotion, and before you know it you are bent over your cereal bowl all verklempt over Magic Johnson's no-look pass.

The nature of our work here on the farm is ever to find "heaven in a grain of sand" and to muse on the wonder that is the oregano seed one minute (bitsy) and the sprawling plant the next (delicious.)
Most spectacular-ness around here comes in very small comfortable packages. We live in a village of 600. And we are weekly finding reasons to hope for such littleness for all the rest of the world. Our postage stamp of a post office is one such reason: our mailman will sign for our packages himself if we don't answer at his knock, and tuck them inside the back door...because he knows that we are most likely out in the pasture with the horses or sheep. At the post office they will tape up our packages, open up early, and if we don't answer the telephone at 6 am on the morning our chicks arrive, one of them will drive them up the hill to us and explain "they were worried about the little guys" and "tried to give them a little water". I've been blown away time and again at how well those folks at the Post office have come to know and care for each and everyone of us in this community...and wasn't surprised to learn that when district officials came to brief staff on the new merging of our little post office with the Scandia one just north...a complete dressing down of the whole branch...1/6 of the town showed up to voice their support for the little office. A similar thing happened to the little Marine on St. Croix branch of the Washington County library...a room which shares space with the city office in the historic town hall building. When the county announced plans to close the branch due to financial concerns residents banded together and proposed to run it themselves....we're 15 minutes from Stillwater and most of us pass through at least one nearby city fairly often on our way to shopping or work...but the point of fighting for a post office that has been here since 1848 or a library small enough not to lose your children in, but large enough to check email, borrow a book on the life of Julie Andrews, chat with Sarah, the librarian about fjord horses, and ask Jim how his trip to Asia went as he reads the day's paper is that this world really is what we make of it. If we sit back and let it slip away we will lose the community ties that make the day to day life the stuff of memories and momentousness. May we never get so comfortable that we lose the ability to tap into our inner activist from time to time as needed!
I field emails every week from all around the country, from New Mexico, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, California, and Wisconsin...written by people who are nostalgic for the small farming communities of our American past. Mostly written by young people, with new families, with bright shiny old fashioned ideals. The collective longing for a small tightly knit community coincides with the desire for smaller locally based economies, churches, and agriculture. We count ourselves wondrously blessed to be planted in a community radical enough to fight for permanence, aesthetics, and smallness. It is the perfect place to plant a CSA farm.
"When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization."
- Daniel Webster

Sometimes it's hard to convince people to invest in a farm...without sounding like you're selling them something they think they want because it's fashionable, but will grow tired of next year or the year after. But for whatever reason people sign up at the beginning of the growing season with us, at the end of 18 weeks they have experienced agriculture as a well-spring of life-blood for a true community. To it's limit, farming represents the very first step to any sustainable community; it offers food to feed our bodies, and those of our neighbor's and work to share betwixt us both. The impossibility of any given task on the farm spurs us on to shared endeavors, new histories built upon old traditions, real goods, which become fodder for all kinds of arts both practical and for their own sake. Farming is the ultimate appreciation of place. The acts of tillage, and animal husbandry crush a man to his geographical spot in a steadfast embrace. Sometimes that embrace feels more like wrestling than love...but you will always know where to find a farmer...and that is true hope for any village of 600...continued population.
A couple months ago we were somewhat covertly dropping off our chevre shares and eggs to fans at the nearby Stillwater library, largely due to the promotion and passion of a devoted librarian- Sue, friend and fighter for small local farms here in the Valley. As I slipped behind the encyclopedia shelves and unloaded my goods on the table, with curious patrons looking up from the internet stations to eye the goings on, I whispered to her: "This feels rather we're trading in the black market or something. Though, I have to admit the library seems very appropriate as the incubator of small farm support" Her reply was glowing and passionate "Absolutely! This is exactly what a library like ours should be doing!" She paused to admire the week's cheese. And promptly urged 3 other people to sign up for shares. Places like county libraries, or local post offices can bring to mind all the negative connotations of bureaucracy, red tape, regulations...but where we live, these words take on rosier hues because of the people that people them and make them places of real human contact, support, and exchange. They have continued to inspire us with the understanding that small is indeed beautiful. And the largess of the human heart can shrink a place down to it's proper size in 10 seconds flat.

When Sue, the librarian, sent us a gift of handmade envelopes made out of discarded library books, tied with a string and accompanying another vibrant note of support, I smiled with delight at the colliding of two spheres of our "small is beautiful" life...and promptly picked up pen and page to scribble epistles to friends new and old and greet the New Year with stamps and solidarity. I like to think I'm doing my bit for the folks down at the post office.


  1. Most beautifully said!

  2. "Before you know it, you are bent over your cereal bowl..." Hilarious!

    And, as one of the idealistic young people who e-mailed you, thanks for the reply and know that your letter will be in the mail shortly. Thanks again for sharing with us a glimpse of your idyllic day-to-day.