Friday, August 5, 2011

Stories and Soil

Story telling is a powerful art form.

Lately I would venture to say that reality is not quite as real to us, as when we have bound and packaged it with the ribbon strings of a story...or at least received it as such...
My five year old is a perfect example of this...

after a while, the novelty of collecting eggs wore off...and the promise of a penny per egg payment did not inspire... she stopped attempting this chore. The ratchety broody hens and the poo sticking to the bottom of her shoes were enough to keep her away from the coop.

But one day at lunchtime a visiting friend broke our heat and food induced silence with a gripping account of her day's egg collecting adventure. The story was simple enough. The plot had no twists of time travel or vampires...but as she spoke the girls' eyes were fastened on her, wide with excited listening...they interrupted her several times to add their own tidbits of Isa Brown hen knowledge:

"I have to tell you how I braved all the broody hens in the coop this was quite a perilous time, I assure you. I tried move them out of the nests with a stick...and that didn't work.

So I remembered how you showed me to use a rag and press it against their necks and sneak the eggs out from under them...but that didn't work!

And those hens just cackled ferociously at me...they puffed up big and menacing (here she did a very enthralling and convincing interpretation) "Bruh Brah Brah BuckaWWW!" and they pecked at me...and one even drew blood!

(Many gasps followed this sudden announcement...and we all strained to see the invisible scar)

Finally I worked up my courage and LUNGED at her! I grasped her by the neck (many very dramatic hand and arm motions to illustrate the story here) and just nabbed those eggs from under neath her...and my! She was sitting on a heaping big pile of them!!"

We all clapped and agreed to award her a farm medal of bravery for her egg collecting.

Since this luncheon story the girls have taken a sudden and desperate fancy to collecting eggs again. I have seen Tilda wolf down a lunch she would have hitherto drawled and dillied over for 40 minutes...just so she could leap from the table and carry on the important work of scavenging for those eggs. Our friend's story has made the simple necessary chore of egg collecting something marvelous to achieve (or perish in the attempt) and by participating in this daily act, the girls are very conscious of the fact that they are by their ventures, adding to the lore, and becoming heroines in the next noon-day tale.

When the world is filled with rocks which may or may not be trolls that have become frozen because the day dawned too early for them to scrabble back to their caves...or with woods slender and silvery with shadowy sprites possibly dodging in and about the saplings,

reality suddenly (and paradoxically) takes on a more realistic hue in this fantastic light. Because the truth of the matter is that these ordinary things we pass by and take for granted and hardly give a second thought to, really are incredibly wonderful and form this amazing and complicated interdependent web of our survival in this natural world. And every time we color these natural events and happenings with the hues of imaginative retelling...we lift essences long forgotten, but ever present, to our the remembering that our dear spouse standing fatigued and soapy over a sink full of dirty dishes is the same exciting lover and honey-eyed mystery we fell in love with years ago.

Farms are full of stories. That's why I love living on one.
And CSAs are a chance to tell the accurate story about food. In telling these stories our food becomes more real to us...and hopefully so does the rest of our lives...

When I am on my hands and knees in the potato rows, clawing at the dirt to find all those brown and red and tan nuggets of starchy goodness it truly feels like the stuff of stories...because otherwise I'd be crazy to do it! Who wants to rummage about, getting sand and dirt stuck up your fingernails as the sun beats down on you and sweat drips down your back...aren't these the jobs we liberally educated folks are supposed to be too good for?

And so many things come to mind as you crawl along the row...Scarlett O'Hara for one, in that final scene of Gone with the Wind..."I'll always have Tara!" you mutter to yourself, mindful of the fact that every true wealth comes first from the open hand of the think about how an iron will can get you through that first stage of wanting to shirk the work...after that fascination and wonder take over. You find yourself bending low over the dirt, examining it in your hands as the rush hour traffic roars by. "Wow...a world unto itself!" you wonder about the many stories the sand has to tell, of how it reared the chard and helped the potato...but those were just the surface efforts, the flashy stories that we all know...there are so many others about the dung beetle, the earthworm, the cabbage moth, the wren's nest. The effects of the rainstorm and the fall-out of the draught. I am conscious of the fact that I am not always a good listener...and at times I miss all these narratives that have the potential to make my life so much more vibrant with color...I am aware that there will never be enough time for me to discover all these tales, and write them down...and the thought comes as a challenge and a sadness and an excitement. A challenge to keep listening at the earth's edge, a sadness that there will never be enough time or excitement that there are so many stories to learn and tell...

Last year a friend brought a new acquaintance to the farm to help us prepare new paddocks for our icelandic sheep. This new visitor hailed from Africa. He told us of the time honored family traditions of story telling that were alive and well in his home country. The elders tell the family history by firelight each night to the younger is their duty, and honored responsibility. Here was a man very sure of himself...his bright and eager confidence was something which fairly dazzled my conventional American sensibilities...he was deeply rooted in his family's lore...knew every story ever told of how his forefathers first settled on the farm he grew up on, and how the friendly crocodile was saved by his Great Grandfather, and thus, no member of his family was ever harmed by the many that swam in their pond...knew every embellishment, laughed with gusto and relish as he lingered on them, and related them to us, spellbound, and full of questions. He very certainly knew who he was, because from a young age, from a robust tradition of story telling, he knew where he came from, whose shoulders he stood one. We are none of us in isolation from each other, no man is himself without the knowledge of those he has been formed by....and the story of our food is no different. The story of our food reveals our ethics, our global policies and maneuvers, reveals our lives to us...Food forms us, and will aways be a tremendous part of our such it behooves us to get the story straight.


  1. Hi Mrs. Farmer: You HAVE written your book! PLEASE make copies of these posts and save them for ALL of us, specially for your darling daughters!
    Love, Aunt Shannon

  2. This was an exceptional post. Utterly fantastic.

  3. Mrs. Farmer and friend too long gone, thank you for your reflection. I desire to be a story-teller and have children who listen and tell their own. I appreciate your insight on how the imagination of a story brings the forgotten realities to light; sounds correct to me.

  4. Thanks so much for your lovely feedback guys!
    when I write these things they are also reminders to myself as well! It's so easy to forget the whole point when you are distracted by the craziness of CSA farming...or just the insanity that is "adult" life.

  5. While I could gush as well over your prose and the deep well of sensibilities you so accurately tap into, I will simply say: I want those tomatoes.

  6. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing your wit, wisdom and making the world a better place to live for all of us, especially the children.

  7. Mrs. Farmer, I echo the thoughts of my beloved in his post earlier. Minnesota misses your stories and the many stories made on Little Flower Farm #1. Here's hoping for many more stories in months to come!

  8. Fairy tales and stories suit children who are not able to comprehend directly how daily life is "significant soil;" imagination proxys meaning. We adults, who work out salvation with fear and trembling, hopefully are writing our way (as it were) into the book of life. Hence, imaginations perish but the story remains, in hope. Sic transit gloria mundi...