Back when I worked with WSU Island County Extension, I had the happy opportunity to work with some talented engineers in the Public Works Department. At the time, they were dealing with the closure of a road that had been partially washed out when a beaver dam broke and released a flood of water in the middle of an already wet season. I was asked to facilitate a series of public meetings as the county and the community grappled with whether or not to rebuild the road.
In a conversation I'll never forget, one of the engineers spoke to the power of roads. "They can be such an obvious symbol of connection, of making it easier for folks to get from point A on the west side to point B on the east side...but no one thinks about how they can also divide if you happen to be on the north or south side of that road." While it didn’t have direct bearing on the decision facing the participants, ever since then, I try to think about how efforts to connect some elements can oftentimes create barriers for others.
In much the same way, the above image is from the driveway to the Organic Farm School. For whatever reason, I always think of it as a road TO, but at this time of year it becomes clear that it's also a road AWAY FROM.
You all are part of this process. We recruit, orient, welcome, and train a new group of prospective farmers every year. We laugh with them, share skills with them, enjoy their questions and curiosities, relish their passion for food and soil and seed, sympathize with their struggles, and commiserate on ways to their success. Our focus is on getting them TO the Organic Farm School and THROUGH the instruction and mentoring. We're so busy being excited and focused and grounding, that we don't stop to think about the day we have to bid them farewell.
But that driveway does go both ways, and this is the week they will use it to drive back out into the big, wide world, away from us. I find myself an odd emotional mess, part proud mama bear, part nervous mama bird, part terrified mama human...so sure they will be alright, but not so sure I will be in their leaving.
They bring so much to us! They bring their dreams for a healthier world, their ideas for how to make our work better, their questions for what we might have forgotten, and their concerns for how quickly or not they can turn this world around. They test our knowledge as well as our patience. They stoke our excitement about the possible and our fears of the inevitable. They bring laughter and song to the fields! They bring love to the livestock and attention to the soil. Even as they take what we offer, they are in every sense of the word giving to us...to this place and to this community and to this planet.
Their biggest gift to us is in what they do next. Whether they use their knowledge of food production to start an urban permaculture farm, reclaim a cultural heritage, create a rural farm experience to balance out the lives of busy urbanites, kick off a regenerative farm and livestock rescue operation in the middle of Iowa, chart a path to place via the palate, learn how to be a restauranteur, or maybe for a season just grow a pot of lettuce on their deck - they leave us to do something.
Note the double meaning there and imagine a pause here, because that's what I took. I hope you do the same.
They leave us in order to do something they probably would not have done before their time with us. And we celebrate that this Thursday.
But they also leave us without them, encouraging us to ourselves do something we might not have done before their time with us. I encourage you to come up with your own list, but here's mine.
Corbin has reminded me to not separate my heart from my back...to instead use them both to maybe not make the work easier, but give the work more meaning and impact.
Parker has challenged me to pay attention to how I learn....to stop when I struggle and remember how creative I can be in overcoming obstacles.
Jodi has dared me to embrace the details even as I swear they are of the devil, to instead see them as buffers against the crazy swings of life's pendulum.
Ovini has lit a path for me to use more thoughtful language, more graceful yet clear and timely responses to ignorant patterns, and a practice of holding strong reactions for 24 hours before letting them fly out into the world.
Emily has reframed work for me as a lifelong practice of tending in contrast to an Olympic deadlift of twice my weight.
And Pauline has confirmed for me that presence, love of place, and respect for flavor may well be the secret of happiness.
OK, they are driving away from the Farm, but we're happy about that, right? That was the goal. And as they take that drive, our gift to them is to recognize that they may have just provided us a more vibrant driveway in for next year's class.