A Different Lens . . . Fond Farewell
August 15, 2011
As my 10-month internship comes to an end I am struck by a quote from Abraham Lincoln that says, “The greatest fine art of the future will be making a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” How did he know? At this point in my life I can truly say that I’m a living, breathing example of Abe’s insightful prediction.
At first it was hard to imagine integrating my 25-year career as an LA-based advertising entertainment photographer with a total immersion in sustainable organic farming. But it happened -- amazingly, beautifully, sometimes with difficulty, but always profoundly. It’s allowed me to coin a new expression, “I’ve been debarnacalized.” I define this as breaking a lifelong routine and series of attachments while opening myself up to a whole new horizon of experiences. Nothing is lost in the process. It’s my way of saying this love affair with an inexplicable something I’ve found within the garden has brought me to a place in life I could never have expected; the path from the garden is going to continue with new chapters.
So as I pull my head out of the soil, so to speak, it’s time for a little reflection. This was a year Mother Nature unleashed her fury. Record breaking weather patterns tested everyone’s mettle. From the worst Nor’easters the North East has seen since the 20’s, to the unrelenting spring flooding, right into a sweltering heat wave that topped the mercury at 107 degrees. Extremes were the norm. Each season was so unpredictable it was hard to get a handle on what to prepare for. My mantra became “expect the unexpected.” It should have been exhausting, but instead it was totally invigorating. You’d think after a day’s work of harvesting 2,250 heads of garlic I would have collapsed. Tired, yes. Ready for more, absolutely. Call me Julie the sponge, because I was definitely taking it all in, rain or shine, snow, sleet or hail – I wanted to be in the eye of the storm, and I was.
A kaleidoscope of images from the farm has cast its spell on me. I won’t forget animals breeding and dying right before my eyes, or the mid-wifing of many births late into the snowy night, and a most unusual relationship with ‘Genki’ the pea hen. There were lovely walks with Llulu the llama. I experienced the baby turkeys hatching, the kids growing, milking the does, and hearing the billy goats bleating.
And then there was the mind-bending strategic planning that felt like mental somersaults, involving such things as insuring proper crop rotation, succession planting, seed calculations per bed space requirements while landing each crop safely into the ground. Not to mention the madness of future uncertainty, i.e. the potential loss of over 300 tomatoes. It took incredible persistence and an ultimate display of faith across the board to see it all through. This was definitely not for the faint-of-heart.
I couldn’t wait to go to sleep at night, only to discover what awaited me in the garden the next morning. Walking the gardens at 6:30 AM with a cup of coffee in hand initiated my days. Traversing fields of cool wet grasses (in winter months, crampons worn in the crustiest of icy garden landscapes) to reach the gardens awakened my senses. Talk about aromatherapy, this was the ultimate. Refreshingly effervescent, the path between the hoop houses lined with chamomile and thyme heightened my senses.
As my last days on the farm unfolded, my experiences ran together ranging from the subtle to the overwhelming, an accumulation of events I often described as a cinema multiplex, a living theater, an awakening of a force so great that it will be forever etched into my memory. Whew! My photography captures moments, but this is a canvas with no borders, a series of images, sensations, teachings and realizations that leave me breathless and in a state of awe.
The chef at Bedford Gourmet calls me her “farmer.” The encouragement and support I’ve gotten from the garden co-op members has been extraordinary. Who knew I’d have such a wide smile on my face because of genuine relationships with a few of these wonderful peeps and even with a pea hen (a female peacock)! I’m reminded of the beginning of my internship and my ‘Edward Scissorhands’ faux pas of hacking down a rare pink grape vine to a half -inch from the ground which Isaac thought I killed. Not to mention the Elderberry tree I chopped down to a shocking state. But lucky for me, both are thriving now. In one of the first few blogs I asked the question, “Do we REALLY learn from our lessons?” Something to think about.
This symbiotic theatre of nature and all our surroundings here on the farm have heightened the poetry of my life and, even more importantly, given me a deeper appreciation that compels me to continue to contribute to new frontiers. If you follow the signposts of life they often lead you where you’re supposed to be. With all that I’ve learned, the next part of my journey takes me to a new adventure where I will be designing my first farm for a Hollywood studio executive and client for 27 years. After that I will venture into the field of soil micronutrients, working with business visionaries to unlock more mysteries of the world in order to take better care of it. I reflect on the irony that I will be learning ‘cutting edge’ techniques from an Amish farmer who will be my bridge in this venture that will benefit everyone from the back yard gardener to the business farmer.
So, with a tip of my hat to Lisa who so generously opened her farm doors to me and a huge applause to the RR Team, I thank you all. I will take with me all the jewels I mined from mother nature and all of you which include Isaac and the four months of his brilliant mentorship; the cooking adventures late into the night with Blair; Kevin’s insightful ways to navigate “the RR waters” literally and figuratively; Ron’s brilliance ranging from animal husbandry to identifying exotic edible volunteers; Lauren’s unforgettable laughter while working in minus fourteen degree weather making for great memories (I’ll work by your side any day); and Karen’s kindness and her passion to teach; and to the audience of my family and friends and your unwavering support-Wow! I love you.
Signing off for now with deep thanks, as the adventure unfolds…