Each animal has its own wisdom, and each offers different lessons that we can learn. Chickens, ducks, and dingo dog, all living beings made up of the wildness of this farm. Each of them are tending this land in their own way - ducks skimming the puddles and swamp woods for grub, all staying together, quacking and moving in unison. They teach us of teamwork, having each others’ backs, being ever vigilant to danger, and taking joy in what others scowl at - like mud puddles. Chickens peck away weed seeds and aerate the soil with their clawed feet, running up to the fence to greet you when you pass by. They are curious, gregarious, and at times adventurous - especially when one decides to “fly the coop”. Mori, the dingo-turned-farm dog, is always looking out for and sometimes hunting the rabbits, voles, raccoons, and other potential predators of birds and vegetables. I could write for hours about all the things he has taught me, but all I will say is that he has shown me how to access strength and leadership skills, courage, gentleness, and peace with death in the 6 years he has been with me. He reads the land like an open book, sensitive with senses very different from mine. He weaves gracefully through the swamp and into places that I never go, and undoubtedly knows things of this land I will never know. All of them, by default, are feeding and diversifying the soil microbes with their poop*.
These animals make me stronger, more observant, more patient, and get me up and outside regardless of the weather conditions. They give me something to share with my community, and give me joy and nourishment every day.
There are always shadows in the awe, of course. As the climate changes, there are many unpredictable, far reaching, and inter-related consequences that farmers experience first-hand. After years of mild winters in SE Wisconsin, we are now experiencing the coldest, snowiest winter storm in over 20 years. Who can say for sure how -26 degrees with a deadly -60 windchill, followed by 44 degrees in the same week will affect the rest of the season, but it certainly hasn’t made things easy for the birds and it’s likely the first of many extreme weather events to come for us in 2019. In this past year, we have seen flooding, drought, mosquito plagues, tick swarms, frozen seedlings, lyme, fire blight, black rot, and so many other diseases increasing in severity as weather patterns grow more chaotic. I look at my chickens, their frost-bitten combs and wild eyes, and I think of all the people not far from me who have no home, can’t afford enough heat, or just live in a run-down old house or apartment like the places I used to live before I moved here, with the wind blowing through the house. The people who didn’t make it through the most recent winter storm echo in the 35 mph wind.
Food and nourishment is only part of the mountain we must climb to surmount the present and impending scarcity of the lower- and working-class, and I can’t help but question my choices sometimes about putting all of my proverbial eggs in this one basket of food and Earth work. This particular “positive obsession”, in Octavia Butler’s words, at times can seem removed or irrelevant compared to the crisis we currently face. Rising food prices and reduced access, leaded water and contaminated soil, winter storms, wildfires, hurricanes, and hate crimes all hit the poor and working class the hardest. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid the question of how we can build infrastructure to live without depending on fossil fuel based industry, war, and slave wage labor when so many are in dire need of more emergency relief efforts.
She also writes of a “chosen struggle”, which (I believe) is not to be confused with the burdens that most of us inherit rather than choose in one way or another, especially folks in marginalized communities. I like to think of this in terms of the choice TO struggle; and what to struggle against. By choosing to struggle against the causes of climate change and the violation of human rights, we may be able to divert the rage and pain felt by many trying to live within an economic and social system that doesn’t serve them, or even prioritize their safety and that of their children.
I don’t pretend to have answers, but it can’t hurt to share our chosen struggles. We can do this by using the skills and sphere of influence we have, whatever that may be, and work together to cultivate our resources. Part of that, from my perspective as a landworker, and as someone concerned about climate change, is to get in right relationship with the Earth the best we can through food.
It’s both inner and outer work. It’s healing, grieving, and creative work. Among the many workers we need, we need food growers, composters, animal keepers, parents, teachers, healers, craftspeople, and more. None of us can do it all, and hopefully, none of us will need to.
Wellspring is not the solution to the world’s problems, and perhaps there is none except a collaboration of solutions by a variety of people. We can, however, help more people become resilient, resourceful, and sustainable food growers, work to increase local food access, and organize to increase access to land for people who want to grow. We can help people forge a tangible relationship with the Earth and build their practical skills. We are a community of seeds, Earthseeds, as Octavia wrote, growing and spreading over time and space.
*In accordance with food safety and organic certification regulations, no animals are permitted in the growing fields nor fresh manure added to any of our vegetable beds