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Budding the Artist in the Farmer

May 9, 2012

I feel farmers are like artists sometimes (at least agro-diverse farmers). The land they farm on represents the medium and the farmer has the ability to create the picture or painting as they see it. This is even more pronounced when you are farming on more than one piece of land and, to add another variable, it is your first year you have started a farm. It’s like creating five works of your own art when you have only helped other artists create their artwork previously. You have ideas in your head of the painting, even before you have seen the land or touched the soil: what you want to grow, how many goats and chickens you need, ways to efficiently water, the sky’s the limit. Then you are given a medium or mediums, in my case. It’s not exactly like you had in your head (is anything, ever?) and that’s OK. You, as a farmer, are doing what you love (you’re definitely not in it for the money), so you will make your art on whatever medium is given to you at this moment in time and you revel in all its imperfectuous beauty.

And creating art is not an individual act: is creating anything really? To make it work, you need certain elements, and those elements are tangible and a part of something bigger and collective. We are so programmed in our culture on the individual, we all seem to forget that with out the sum of the parts, we would not have anything. It’s like the individual is a piece of a puzzle. The  piece itself is unique but worthless on its own. However, it plays a vital part in the whole. Without the piece, the puzzle cannot be completed.  Without the puzzle, the piece means nothing. Same goes for the artist. For what would she paint if not connected or inspired by someone or something else…if she didn’t have a muse or muses?  And who would enjoy the artwork if it did not resonate and connect with those whom view it? The artist uses her own hand  to paint the picture (for farmers, this is usually with the help of others too), but the idea or design of the picture is created from the sum of the artist’s experiences and relationships with the world around them.  And it is all inter-related.  For the farmer, it’s the land and the community that is essential for the art to thrive.  The muses of the farm world if you will.

The lands I began working with back in February (66th, 103rd and 47th) were a clean slate. Well, maybe not clean, they did have grass everywhere. But basically, I just needed to remove the grass and/or weeds, test and amend the soil, and create whatever I saw fit in my head. The artistry from a clean slate all came from my knowledge of farming and ecology, ideas, and creativity in my head on wanting to produce a given amount of food on these plots of land.  Although this might seem to represent more individual freedom for me as an artist, I am limited only to my knowledge, experiences, and creative thought.

But Cully, Cully is different. Cully has a history. Cully has a previous design.  Cully has established perennials. And, most importantly, Cully has a previous painting from another creative, urban farmer. I went into Cully with the thinking that I was going to till it all, start anew, establish a straight row design, create a new palate, just like I had done with 103rd. Then, as time passed by, I began to spend a bit more time at the Cully site. I began to see the land. I began to get inside the design, the history, the former farmer’s head of his creative thinking and knowledge. Not by meeting the farmer himself, all I know of him is his name, occupation, and the land on which he tended for a while.  So, by exploring the land, I began to understand his art. I began to appreciate his design and realized it utilized the sun and space quite effectively. Plus, it would be a LOT LESS work to till just the rows currently there (or part of the rows) than have to remove all the mulch in the pathways and till up everything. I started weeding the rows last week, and in doing so, I began rethinking my thinking. Looking for ways to merge his art into mine, opening new doors that were previous unopened in my mind. This, this process, this form, is truly more free. Expanding your creativeness through the eyes of another. Getting to know more than just the land, the soil, the plants, but the history, and the people too. This process has budded the true artist in my farmer.

Some think we are free when we do not have to answer to anyone, when we do as we please and no one can interfere. I say that limits are freedom and closes our mind and hearts. And our art will suffer. I say we are only truly free when we can see through the eyes of or walk in the shoes of another.  In the latter we are constantly learning, always adapting, and always changing.  This is the only perspective that can give us compassion, connect us to the world around us, and move us forward. And another can be any living, sentient being or energy construct, not just humans. My particular experience with Cully thus far has been through the eyes of another farmer. But there have been plenty of times I have experienced life through other animals or plants, or even mountains or rivers. If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend it. And if you really listen and see, you will come out of it an enriched person.

In my first post I mentioned, as part of the dream, finding the true meaning of sustainability. This is a work in progress and there will be more to come about this in future blogs, but I will touch on it a bit here. I looked up the word sustainable in both the Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries. They both had similar definitions when it comes to “the ability to be maintained,  or upheld, and the ability to last.” They differed in the second part of the definition. Since sustainable is an adjective it is describing some noun (some action, method, state, etc). I will infer sustainable to be describing the noun version of use here for ease of purposes: sustainable use.  MW defining it as “lasting without destroying,” Oxford defining it as “maintaining at a certain level or rate.”

OK, whew, we got the definition out-of-the-way. And what does this have to do with a farmer’s art and freedom anyway? Well, I’m still working on it, but I think when we are defining sustainable use of something (albeit land, energy, manufactured goods, etc) we need to be aware that the rate or level to maintain its use is limited without destroying it. In fact, ideally, it should be more like maintaining it at a level in which both the user and the used can benefit from it.  This limit, by no means, hinders our freedom or creativity. Knowing that we as individuals and society are limited, and accepting that, is a key to being sustainable.  Let’s sit on that for a while as I know there is more complexity to the true meaning.

So the Cully site has reinvented my farming and meshing our artistry and ecological knowledge together to grow food on this site for the community excites me. I begin planting beans, cucumbers, and squash seed this week.  Hopefully, someday, I’ll get to meet Joe. But I hear he lives in a small cabin out in the Hood River National Forest somewhere as a ranger protecting our lands. Cool.

The Cully site in 2009 from a Google Earth aerial shot. The rows look like the suns rays and in the half circle sits a wooden bench that lies beneath two apple trees.

This is my last post before I switch the home page to a more static design. I will still blog, of course, and access will be by a “blog” tab on the top right side of the home page. If you want to keep up just with the blog, click the “sign me up” button to the right, enter your email and you will get a message whenever there is a new post. And if you have kept up so far, you know I only post every few weeks.

The markets start in less than a month and I will have lots of greens and starts available throughout June.  And, there are still vouchers and a few CSA shares available. Spread the word or sign up today! And don’t forget to like Mama Tee’s Facebook Page: here.

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