(April 14, 2014)
I spent a fair amount of time in farmhouse kitchens growing up. My dad and uncle would often lend a hand to other farmers and they in turn would reciprocate here.
There were the trips to help out old Miss Green and her daughter Miss Green, farmers in Rhode Island. They had one of the prettiest dairy farms I have ever seen. Their salt shaker farmhouse was from the 1700s and had romantic antique roses planted everywhere. My mom would visit with old Miss Green in the kitchen, while I ate Concord grapes sitting under their arbor, spitting seeds and watching my dad help Miss Green pull a tractor out of the mud or fix a corn chopper.
Or we’d head up to the Bosma dairy farm on Williams Hill, where my dad and Dick Bosma would chat for hours about farm business or exchange a bull on a handshake to improve breeding stock. Mrs. Bosma would invite us inside to visit with her and her youngest children.
Someone would be pressed into playing the organ for us. And then we’d all leave to play on the grain bag and bailing twine swings and hammocks that all of us farm families had hanging from the rafters of our barns.
Looking back, there were the usual homemade cookies or brownies offered and a chance to just sit and talk. In some ways, other than church, that’s what our social life looked like while I was growing up—helping other farmers. This exchange was as natural as my grandmother’s lap work of darning socks or cross-stitching: easy, predictable, a gradual building up of resiliency in our community.
I must have forgotten this about farming, because when I first moved back to the farm, I was surprised by all the help that appeared when we needed it, as if on cue from some hidden stage manager.
There was our neighbor and former farm hand Mike Wojnowski, who 35 years since he last worked here still comes on a text notice to feed the cows and chickens when we’re away or to plow us out when the snow is mounded around the barns in the winter.
There was our other neighbor Marty Goff, who came and spent a day of his vacation visiting family here in Massachusetts, sweating in the sun and helping to replace the corner of the barn, using hand-hewn techniques true to the 18th century provenance of the building.
There was my nephew Ed’s friends showing up with chain saws when trees exploded around us in storms both real and imagined the summer my brother Dave died.
And there has been the parade of amazing young people led by 15-year old Evan Maietta, helping to clean up and restore pastures, feed animals, clean pens, put down bedding, and any number of sundry tasks, which has morphed into a weekly work event we simply call “farm camp.”
Of course, my nephew Ed Parker must be mentioned, who has been the heart and soul of the farm since he was five, when he’d call my father and tell him it was time to fix fences, and my dad and he would go off and swing hammers. And then there’s all the friends of Ed’s and his brother Todd, who have come to help with haying—a subset of the Uxbridge High football team—bringing both brawn and heart. And farm intern Anja Semanco, who gave up part of her summer to this and had to go home to Pennsylvania when she contracted Lyme disease. And Jane Clarke and family, including her brother Ted, who have helped clean out the barn and plant gardens annually. There was Erin Hawkes and her father Peter, local dairy farmers who have shown up with hay and medicine when we needed more than just advice. And there have been more.
Farms belong to not just a farmer, but to communities and we feed not ourselves, but one another.
It’s a humbling experience to watch people take up a bucket in the brigade and pass it along in service to this idea that farms belong to not just a farmer, but to communities and that we feed not ourselves, but one another.
Perhaps it’s an idea that applies to so many of our challenges today. Our oceans are dying; island nations will be inundated because of global warming; children are starving in Appalachia; the bees are dying; polar bears are losing ground; cancer must be stopped; unwanted pets bound for the gas chamber must be adopted; and still there is more. The list is endless. Devastating stories and problems are stacked up like corpses. There’s no wonder we hide in our houses. It’s easy to feel not quite up to the task.
I do not know how to solve those problems. But I feel certain that what I learned in the farmhouse kitchens so long ago applies. Problems will always be like fires on the horizon threatening our homes. We simply need to be willing to show up together and pass the bucket along.
So for everyone who has shown up for us over these years: thank you. It’s been an honor to stand next to you in the line. And you should know: you’ve carried the water beautifully.