The full photo diary of my Nature’s Pace farming experience can be found here
I arrived in hot summer, worked through a lively change of season and left with snow on the ground. Nature’s Pace Organics; my deepest delve into farming life and the latest episode in my journey. As summer turned over the shoulder and we’ve come close to touching winter it is not just the varieties of produce we’ve been harvesting on the farm or the leaves on the surrounding Birches and Poplars that have evolved, the people in my immediate life have too. 4 months ago I worked on a crew of seven interns under a man I hardly knew. A few days ago, when farmer Jacob dropped me of at the Detroit Greyhound station, I was fighting back tears that betrayed my connection with the family I have been contributing to. I leave just one intern buddy, Allison, and good friends in Jacob, Katie, Frieda and Forrest; the Bach farming family.
The decision to go farming was in part inspired by someone else, to whom I am now greatly indebted. This prompting led me to my initial searches of the Wwoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) possibilities in Michigan. Sat at this computer in the Marquette town library I was quick to hone in on a farm that boasted 4 seasons of harvest and had grown under the stewardship of a young couple who’d celebrated their wedding with a Yurt raising. My intention was to work into the fourth of those seasons and having long yearned for the simplicity and proximity to nature offered by Yurt life, the appeal was obvious. Thus, Nature’s Pace Organics immediately became my prime target. The boxes were all ticked; although I am unable to work for money in the US, investing my efforts into helping this family of apparently like-minded individuals offered the hope that I may be amply reimbursed with love, lesson and learning. To my good fortune my preferred horse came in and to my even greater luck it turned out to be the right animal; all my hopes have subsequently come home to roost. On the dark evening of August 8th I arrived at my new home.
Nature’s Pace Organics marks the passion, ideals and lifestyle decisions of Michiganders Jacob (29) and Katie (30). Their journey took them via Pennsylvania and through farming leased land more locally to a long search for their own productive plot. When exhaustive efforts finally led them to 20 acres of pastureland on the outskirts of the small town of Mayville (in the thumb of Michigan) the demands of their purist’s dedication to organic farming had at last been met. Two years ago they moved in with their young son Forrest and Nature’s Pace in the form that I now know it, began to evolve. Along the way Forrest (5) was joined by Frieda (not yet 1), hoop houses multiplied and 20 more acres were leased just down the road. I subsequently walked into the lives of a very busy and committed mother and a young farmer who through sheer hard work and bloody mindedness was making the apparently impossible a very enviable reality.
There was already quite a community working the Bach land when I arrived; 6 other interns whose experience and knowledge put my very limited agricultural knowhow to shame. Sleeping in a tent or on a couch and working long days under the blazing summer sun really served as a rude awakening. My co-workers were decent company, providing enough energy for us all to work as a relatively coherent unit in general harmony. With frequent and heavy harvesting necessary to satisfy the demands of a sizeable CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) membership and 4 weekly farmers markets, I was hit by a barrage of new information. Looking back now it is amazing to me just how ignorant I was of many vegetables; I’d never even heard of Kohlrabi and the concept of an Heirloom had never come close to my reckoning. As so many varieties of produce have come in and then out of season during my time on the farm I now find myself familiar with things I am ashamed to have previously let pass me by and probably boast knowledge of vegetables that surpasses the large majority of grocery store shoppers.
Before long Jacob had bought a caravan and I had my own space to live in. The confusing intensity of the early days had fallen into a decipherable routine and order: Monday we’d start with a large harvest of Kale to go to a door to door organics delivery service by late morning. The rest of that day and Tuesday was then given over to planting and general upkeep and advancement projects. All the while factoring in bean and tomato harvesting. Wednesdays and Thursdays were always front heavy, long mornings during which we’d harvest and then put together CSA shares to be delivered to the members that afternoon. Fridays were the most intense and busiest day of harvest, preparing everything for the Saturday and Sunday markets. Often time we’d find ourselves working late into the evening getting everything ready for Jacob and myself to leave at 3am, headed south to Royal Oak farmers market in metro Detroit.
This early start initially had me cursing my luck in drawing this responsibility. After an exhausting week such an early start is a major wipe out. My knowledge of pricing and produce lacked so far behind the customers that I wore and continual blush of embarrassment and made it my duty to lurk in the background, frantically quarting up onions and potatoes. But as with many things in life my appreciation grew concurrently with my confidence and now I have to admit a soft spot for those early morning market forays. The coffee fueled drives bought me a true friend in Jacob and the busy market really started to make me buzz. All the efforts of the week seemed worthwhile as we gave people what they wanted. People who have made the decision to spend their money on quality organic produce and buy into a movement against processed and unsustainably created and transported modern convenience foods, dangerous GMO’s and the corporate raping of our health. The organic and local foods movements is far bigger than I ever expected and forms a community I am proud to have become a part of. I’d been missing the point for years, previously figuring that farmers markets only served the rich and picky, now I appreciate the meaning and purity behind what you can buy at these markets and the plethora of layers of benefit that you and society gains from choosing to spend money with these farmers.
By the end of my time with Nature’s Pace Organics it was just me and one other intern, Allison who’d happily toil. The summer CSA shares were finished and only the Royal Oak farmers market still ran. The other interns had left at relatively regular intervals, closely followed by the falling leaves of autumn. The work continued but turned more varied and for me more enjoyable with the relative tranquility of less bodies and personalities around. Fewer people also gave us an opportunity to get closer to Katie, Jacob, Forrest and Frieda, and I found myself becoming very conscious of a psychological loop closing: I’d arrived on the land and been bowled over by the obvious genius of bringing up children in this environment. Long haired kids running around care free and oblivious to the weight of society and an essence of honesty in the ancient craft of working the land to sustain a family. Then the realities hit me; constant work, a prisoner on your own land, stress, financial vulnerability and the immense intensity of living, working and only rarely playing with the same people, in the same space, all the time. Reality gazumped romance and the prospect of a future farming filled me with dread and anxiety. But as my understanding grew, the two extremes inherent in these two thought processes started to tangle, entwining themselves in a plat of positivity. My attitudes have come full circle; I’m back to appreciating the dream like rewards of this choice of existence and do so with the perspective that those features I just listed as scary and off-putting are actually just more positives I’d been looking at the wrong way: Meaningful and direct work, the opportunity to really get to know your land and nature, edible rewards, winning a richness beyond money and the quite unique opportunity to really get to know your family and being alive in ways that modern society has largely left behind.