Or the importance of Land.
Today I am posting a story about land which has touched hearts at Gaia.com and Facebook. The response the story is evoking speaks of how important our connection to the Land is, and how lonely we are for this connection. Grandfather Joseph speaks about this often. Doing ceremony on the land feeds our spirits and it feeds the Land too. So while this is not a story about the Peace Chamber or a ceremony, it tells about why I am here, and feel the call to hold ceremony. I hope the story touches you too.
A Farm Story
November 1, 2007, I returned to my ancestral home in Gibson County, Tennessee to bury my mother. On the way to the funeral, my son and I drove down Sanders Bluff Road, where I grew up on a cotton and pig farm. The road didn’t look too different from what I remembered. A few new brick houses dotted the cow pastures and cotton fields. This was still small farm country, until we got to my farm.
Where the broad gravel driveway once gave access to a garage and a tractor shed, was a massive brick and iron gate. Winchester Estates the sign read. The farmhouse and the great barn built by my father, uncles, and grandfather had been bulldozed, and replaced by 30 brick ranch houses, stretching from the strawberry patch to my grandmother’s house on the hill, now owned by strangers. Where once cotton, corn, soybeans and winter wheat had grown in rotation, concrete driveways and above ground pools sprouted. The field was surrounded with a 10 foot high iron fence. What are these people afraid of? And who is Winchester? Only Sanders have lived here for 15 generations.
My family left the farm and moved to East Tennesssee in 1970, driven off by the upside down economics of agribusiness expense and farm policy applied to a small scale farm production. At that time my father could have sold the land to a developer, but he wouldn’t. He took an economic hit and sold it back into the family, where it stayed in farm production until 2004. That was the year he died. When Daddy was buried, the barn still stood. There were no gates or fences.
That land is gone now and shall never be reclaimed.
Now I live on nine acres of rock and woods in Maine. The land was once part of a large dairy farm and orchard--the Mervin Hobbs place. That farm is broken up into smaller orchards, house, and wood lots now, but it is still rural and spacious. I have the old house and spring. The owners before me kept sheep. I grow an organic garden, but I am not a farmer. My dream is to invite a farmer onto the land. As I read about permaculture, I understand how bony land like this can produce food in a way that integrates with nature’s patterns of soil, water, and woodlands.
Meanwhile, I grow my garden because I love it. I was born of the earth on that farm in Tennessee, and I must have my hands in dirt at least four months of the year.
But I count on the farmers of Maine to feed me. I love buying food that has been loved by the people growing and handling it. I trust food when I know the grower, and I prefer buying directly from the grower when I can. The closer to the earth my diet becomes the better my health. I am blessed to live in a state that supports organic farming and hand grown food as much as it does.
I am heartened to see so many young families selling their farm produce at the farmers markets. I am happy to spend my food money with these young farmers who are keeping land in cultivation and open space, while keeping farm skills flourishing. Across the nation, the diversified family farm is the vortex of food security, environmental and physical health, and the creative, sustainable economy.
On my drive to Tennessee to visit Mother in October 2007, I stopped at Sweet Providence Farm Market and Bakery in Floyd County, Virginia. I bought an organic free range chicken that the Houstons raised on their farm nearby. It had been killed that morning. Next day I roasted it for Mother. I didn’t know at the time, but it was the last meal I ever cooked for her. I am happy that it was likely the best chicken she had eaten since she was a girl on the farm, and she and her sisters caught and killed the chicken for her mama to cook for Sunday dinner.
(note: we did not have chickens on our farm, but that is another story. See “Chicken Snakes!”)