Wild Animals Choose Organic over Poison, Shouldn't Humans?
(Joyfield Farm's amazing compost piles, and the amazing Val)
Oooh-weee, today was a scorcher. Bent-over, my skin covered in an unheavenly mix of deet and sunscreen, I spent 2 ½ hours picking weeds though careful to avoid the many tall thistles which will need to be shoveled out for certainty. Because of the destruction of the prairie, thistles, via Canada, are bedlam across the Midwest. Easily marching through mono-row crops of feed corn and soybeans, the thistle attempt to feast on the organic 7 acres here at Joyfield Farm. That reminds me, deer and raccoons love to eat the edible organic soybeans in Cliff and Arlene’s garden. What’s a bit odd about this is that for miles and miles there are endless Franken food-soybean fields. They’re not touched by our wild friends. We should take note of our wild friends.
So there I was, alone, picking weeds, feeling I needed a windshield wiper on my forehead, the salt of my sweat cascading down into my tender eyes. I could feel my body and spirit outstripping my comfort zone, my insides rationing water, muscles warm and intense, like fast running water down a stream. I wondered if this is the life for me and my community. Arlene and Cliff, along with six other adults and two kids, share 7 acres, of which about 3 acres is gardened. For half the year, the garden is the prime money-making operation for Arlene and Cliff. Interspersed during the garden months are stints helping with disaster relief, Christian Peacemaker Team projects and Brethren service projects. The winter is the same, minus the garden work. It appears to be a full and meaningful life. Even balanced.
Yanking up over-sized grasses, soft ground cherries and lambs quarters, I wonder if there is a sustainable way to have a large garden to provide for a community’s needs, without having the need to sell any of it for market, and not even need a cash income. All the community’s we’ve visited have bills, some more than others; Joyfield is on the low end for sure. Joyfield has various utilities: phone, electric, water. They have an old truck to maintain and insure. They buy local fresh food to supplement their garden. The garden has expenses, though they have no machines, except wheelbarrows, shovels, forks and muscles. They plant each spring from plants they let go to seed each year. Arlene and Cliff live simply, plain. It seems rather easy, sweat and all.
Ever heard of an organic farm where you show up to buy some produce and while you wait the farmers go out and pick your order? Or, how about phoning in an order and show up a half hour later and pick up freshly picked produce? That’s how Joyfield Farm operates. Except for their regular size refrigerator, there are no large coolers to store produce, so the earth is their best form of storage. While Arlene and Cliff were at the local farmer’s market in North Manchester, a couple showed up and asked if they could buy some squash. The previous afternoon, all the squash and zucchini were picked for market. Nonetheless, the couple, along with me and Val, traipsed through the 3 acres of gardens, exploring various plantings of squash and zucchini. We found a half-dozen worthy of harvesting, tossed in a garlic and a Vidalia sweet onion and called it a buck fifty.
Two of the communities we’ve visited (Agape and Guests and Strangers) were made up of just two people. A third (Earthknack) was a single family of five. We liked all three, though one factor that caused us concern, as well as the first two communities, was the need and desire for more community. Joyfield has a decent mix of two elders, four adults in their fifties, and a younger couple and their two children. This is a nice scale, both in terms of number and ages. Folks here home-schooled and shared responsibilities, while retaining a fair amount of autonomy. Everyone has their own vehicles and bicycles, as well as their own dwelling. While the elders help out in the garden and with other chores with Cliff and Arlene, I wish the rest of their community shared work and had more mutuality in their lives. Still, it’s impressive for it shows the way people’s lives change, intersecting sometimes and then at times orbiting a bit farther apart.
Apropos of nothing in particular, this farm has amazing compost! Actually, the way they make compost is amazing for its simplicity and grace. They take farm clippings and weeds and build an enclosed wall, maybe 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. As the wall goes up they add clippings into the middle. Repeat this until the whole edifice is 6 feet high. Wait a week, let the worms and bugs do their thing, and the whole contraption is back down to 3 feet high. Keep adding, etc.. After a season, you can take fresh rich compost starting from the bottom of the pile and mix it into your spring tilling. Cliff and Arlene have about a dozen compost piles as described. No mixing, no adding special stuff -- no way to screw it up! I love that!