Monday, May 05, 2008

Girls on tractors: a new era of agriculture?

Yesterday morning the tables turned.

Now, pretty much every Saturday morning finds me at the farmers' market. That's not unusual. Maybe it's the hot coffee, or perhaps it's the 15 kinds of goat cheese available for sampling, but I have the uncanny knack of waking up on Saturdays without my alarm clock, if I know that's where I'm going. Before I go to bed, I tell myself, "You can have plantain spring rolls for breakfast if you wake up in time!" It works like magic.

But this Saturday was different. Don’t get me wrong, I was still eating spring rolls - but as shoppers strolled around our neighborhood's fledgling Peoples' Market, I sat firmly planted in a seat. Behind a table. My table. My gardening partner Ricky sat beside me, making change and small talk as I slid our products closer to the front of the table, freshened the herbs, and rearranged the flowers. I kept expecting someone to cry, "Hey you! You're not a farmer! What are you doing?" But they didn't. They just bought our plants and smiled.

This trimphant morning was the result of four months of planning, working, and waiting. A cold afternoon in January, Ricky and I sat at my kitchen table with two mugs of tea and a stack of heirloom seed catalogues. "I know it's crazy," I said, "but we have to try this. I had this moment this afternoon... I was watering the collards in the back yard, and I was filling the bucket from our rain barrel, and all of a sudden I was awash in this wave of… like… pure joy. A wave of… I don't know how to describe it. Realness. Like, at that moment I was my authentic, unadulterated self. I don't get that feeling from anything else I do, besides gardening and farming. And maybe cooking."

Ricky grinned at me, half-teasing, half-understanding. "I know exactly what you mean," she said. "I get that feeling too. Very occasionally. When I'm doing something that I really believe in, that feels right and true to me. Like I'm taking a step towards I believe in."

"God, we're so cheesy," I groaned. "Anyone who is listening to this conversation is barfing on themselves right now. But seriously. I don't know how else to say it except that I feel really called to try this. And I want to give it a shot."

And so, armed with almost no materials, we set off on our revolution. With less than $300, two shovels, one hoe, and a three-tined pitchfork, we devised a plan. Our goal: agriculture in the city. Reaquainting ourselves and our community with food and agriculture, the fundamental skill of survival. Providing fresh produce for our working-class neighborhood; earning a living by following our passion; severing our community's dependence on agribusiness; protecting our food supply by propagating heirloom seeds; mitigating our environmental footprint by growing local food.

Back in January, I couldn't decide if we were insane or brilliant. (Sometimes it's a fine line.) We had no land. No money. No machinery. No tools. No model, no plan, no infrastructure. And yet… we did have supportive friends. A needy community. Passion and excitement, and a habit of getting things done in the most bootleg manner possible.

Today, in May, I'm still not sure whether we're nuts or not. Our project is still in its infancy. Our finances are still most definitely in the red. But we're learning a lot - about plants, but also about our community and ourselves. In the past few months I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries about revolutionary agriculture. Those stories, the knowledge that other nutty people are out there doing the same thing we are, has made me realize the importance of telling our story. Over the next few months, I hope to catch readers up on the first few months our urban agriculture adventure, and keep you updated as the summer unfolds. There's drama in the dirt.

By Sadie Kneidel


Anonymous said...

It's odd how young chard plants like to fall over. They grow from such a feeble stem. But the joy of packing some dirt around their base, and watching them grow straight and strong is undescribable for me. I know that sounds cheesy too, but it's the truth. Mr. Bovergard.

Sadie said...

Mr. Bovergard,
It's true, that is very satisfying. I am feeling particularly gratified right now after watching some feeble sunflower starts turn into hearty, sturdy young plants.