Fourth of July, 2013, Terembry Farm
Happy Fourth of July, everyone! This is the first dry day in ages; it’s felt like Virginia was in the Amazon basin these last few days. Yesterday it poured from 3 am until 2 pm. It was a good day to work inside.
The gardens are growing, along with the weeds, and the 45 hens who have been in my kitchen are being moved out to the main chicken house, cordoned off in their own area.
I’m inside now, writing after a light lunch, but getting ready to go back out and work on weeding/restaking tomatoes/picking peas/planning for Saturday’s market day.
As with every spring and summer month on the farm, there’s a LOT to do. When one bed gets cleaned up in the garden—I use 20×20 squares to organize, planting on 3 foot centers, so everything is in linear feet and easily measured—there’s always another, as Mother Nature does not quit. And then there is the mowing! And checking on animals and fence lines. Or cleaning poultry houses. The work goes on and on.
Before farming became a non-majority occupation for the US, starting after WWII, an agrarian lifestyle was a norm, and everyone relied on the output of the garden for food to eat.
Sometimes gardens got messy, sometimes events intervened, machinery broke, or it rained for a week and work got disrupted, but that’s a norm. It’s just what is, in a system where one depends on working with Mother Nature.
Speaking of Mother Nature, I want to acknowledge the day with some thoughts that are a bit more intense. If anyone isn’t interested in deeper thought, stop reading here.
In Celebration of Our Independence Day
Here goes. I am happy to have been born here in the US. As an independent woman, I am glad I am not living in other regions of the world where to be both female and independent is not only an oxymoron, it’s dangerous. Just read today’s headlines in the Washington Post—says it all.
Be glad we are here in America, where in our history, to quote a friend, we have never not responded positively to any group who has requested rights, albeit almost always with a brutal internal battle. Consider the Civil War, and the abolitionist movement, first and foremost. But also consider the Suffragettes who were jailed and beaten in the first part of the 20th century in an effort to get women freedom to vote, or the woman’s movement in the 60s (also jailed in some cases), or today’s gay rights movement (amazingly non-violent in comparison to other events in our history).
Only here, in human history, has an effective system been put in place that not only attempts to protect rights, but also celebrates them. We would not be here were it not for those founding fathers who got upset and changed the course of history, and most especially without Thomas Jefferson’s understanding of Enlightenment thought, which produced his famous Declaration that followed in the footsteps of Locke and Hobbes.
But America was born in contradictions and rooted in an agrarian system. Jefferson was a philosopher, a political activist, a revolutionary, and also a farmer. Jefferson’s Farm Book shows the messiness of his life on a daily basis, and the process of a farm and the inherent contradiction of a labor system where individuals were not free. Things got backed up. He got late in payments. Labor didn’t work out the way it should. Weather caused issues and sometimes ruined crops.
My father, who was a really effective farmer and businessman, and good at what he did, was extremely critical of Jefferson, saying more than a few times that he was a “bad businessman who died in debt” comparing Jefferson quite unfavorably to Washington, who was an excellent businessman. All true.
Yet in looking back, Jefferson gave us so much more. And, in the end of his life, the farm became his primary focus.
I have always thought that the intersection of natural law—something that Locke and Hobbes and Jefferson all wrote about as being the rational source and justification for a system that celebrates human freedom, and human freedom of thought—with the systems of a farm, which try to manage nature, that is, which allow nature to do her thing, to allow a seed to grow and mature, but within structures defined and managed by humans, provided inspiration for Jefferson’s writing and ideological leadership.
Farming, where one does one’s best to work with nature, and what Jefferson would have perceived as “natural law,” was part and parcel of Jefferson’s daily life.
Historians routinely say his life was a series of contradictions. So is farming.
It’s not easy, it’s sometimes off course. Means can be limited, or weather interferes. One has to pick up the baton and go out after the monsoon and manage what nature has kick-started—both weeds and plants.
But at the end of the day, or the season, there is ultimately something rewarding in watching tomato plants thrive when properly staked, or picking peas from a bed that’s been cleared of invasive lamb’s quarter—in watching nature do her thing.
I think Jefferson felt this and believe that it inspired what he did in his life, and I’m grateful for the end result.
Happy Independence Day, all.