By Terri Smith–
Here is my biggest farmer’s confession yet: I’m not really a farmer anymore. Sure I live on a farm, but we don’t really produce anything for sale at the moment. We produced a lot of what we ate this summer, and we do have some storage crops that will get us through some of winter months but technically a farmer is someone who grows a number of products for market, and that is not me any longer.
Right now I am trying to figure out just what it is that I am. For almost a decade I defined myself by what I did. During those years, no matter how hard it was or how bad things got emotionally, financially, physically, or horticulturally, I could always point to what I was doing and think, “Yes. I am doing a good thing. I am doing a valuable service to our planet. I am helping.”
Walking away from everything I had built and everything I believed myself to be is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Yet it is one of the most important things I have done, too. It was time. To continue doing a thing after its time has passed is a lesson in futility. I couldn’t survive doing what I was doing alone for much longer.
I have no regrets about my decision to become a farmer, nor do I regret any of the twists and turns I encountered along the way. I learned a lot—and that is a serious understatement. I learned about soil, plants, vegetables, animals (especially goats), farmers’ markets, town politics, board politics, cooking, and all the things I expected to learn from farming. I also learned how to navigate tricky human relationships, how to be diplomatic, and how to fail miserably at diplomacy. I learned that the poop of ruminants is more fascinating than I ever imagined, and how to hassle Xplornet often enough to have something resembling rural, high-speed Internet. I learned how to love and how to let go. I learned to be calmer in emotional situations, and I learned that a garden can break your heart over and over but you’ll still go back for more. I learned gratitude and I learned that I have more resentment than I’d care to admit. I learned I am not as nice as I thought I was, and that it’s okay when people don’t like me. I also learned the previous statement just isn’t true and I hate it when people don’t like me. I learned freedom is worth more than anything and my integrity is the one thing I will not sacrifice.
During the last few weeks as I have struggled with what to write for this article that I have felt I no longer have any business writing, yet a few things happened that strengthened my purpose and made me feel like I am an appropriate author for this article after all. It is important to not define yourself by what you do, even if you love what you do.
First was a letter I received from my helper, Svenja, from Germany. Svenja is one of the most special people in my life in part because she has been the tie between my old life and this new life that I am now figuring out as I go. Svenja came to Road’s End last August. I am usually exhausted and grumpy by August, and for everyone’s safety I would choose not to accept helpers this month. Poor Svenja arrived when I was at my worst and grumpiest. She was only supposed to be with me a few weeks, and at first I was relieved that it would be such a short time so I could be alone and grumpy again. But Svenja has a sweet disposition and a wonderful heart. By the end of the first week she had won me over and before long she was staying an extra month, and then planning to come back for Christmas. And then again for two months this spring to help me pack and move and begin to settle in here. She became family. She was there when I made the difficult decision to leave Road’s End. She has an uncanny ability to remind me of all the good things whenever I find myself filled with doubt.
On Christmas morning when we exchanged the simple gifts we had made each other she gave me one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me, because it got me through the hardest moments when I felt so sad at the thought of leaving my home. It was a simple gift: a tiny glass jar wire-wrapped onto a piece of black cord with a bright blue feather inside and a tiny piece of parchment paper on which she had written in her elegant hand a single word: Freedom.
Just last week Svenja sent me a letter that arrived on a day when I was particularly exhausted from work and still had neither the time nor the energy to harvest the carrots and beets that are still in the ground.
Svenja wrote: I read your articles…and I can’t deal with the thought that you’re in doubt about your ability to change something. How many people’s eyes did you open? And now imagine how many people they convinced themselves to care more for this beautiful planet…you will influence so many people and achieve so much. You just can barely see it because it’s deep in their hearts where you touched them… You changed me.
Svenja’s letter brought tears to my eyes. Even a change that has been so positive is hard at times and I find myself falling down a lot as I try to find my footing and figure out who I am now, without Road’s End, and how I can best be of service to the world in my new life.
And then this week I was talking online with my beloved boss and friend, Diane, from the Station House Gallery in Williams Lake about how much my life has changed since the days when I was a farmer. She wrote back: “You still grow vegetables. You have a goat. Excuse me. FARMER.”
It’s funny how happy this made me. There was a time when a farmer was the last thing I would have wanted to be. Now, Diane made my day when she elaborated with: “…And you are and always will be. A farmer!”
Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.