Befriending the Wolf

Up before dawn with too much on my mind to sleep, so I made coffee and watched the day arrive. The farm cat was up early too, waiting by the door, so I let him in and fed him his breakfast. Thick fog hung low over the empty fields and rimed the branches of the bare trees, and the sun, when it rose, shone only a pale disk barely burning through.

I realize lately I’ve gotten into the bad habit of thinking that farming is like war and that this pre-season planning is like preparing for battle. It’s true you need to have your act together before fieldwork begins. Once everything gets rolling, you have few chances to fundamentally change course. Ready or not, here it comes.

evening harvesting

Harvesting kale one evening last summer

The mistake creeps in, I think, when I consider the farm a foe, though sometimes it surely feels that way, like I have that proverbial wolf by the ears, the one you can neither safely release nor hold on to much longer. But that is the narrow view. The farm is not my adversary but my ally.

When I teach classes on organic gardening, I try explaining it in contrast to its opposite, mechanical gardening. Neither has to do with the presence or absence of machines in the garden but with how one views the garden. Is it like a machine, or is it more like an organism? A machine is human construction able to be calibrated to yield predictable results. The garden — and by extension, the farm — is not like this, and if you’ve ever kept a garden, you know that. The farm is, rather, like an organism — or, better, a community of organisms, and literally from the ground up. From the soil’s dense microbial life, to the plants sustained by that soil, on up to those nourished by those plants’ produce, and including all the insects, wildlife, and livestock in between. A whole network of creatures we did not create and upon which we depend for our very lives, with the farmer there in the midst, stewarding it all.

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