M. Shockley – ’04

The last rays of the golden sun

The last rays of the golden sun are lingering over the farm as I sit down to rest after a hard day’s work. Farming: one of the most valuable and valueless ways of life I know. Valuable to those who understand the fulfillment and responsibility that comes through working with one’s hands in the dirt to provide one of our most basic needs: food. Valueless to those who have become so detached from the natural world that it is forgotten a tomato comes from a garden and not a grocery store. Less than two years ago, I was among those blind to the value of farming.

There are many reasons I came to Seven Springs. I became intrigued with the world of farming after working for short periods of time on other sustainable farms, yet I desired to know what it was like day in and day out. After four years studying Anthropology and Sustainable Development, which mainly consisted of sitting around talking about the social and environmental problems facing our generation, I grew weary of talking and wanted to be a part of the change I wish to see. Sustainable agriculture gives me hope. For it is a movement to reconnect people to the environment and consumers to the farmers in a world where we all seem to be so disconnected. I had spent time debating why we should support local, organic food in college, yet I wouldn’t have even known where to begin if I wanted to start a garden in my backyard. I decided that becoming a farmer was the only way to understand a movement I was so fervently supporting. So, five days after I walked across the graduation stage, I was rolling in the driveway at Seven Springs.

Honestly, I had a few other motivations that led me here. Chaos. I think it’s safe to say my life was in chaos. Sleepless nights and five cups a coffee a day are not what I consider to be a sign of a healthy lifestyle. I came here to live a life free of all the distractions I find in the city that seems to keep me running in circles. I came here to learn to be content with food, shelter and the work of my hands.

Looking back over the time I have spent here, I see this was a season of many new lessons. Practical lessons such as composting, crop rotation, growing biological islands, mulching, using beneficial insects for pest control, cultivating soil, and cover cropping all taught me how to grow food in a manner that leaves the soil richer than before it was a garden. I have been taught various aspects of homesteading such as canning, drying fruit and cutting firewood. I have seen how it takes a community of farmers helping each other out and people who really care about the food they are buying to keep the sustainable agriculture movement going. Floyd County has not ceased to amaze me with all the people who are trying out various forms of sustainable agriculture, and having the opportunity to visit a variety of farms has helped me to envision that this movement is taking off the ground. Yet the depth of what I have taken in while I have been here runs far deeper that the practicalities of farm life.

This apprenticeship has been the passing on of a type of knowledge that is of a different caliber than knowledge found in books. It has been the knowledge that comes from many weathered years of experience that Ron, Polly, Ann and Mark have so generously passed on to me. Each one has their own way of sharing their knowledge of how to garden and take care of the land, and I have been amazed at their never-ending patience to teach me day after day.

My hands are my testimony to the lessons that have worn on me over the past five months. Hands that were once smooth and flawless are now cracked and calloused with dirt that cannot be removed from under my fingernails. For I have been a student of the gardens and the natural world around me. I am amazed at the fresh insight that comes after a morning of weeding or sitting before a quiet sunset. Laughing at my attempts to lead a ‘simple’ life before I came here, I realize that simplicity is not a lifestyle one can just automatically choose. I am of the persuasion that such a change happens slowly through being shaped by one’s surroundings. For simplicity requires peace in one’s soul and spirit. Five months of working with my hands in the dirt has somehow helped to change my desires from a quest for more material wealth and higher social standing to contentment. Not a contentment that breeds laziness, mind you. Rather, I have found contentment that breeds satisfaction for the blessings that are already present in my life.

The most challenging aspect of my time here was living alone up at the intern quarters. Ten days after I arrived, the other intern called and said she wasn’t coming. Moving from a life where I was always surrounded by people to nights of silence up in the woods was quite the transition. After I got over my fear of being alone outside at nighttime, I learned that there was much to listen to when we don’t clutter our lives with endless chatter. I spent many nights lying in the hammock looking up through the pine trees to the stars. I have found that nature is no longer something I come out of the city to gawk at when I need a breath of fresh air. Now, I have no idea how I will react to leaving the music of the birds and the wind and the light of the sun and the moon that has become a part of my existence. The evenings I spent in solitude have opened my eyes to the disconnection I hold with nature, for I could no longer choose to be distracted from the surrounding world.

This morning, the first frost lay upon the ground as a walked down the hill with Ezra to begin my last day of work here on the farm. This year’s harvest was one of abundance after one year of heavy rain and one of drought. As we bring in the last of the sweet potatoes and leeks, I keep hearing talk of the great harvest we have had. The seasons are changing, both here on the farm and in my life. Many people have asked where I am going and if I want to have a farm of my own one day. That is a daunting question for someone who has just received her college degree, and I’m not ready to set in stone what I ‘want to be when I grow up.’ However, I can say that being a part of this farm and the people who work it has left a deep impression on me. Farming has gotten in my blood, and I am sure that I will always find myself involved with some aspect of this movement to produce food locally and organically. For to me, the way of life of a farmer is one of the hardest, rewarding and noblest ways of life I have yet to see.

– Meredith Shockley, May-Oct. 2004