Once were Philosopher-Kings; then came the Farmer-Poets?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Lowell Rheinhamer tossing Hay

Lowell tossing Hay before the setting Sun
Hurleyville, New York – Summer 2003

Once were there Philosopher-Kings
and then came The Farmer-Poets?

"Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labours of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them."

"Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.
What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate."

- Henry David Thoreau

Once upon a time, I spent a summer working on a farm in the state of New York.
'Twas no fun. Really. Before this tale begins; I shall admit that.

At times there I thought I would go mad or die of exhaustion.

Luckily, my madness was quite firm before I arrived. So when I left, I was no madder, only gladder. And perhaps a bit wiser.

So . . . I found this farm while scouring the internet for organic farms apprenticeships.

Why was I doing that?

Well, I will explain that later.

While in Brazil, I came across a site called OrganicVolunteers.com

I was marveled by it. Within it, contained listing of hundreds of “dream destinations� where they would take the City Slicker João and turn him into Henry David Thoreau—oh, yes Thoreau, my hereau.

There were dozens of farms in the New York area, only about 2-3 hours from the City. I found it difficult to decide which one to go to. However, a particular farm by the name of Roxbury Farms caught my eye.

Roxbury is a community supported farm, one of the largest in the country, and the first to have a community in New York City. They grow vegetables, herbs, melons, and strawberries, for 650 families in four communities--Columbia County, the Capital Region, Westchester County and Manhattan--on 148 acres in Kinderhook, New York.

Community Supported Agriculture was a renaissance movement to recapture what once was a healthy relationship between farmer and consumer. During the growing season, the farmer grows his crops as any other. Except the consumer goes to the farm, to the farmer, and “picks up� his produce. He pays the farmer a share (usually $400) for the growing season and in return, he receives fresh produce all growing season.

“You get a different and varied array of fresh, clean, amazingly flavorful vegetables every week of the growing season. The farmers get your commitment before they plant a single seed. It means having the money to buy seeds and equipment, and the time to do what they love--farm. Not only does it mean not having to worry about selling crops in an unstable marketplace, it means not having to sell them at all, because they're already sold.�

“CSA has its origins in the wisdom that gave birth to biodynamic agriculture; it is a small, but potent force to renew the social order by recognizing our interdependence. All systems, economic as well as ecological, or biological, are microcosms that have their own integrity, but they all depend on one another. An economic system is not unlike a respiratory system. Supply and demand are the giving and taking, the breathing in and breathing out. When the delicate balance is upset, the result is a sick heart or lungs, a sick plant, a sick economy.

“The seeds of CSA were planted in cooperatives in Holland in 1972, and Japan in 1981, but true CSA--the relationship of one family to one farm--was born on a biodynamic farm in Switzerland, which was the model for a farm in Massachusetts and another in New Hampshire, which became CSA's in 1986. There are now over a thousand CSA farms in North America.�

�At this one, we take the word community seriously and playfully. We share the harvest in many more ways than one. We share the right to food that is fresh and clean and reasonably priced, and we share the responsibility of distributing it. We meet, eat, work and play together on this land, and we extend our idea of community by sharing our food with shelters and food pantries. Our community becomes part of the life of our farm, and our farm becomes part of the life of our community. Community Supported Agriculture, or agriculture supported community. It means being connected--to each other, to a farm, to the earth.�

Sounds fantastic, right!? And it is a fantastic idea and it does work. So I called Roxbury Farms and spoke to the Dutchman, the illuminated soul who put this to work.

Sadly, he informed me that his internship positions were filled for the summer. Oh, I said, like a balloon letting out air in defeat. Well, err, he stuttered. Then excitedly he began, “You know what! I had this GREAT intern last year, Alyson, who is now farm manager of The Thanksgiving Farm. Actually she is looking for someone JUST LIKE YOU!�

I became euphoric. Indeed! I would become a farmer. Yes, I would become like my father and my grandfather and all the grandfathers of grandfathers before that. I would reconnect with my ancestry somewhere deep within the Romans, we were PAGL-IONES, men of strew (Pagla, meaning straw in Italian).

Later, Lowell would teach me the difference between straw and hay. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but it really told if you were a farmer or not. If you don’t know what the difference between straw and hay is, don’t bother coming to the countryside. . .

“I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than god rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.�

“Who made them serfs of the soil?�

“Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt?�

“Why should they begin digging their graces as soon as they are born?�

(to be continued, soon . . .)
5am Saturday, November 29, 2003
still drafting…
2/16/2005 11:59:00 PM :: ::
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