Discovering Yourself Through Farming: Stories From a Nature-Based Farm Apprenticeship

Summer is in full bloom here on the farm with the warm nights, fireflies and the continued explosion of life in the short season of heat, warming our hearts and being grateful for the seasonality of this place.  Our first cohort of apprentices arrived in the middle of spring, with sub zero temperatures, no greenery and then experienced the bursting of life with hoards of blackflies, mosquitoes and other biting friends to let us now that warmer weather and longer days were on the horizon, the price we pay for exiting the cold embrace of spring here in Cape Breton.

It has been three months since these brave souls arrived on our doorstep welcomed with our open hearts and very rustic and uncompleted accommodations.  The pandemic had put us terribly behind as we were unable to hire or have any volunteer help as we had planned in our business concept that we had worked so hard on over the winter.  We had one volunteer who found us just before things had really spun out of control with fear, and we managed to build accommodations to house four people the day before folks arrived.  Heating was still a major issue, and some almost left after the first night, however they stayed on and saw it through, an experience that lets us know what we are made of, discovering hidden gifts through challenge.  A true marker of holistic learning.

And now their time is coming to a close after being here for three months.  This is the first year we offered the apprenticeship, and with this cohort we have been evolving the program from their experiences here on the farm.  What is unraveling is nothing more than perfect, and the foundation being built from this young tough crew is a creation of beauty never seen before in this place.  We didn’t exactly know how combining nature based mentorship with farming would work out, and of course it is a work in progress, however the stories that are bubbling from the inner work that these young souls have so eloquently stepped into is an offering to the world in such magnificence and beauty that if the farm were to fold tomorrow, the gifts that they will carry into their lives and for their communities is enough.  

A farm in the forest is an interesting way to engage in this work, this work of inner discovery, of truly finding that authenticity of self in a world of fragmented and wounded psyches.  Young people have limited ways to step into true adulthood, and our culture often gets stuck in patho adolescent behaviour that is driven by immature ego’s.  Hard physical work, interpersonal community relationships, conflict communication and nature based reflection and dialogue are all ways that apprentices have been engaged with another, the farm and the wild community.  Last week, apprentices stepped into solo time on the land, to further dive into their inner selves and acknowledge some of the gifts that will help guide them for the rest of their lives.  Here is one story from an apprentice here at Twisted Roots Farm.

“I decided to come to the farm after losing my summer job due to Covid-19.  Living self sufficiently has been an interest of mine for a while and I figured it would be a good learning opportunity.  Not only did I learn an incredible amount of practical skills, but I learned a ton about myself and grew in ways I did not anticipate.  Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about my life during my time here.

Sitting with discomfort.  When I arrived at the farm, winter weather was still in full swing despite it being the end of April.  After the first super cold night in the unheated and uninsulated accommodations, I asked myself why I even came here.  My fingers and toes were numb for like two weeks straight.  We started sleeping with mason jars filled with boiling water to stay warm.  Then  blackflies and mosquitoes came.  Then the heat and humidity.  All while doing manual labour 7 hours a day, which was quite a change in pace from my desk job.  With each discomfort I wasn’t sure if I could make it through, but I survived every one of them with minimal breakdowns.  Another apprentice told me that the more discomfort I endure, the wider my range of comfort becomes.  This became my mantra.  By the end of my time here, I managed to fast in the woods with no more than a bug net, a tarp, a sleeping bag and some water for 42 hours straight.  My range of comfort is definitely wider and now I know I have the strength to endure so much more than I ever thought I could.

Listening to my body.  Before I came here, I thought about food more than I’d like to admit.  I thought that if I could control my eating habits, that would make me feel in control of my life.  This control came in many forms, picky eating, severe calorie restriction, veganism.  None of these forms of restriction, hope as I may, actually made me feel fulfilled.  During my 42 hour fast, I became aware that my tendency to undereat was causing me to feel depressed, exhausted and emotionally drained for months.  During that time, I thought that depression was an inevitable part of my life one I would just have to deal with.  I know that that’s not the case.  Giving my body proper nourishment (not just food-wise, but also emotional and spiritual) gives me the energy to do the things that are meaningful to me and allows my creativity and loving kindness to flourish.

Recognizing my relationship with control.  My unhealthy relationship with control goes beyond food.  There are many aspects of my life that I realize I have an obsessive desire to control, including my schedule, my space and others around me.  I now have the ability to recognize when I am being unreasonably controlling, and I am better equipped to handle situations that are out of my control.  I also recognize the gifts in this and how it helps me in leadership positions.

Living in community and communicating openly.  I have always found communicating open with others to be a challenge.  Speaking with others in the community about issues that I am facing lifted a huge weight off my chest.  Until coming here, I tended to bottle emotions up and attempt to hold myself together through them all by myself.  Now I know that this took a lot of energy that could be better used elsewhere.  There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

I have also practiced speaking directly to others when conflict in the community arose, even though I find this to be deeply terrifying.  The art of non violent communication is one that I will use throughout my life and career.

Learning to be grateful for what I have and knowing enough is enough.  “One who knows “enough is enough” always has enough.  Tao Te Ching.  Whether it be food I usually wouldn’t eat, “rustic” living conditions or limited personal space, it may not be ideal, but it is enough.  In my time here I have practiced being grateful for what I have, rather than dwelling on wanting more.  I have definitely learned to appreciate the simple things.

Social media detox.  When I’m at home, I normally spend a lot of time on my phone.  Not only does this suck my time away, but I also feel like I lost part of myself in that addiction.  I was constantly striving to achieve the level of perfection I saw on my screen, even though I know how curated all of the content is.  Here there have been week long periods where my phone has been dead due to clouds (we run on solar).  I am rediscovering who I am rather than what Instagram says I should be.  I am also discovering all that I can create and accomplish if I put my damn phone down and actually do the things that I want to do.

Self improvement is a practice.  I tend to beat myself up when I set out to make a self improvement and then fall back into old patterns.  A setback is just a setback, It doesn’t mean I have to start from scratch.  I’m allowed to make mistakes and I’m allowed to make them more than once.  Overall, as long as I am genuinely trying to improve, I am heading in the right direction.

Do I have all the answers after this experience?  Of course not, and I hope I never do.  This  experience just allowed me time and space to look inward and to get to know myself a bit better.  I’m sure I have grown in ways here that have not yet revealed themselves too.  To conclude, I will share some words written by Rainer Marie Rilke that have been resonating with me lately.”

“I want to beg you, as much as I can dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Published by Twisted Roots Farm

We are a small off-grid farm located in Cape Breton Nova Scotia.

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