Spring has arrived, and winter has given us his last and final breaths, a reminder of his power, a time of bringing in the light, preparing the soil so spring may take her place in the realm of seasonality with the promise of summer sitting firmly in her belly. That is the gift of the seasonal transitions, one must die so the other can live.
My apprenticeship with birth and death is something that farming and being part of my food has brought into my life in a very visceral, very real way. I grew up hunting and fishing with my father and grandfather, something I am so incredibly grateful for. I understood at a young age the interactions with food, what it felt like to take the life of another creature and that this creature’s flesh provided nourishment and life. I did not however grow up on a farm as my grandparents had. The taking of a life that you have raised, watched be born, and built a relationship with has a different feeling than that of an animal without those intimate details and feelings. I suspect that in more hunter gathering times, our relationship with the wilder non domesticated community would have been much more intimate and this feeling of kinship with that which feeds us much more real. Although I had that experience growing up, there was still a disconnect between me and the food on my plate.
We eat and sell meat from the farm and therefore being directly involved in the killing is something we are in deep gratitude for. It is also one of the hardest things we do. When a harvest day is approaching there is much preparation both on the ground and emotionally. We kill all animals we raise here on site, this is our agreement with the lives that we have asked to be here. Harvest days never feel good and I hope they never will.
The first day of spring started our pig harvest season. We have been raising pigs here on the farm for a couple of years now and the breeds that have been our teachers are slow growing heritage breeds; Mangalitsa, Berkshire and Guinea Hogs. They have been amazing land clearers and uprooters making way for future pastures. They have helped establish garden areas, and their gifts will pave the way for our market garden that will be supporting the farm for years to come. Their time with us is also coming to an end. They have completed what we asked of them and the land is unable to support their talents, at least for now until forage areas can be established for them. It is transition time and we must let the land heal and rebound before we employ their services again.
We will be taking the lives of these wonderful creatures over the coming months, and their flesh will nourish us and continue to support the farm. Our agreement is that they die here. I want to be in this relationship with my food, I want to know how it lived, I want to know how it died. I am also trying to extend this feeling to all life, plant and animal alike. It feels much easier to take the life of a plant, however, what makes one life superior over another? We need the animals as much as we need the plants to build good soil, to provide us with nutrition and to grow truly localized food. It is a philosophical thinking that I am trying to embrace. Martin Prechtel speaks of this in his amazing story of the parallel lives of people as plants in The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic. I try to read this book every winter in my continued apprenticeship with farming and understanding my ancestral relationship with farming. I have much to learn and even more to embody, but these are some of the words that resonate with what we are trying to practice here on the farm.
“And when you garden or farm, then you have to remember that when you harvest, there is no difference between pulling off a ripe ear of corn from the stalk and cutting the throat of a lamb to eat the meat. Living things on this earth live only because of the death and generosity of other living things. No one is more “evolved” because they eat only vegetables. There is nothing in the world wrong about eating only the children of plants, eating only vegetables, as long as you don’t feel superior to someone else who is omnivorous, who eats the children of animals, for both of you eat what has been killed.
And don’t fool yourself into thinking that by only eating plants you are lessening the suffering of living beings because you think plants are non sentient.
To indigenous people worldwide, plants are the most sentient beings of all and should be respected as much as any animal should. They just have a larger, more temporally spread-out nervous system than most humans can sense, which can be measured geologically in eons instead of minutes, millennia instead of days, by snaptic wave patterns like the rippled growth of stalactites in a cave.“
To view life on this planet without a non hierarchical framework is a practice, especially in the shadow of western culture. Our food systems and distribution networks span the globe, and therefore our connection to and relationship with food is removed in our day to day lives. Food has become processed and must be convenient to power our industrialized way of living, and it is killing many species on this planet in ways that we do not even realize because of our removal from the systems that sustain us. One ship stuck in a canal, a virus, an extreme weather event or other disruptions highlight the fragility of our global networks. It is not sustainable and will not last as human populations grow and our rates of consumption continue to increase. If we are not in relationship with our land base, how do we know if it is polluted, if it will grow food, if it will support life? How far have the various food items travelled that are on your plate tonight? Who grew these things? It might say organic or natural, but what does that mean really mean?.
Our journey with growing food has opened up many of these questions with some answers and realizations. I have struggled for many years with the overwhelming environmental issues facing life on this planet from human led destruction of natural communities. It all seems insane to me at times and for what purpose are we driven to such pathological behaviour. Is technology really making our lives better? Or is all this lust for gadgetry only lining the pockets of those who already have far too much wealth and use more planetary resources to continue this hoarding. We talk about living in a democracy, however we elect officials based on popularity or party politics and our leaders use terms like “my cabinet” “my government” like they are the one and only ones making decisions for us the people.
There is much reflected here in what started from the notion of growing food, however it is all connected. The connection in all this from my experience in this food adventure is that if we are not able to localize our communities, governance and economies then things will only continue to get worse for life on this planet and our destructive ways will only expedite inevitable collapse. We have been given such great gifts as humans, and the irony is that in this day of information, we know better than to act in the ways that we have and are if we want to see future generations live in abundance and health. I feel such an urgency in our time, and I feel it even more with the younger generation that is inheriting my generation X mess of things. I have seen a continued rise in anxiety in youth from my years in social work, and all the young people who volunteer and apprentice with this project here at the farm. There is much confusion and even more hopelessness. Our only offering is to create a space of realness, of connection and dialogue where we can explore what is happening and look to a different way of being in relationship to the things that sustain our lives.
The last four years of life here on this land has taught us many things, it was and continues to be the great reset that was asked for. I wouldn’t say that our lives are simpler as a result of living off grid and creating a farm from scratch, and as we muddle our way through there are lessons that continue to teach us about resilience, determination, consumption, energy, waste, seasonality and dieting with the land. Being in such intimate relationships with the elements that support life fosters the gratitude for the precious life giving resources the land freely offers us in exchange for our delicate tending to something much larger than ourselves. We have been given the privilege through our good health and access to resources to live and experience this life which is why we have felt such a responsibility to share this with others. We know that most cannot live as we do, and it is simply not realistic to expect this from our culture, although we may be forced to live this way in the shadow of ecological collapse, however we are not there yet. What can be gained from this experiential learning ground is that simple connection to our food, to our water, to our shelter, to our waste can incubate ideas that are possible in other communities. Following the path of food from start to finish is such a teaching. We harvest the food, we eat the food, we eliminate the food and we create compost which is returned to the land. Most westerners buy food from a grocery store, consume it, and then magically flush away the waste. There is much in each step that is required, much we take for granted. Experiencing an animal or plant transition from living entity back to compost and then to feed life in another form is one of the greatest teachings I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.
Food is central to community, and each community will have to find ways to localize and be in relationship to food. More people will have to return to growing food once again, and our economies will have to revolve around how this is done. Each community will have it’s own way of doing things, and this must be supported by local governance and not a centralized power elite that tries to implement a cookie cutter approach to all. We will not destroy the land that feeds us when we understand and realize that it is supporting our lives. This is all possible, even though it feels impossible in the current societal structure.
And so, as we step into the birdsong of spring I take these words into my heart, and honor those whose lives will have mine continue and be nourished. Growing food and being in relationship with our food is a difficult journey at times. There is death, there is birth, there are hardships, and there are great gifts.
William Kosloski ~ Twisted Roots Farm