This is a good kind of tired.
Today was my first day of the Rhode Island Writing Project’s Open Air Institute, and (as we say in New England) it was wicked hot. The theme this year is farming, and we started off our day thinking about growth and how it can bring both renewal and destruction. Cases in point: the industrial wasteland of an empty lot that will soon be transformed into a new center for local food distribution. And on the other side of history, the legacy in Rhode Island of imperialism, colonialism, industrialism… the building of agricultural empires that grew millionaires on the backs of laborers.
We visited two ‘urban’ farms– one nestled in the middle of the South side of Providence, one sprawled across 22 acres in Cranston, just a hop down from where I teach. In each, I noticed the mix between organic growth and messiness vs. human attempts to reign in plants with fences and relegating life to rows. The work is done with a respect for the land, and with a deep expertise for how cycles of growth work and how they can be harvested for human work. I wrote about the goodness of the labor:
Projects whose genesis was in the hands of those who still tend them now bloom. The people who have learned this life now further strengthen their story and eke profit and good nutrients out of land by pure work.
And now I find that passion does reside in tradition, and in history. But it is by adaptation and fresh labor that tradition functions. Something as ancient as farming can be replanted and re-imagined as something new. These fields are earned and aimed for, not inherited.
We got to experience that labor in a small way– we picked beans all spread out in a row, ripping up the plants and plucking the green beans to toss them gently into buckets, avoiding the insidious Mexican bean beetles, who glow bright yellow as larvae. Several of them, I am sorry to report, met their end squashed over my fingers. I emerged covered in dirt, but with my brain cleansed by the magic of repetitive physical movement. Like weeding or walking or weaving, the motions of picking the beans worked like meditation for me as I focused my attention on making my hands do the work.
Our facilitators, Jason and Taylor, suggested that as we walked around Southside Community Land Trust, we should take ‘snapshots’ – fifteen one-line fragments that could become found poetry, or branch off into other pieces of writing. I’m looking at my snapshots now, but resisting the urge to tinker with them….. I want to see if they happen to connect to other writing that sprouts up in the next two days.
At the beginning of the day, I wrote about community. And that is the absolute beauty of participating in these 3 days– I suddenly feel so welcomed, valued, and seen. I have been searching so hard for community and feel like I’m very much a part of something good.
Is there a way that covering ground can bring us closer to each other? If spreading out in a vast sequence of homesteads and plots of land created us as one people, is that good news for those of us who are far from home? Or those trying to start a movement, to make political change, to make a network of laboreres of thinkers of voters? Or for those of us growing classes of kids…..
In creating that settlement for growth, I’ve become a gardener in a nation of gardeners. What unites our little plantations isn’t space or even using the same water, but instead the very act of gardening.
And I think every person who wants to be a farmer once wanted to be tended to: raised and watered and sunned and fertilized as a young growing thing.
The farms we visited:
Southside Community Land Trust