Apophatic Farming

The other day I moved a pig waterer. I moved this pig waterer all by myself. Let me elaborate: a pig waterer is a large, pill-shaped barrel with a box of valves that, like a toilet tank, is capable of refilling as it empties to ensure a constantly full tank. However, because swine use this device it takes on a whole new level of nasty that no human-used toilet could possibly hope to achieve. Pigs like to wallow. They like to wallow where there is water because water makes for mud. Pigs go hand and hand with mud. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of a pig is its proclivity to relieve itself with reckless abandon and total disregard for the other uses of an area. You see where I'm going with this? If you've never smelled swine urine before, try soaking a loaf of mouldy bread in ammonia and spreading Roquefort all over it. Let it sit and continue to funcktify outdoors for several weeks, and you start get the idea. And, of course, to top it off, somehow a large quantity of wallow slop managed to find its way into this waterer, making it absurdly heavy. So, there I am, standing in a pig wallow, holding my breath away from the ammonia that so wants to burn my lungs, contemplating why in the hell I am doing this. The pigs already have another waterer in their new field. It functions perfectly. It satisfies their needs. Why, oh why, am I here? And thus, I ponder all the oddities, and shall we say, idiosyncracity of this farm. A few days prior to this messy situation, I had a kind of breakdown of frustration. In that moment, I felt like all the things I have thus-far learned in my time here, the list of what not to do towered over all other knowledge gained. I was frustrated by my feeling that the whole operation seemed to magically run on nothing more than a wing and a prayer. Yes, I was having an emotional freak-out, but I knew there was truth in my feelings. Don't mistake me: what the Ager's have done is amazing; they run a sound, ethical, and functional business, but  organisation and systemisation of regular tasks is much needed. I often find myself walking around being very critical of my surroundings, which is not a healthy or happy place to be.

I have found among farmers, as well as business owners in general, there is limited incentive to change as long as what's in place works, however inefficiently. Please, don't misunderstand; this is not an attack on the farm or it's infrastructure. I remind myself that this is not my farm. By this, I mean that I do not pass judgement on the Ager's operation. I still have a lot to learn; what they are doing works for them and there are many lessons in their experience. Every farmer finds for themselves the ways that work for the particular circumstances on their farm. That is, in essence, what farming is all about. But one of these lessons is a lesson I am teaching myself. These moments of frustration are serving as a frame for creating my own philosophy and attitude towards farming.

Every day, I find myself gravitating towards an attitude of farming akin to that of Masanobu Fukuoka, what he calls the "do nothing" way of farming. The idea is the observation of natural systems as the text by which a farmer learns to create and nurture these systems so that nature does most of the work. Such a framework can take so much of the "drudgery" out of farming. One thing I am learning from my frustration, as well as from readings (both historical and current) and conversations among other farmers, is that the reputation for drudgery that farming has is the result of a lack of innovative thinking, observation, and implementation of self-sustaining systems. In short, the prevailing attitude of many farmers is that if it works, do it, and don't change it. I say different. I say always try to make it better, make it easier, make less work for yourself, make the land more healthy, more productive. Some farmers would say that there's a line between practicality and idealism in farming. I also disagree. I believe that the two can go hand and hand. In order for a system to be ideal, it also has to be practical. There are ways to do this and it is imperative as a new generation of farmers that we do do this. We must make the innovation of self-sustaining systems a priority. It is no wonder that no one wants to farm. We are so culturally blessed in this era; life presents so many amazing opportunities: time for art, travel, and leisure. If we are to continue to have good food in future generations, we must allow the farmers time and space for pleasure. The only way to do this is to cease the "micromanaging" of our food-systems, from on the molecular level of industrial farming all the way to the most organic and sustainable of farms. I want to work to find the ways that are easy, but no less effective. They are there.

So, after a few minutes contemplation and the surrender to the fact that "this is not my farm" I heaved the pig waterer out of the wallow, emptied it of sludge, and with every muscle in my body lifted it three feet in the air onto the truck bed and, with a pleased sense of accomplishment, drove it to the new pig field, where I couldn't hook it up because there is no system for hooking up waterers. Each one has a different set of hoses, joints, and valves that is a new lesson in plumbing every time one is set up. And there I was, again frustrated, but ready to learn.

As with so many things that have been worthwhile in my life, there is a certain love-hate relationship that develops. This farm is no exception, which is encouraging. I think the part I hate is the part that pushes me, and what I love is the feeling of when I push through. I get frustrated, then I put on my big-girl-panties and do it anyway. I think this is one of the best lessons of what farming is, no matter how many systems you have, no matter how easy and productive you could possibly make it, there is a push and a pull, a love and a hate, a mix of frustration and ease. It is a whole new kind of job satisfaction. Here, I am learning, for me, what farming is through what, for me, farming is not.