A vote of confidence

These last few weeks have been the proverbial roller coaster. Threw out my back--twice. Expanded my florist customers. Got through the late spring deluge. Tried a new market--and sorta bombed it. Got the biggest weddings out of the way--with success. Got away for a long weekend. Worked now 12 days straight. Collaborated on an incredibly beautiful first photo shoot. And more.

Here's a confession: when I am out in my fields, amongst the flowers, working and sweating and running about I am certain, in my bones sure, that I am supposed to continue farming flowers. When I create a flower arrangement that in the arms of my friend modeling brings tears to my eyes, I believe I am an artist. When I sell out of all my flowers to smiling customers or deliver buckets to appreciative florists, I know I am becoming a better business woman.

But as quick as you flip a switch, it can be over and I feel crushed by doubt, worry, stress, and end up questioning that this is the direction I should continue to take.

I wasn't always this way. I have a curious mind and I was unafraid of trying new ideas for size and either keeping or discarding them or failing at them. "I ride by the seat of my pants," was a familiar phrase to me. Yes, I felt stress. Yes, I felt doubt. But I didn't become crippled from it.

Lately I have. And really I have been for the last 3 years.

Something happened, which I believe happens to many young adults as they leave university. In school, there is a space and support for your ideas. Yes you have to work at them, defend them, honor them, but the energy is there in the university system.

The "real world", I have discovered, is more fickle. And being a recent grad with a lot of good ideas, but not a lot of experience I believe isn't really being valued by our economy. I have watched countless friends labor to bring their ideas and energy forward--and either find little interest, support, and a great deal of stress--and not many jobs. And then there's money. Let's not even get into that. Although its the elephant in the room.

I've watched friends succeed and fail. And be very very stressed. Like me.

Farming in particular, I should share, has an array of stresses beyond the norm. Market prices, yes. Possibly of injury, yes. Oh and how about climate change. Regular irregular weather patterns weren't enough. West coast drought. East coast flood. And so many extreme weather conditions besides.

So I often contemplate another life, one where I don't farm. Where maybe I work in an office. Maybe I'll better utilize my degrees. I get as steady a paycheck that any 20 something can hope to achieve.

And truthfully, I am researching and pursuing additional ideas. Back up plans, something I can cultivate on the side and turn to perhaps later on down the road. I am still figuring out the viability of these ideas.

When I hurt my back the second time, I laid on the floor and cried. I thought, this really could be it. The story I'll tell that ended my farming days. I felt a light go out inside me. I was not ready to end this yet.

Two weeks ago, my two best friends told me they were sending me something. They reminded me that I may not see my little flower business as a big deal, but they did. They were sending me a vote of confidence. It arrived today.

It is a small thing but a tangible thing. Wood, rubber, ink. It isn't a flower that fades and decays. It isn't a website full of words trailing away. I wanted to order a rubber stamp for myself, a ways back, but didn't. What would I do with it if my business changed or I full out quit? There was something real about it that I shied away from.

Now I have it in my hands. A little something for me to hold onto and confidence to carry me through.

My friends, you give a great gift.

A hard rain’s a gonna fall

When I was in university, I started listening to Bob Dylan. Much of my early 20s was spent flying down the highway, wind in my hair, singing Dylan songs at the top of my lungs.

I thought about Dylan today as I surveyed the damage of the storm that rolled through when I was away visiting family.

My co-worker, who was at the greenhouse at the time, dealing with the insane storm called it “apocalyptic.”

I thought of “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” as I was harvesting and wondering if my flowers were going to recover from the onslaught of rain, wind, and hail and whether it would have made a difference whether I was in town or not.

But being away shifted something in me. Spending time with family, catching up with friends, and spending some quiet time in a beautiful place gave me perspective.

Yes, the hail storm was bad, but there was nothing I could do about it. That’s farming—cultivating surrender alongside trying to keep things in hand. Sometimes there’s sun. Other times there’s clouds. Sometimes there’s lightning. Hopefully there is rain and not too much. Then sometimes there’s hail and wind. And there’s very little you can do about it.

I always though Dylan’s song was in protest of the Cold War. Listening again to it today and reading up on it, turns out it was never about nuclear war and its fall out.

"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen.”

This is what Dylan said in a radio interview in 1963. Just rain. Hard rain. And sometimes, it’s just going to fall. It may been apocalyptic in character, but really a storm is a storm. Meanwhile I was hundreds of miles away enjoying my last evening with my family, watching the sunset and my aunt and uncle dance. Sharing my love of farming with my aunt. Cultivating some peace in my harried mind.

I love my flowers, but I chose to grow them because I knew the world wouldn’t end if I didn’t get it right or if nature moved against me in its totally impersonal way. In the end, flowers are flowers—beautiful, but ephemeral. There will always be another blossom, another year to get it right, but time with those I love is precious beyond reckoning. Beautiful and necessary.

To be a real farmer

Its close to bed time as I’m writing this, but this post has been building for some time and I think I need to hash it out before sleep.

The last two months I have been working nose-to-grindstone, fast-and-furious, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends, insert any other phrase to say I’ve been working a lot, and really, at times, too much.

A combination of too many commitments, all of which I like, came crashing down on my head starting in April. I’m still catching up, weeding out the things that are not so precious to me, and trying to find time to, well, exhale and sit.

Now add a fierce and long winter followed by a long delayed and mucky spring and you have Spring 2014.

Talking to other farmers makes me feel better. Today, honestly for the first time in at least 6 weeks, I finally looked at the blogs of my favorite flower farmers and the flower farming groups I belong to on Facebook. I’ve been avoiding them, truthfully. I had to stop because I couldn’t stop the guilt train riding me down and squashing whatever farming self-esteem I’d mustered. But today I looked and realized, no, I’m not the only one. Everyone is behind, and not in a pat-on-the-back, its not you its all of us way. Literally, 2-4 weeks is the delay we’re all facing, at least in the northeast.

So the last two months, I’ve been digging, tilling, planting, composting, instructing, harvesting, and during the time when I can slow down and the crews are quiet and working to their own thoughts, my mind contemplates this question:

What would a real farmer do? What is it to be a real farmer? Can I call myself a farmer now that I do it full time (and most weeks, far more than full time)?

This all started with a vole. A mama vole to be specific.

I left some transplants outside to harden off (and to await my bed prep). Mysteriously. Snip. Snip. Snip. Several of my flower seedlings disappeared.

I discovered the culprit when I moved said trays and found a nest of voles, including tiny, hairless babies, under my trays. Lining their nest with my plants.

Farmer dilemma.

Luckily I had the support of my coworker. We stood over the nest. What would a real farmer do? I knew they were pests. Killing my plants. But in the end, we scared mama away, carefully removing her babies to a new nest. More voles followed.

The question remained, what is it to be a real farmer?

I worked through rain until I was soaked to the skin (is this what a real farmer should do?)

I took too long to make my beds (what would a real farmer done instead?)

I said yes when I should have said no to commitments (does a real farmer do that?)

I rose with the sun when I needed to sleep (when does a real farmer work?)

I dreamed about farming when I wasn’t at the farm (what does a real farmer dream about?)

I thought about the farmers I knew, how they learned, the mistakes they made. I thought about how with farming, I had only dipped my toes in before I decided to jump into the depths, without knowing fully if I could swim.

I realized: a real farmer farms. Tries their best and still fails sometimes. Makes hard decisions based on their own experience and what they believe is right. And lives with the consequences. Wakes up each day not necessarily fresh and excited, but when they touch the soil know their heart ultimately beats there.

This is what is to be a real farmer. To love the soil, sun, rain, wind, and growing things. To care for something. To produce for others. Everything and nothing more.