I am not a person who makes resolutions. Growing up, every year I would make solemn vows to do better, be better, strive harder in whatever I'd resolved for that year. Its a common question we ask each other: "What is your New Years Resolution?" After the holidays have passed, we somehow have to make up for the "excesses" of the holidays--too much food, drinks...resting, fun? Its a strangely puritanical reaction it seems to me and makes me wonder if other cultures and countries see less of pendulum swing between "indulgence" and restrictiveness.
But that's just me, I've never been good at resolutions.
However, two experiences this fall made me realize I needed to make two intentions for 2018 and beyond. Somehow, I feel like intention is different than resolution in my mind. I carry an obsession of language from my days as a literature major. Words always have a specificity of meaning and I must admit my bizarre habit of contemplating the nuances of similar words--and yes, looking at the differences in the dictionary. Resolution, in its meaning, is one of finality, completion, and "formal expression." Intention is "an act...of determining"--a fixing one's mind on an action. A lesser known definition of intention is a medical term: "a manner or process of healing."
Healing seems like a good place to start the story of my intentions.
I went to a conference in Iowa in December for farmers who conduct on-farm research. I do similar work through Ecological Farmers of Ontario and was excited to see how this more mature program conducted its work.
A standout moment for me was during a discussion about cover crops on farms. Cover crops are grain or legume crops that farmers plant not to harvest, but instead to increase soil health. Its a practice thats been used for hundreds of years, but has fallen out of agriculture in the last 50 years with the advent of chemically derived fertilizers. Recently, conventional and organic farmers alike are reintroducing it into their rotations to benefit soil organisms and increase fertility. But many still struggle to implement cover crop rotations into their plans mainly because it is not a crop that produces something you can sell.
During this discussion, a farmer stood up and told his story. He was an organic grower who had struggled financially. He noticed over time that his soil fertility was becoming alarmingly low. He had used cover crops, but had never prioritized them or cared for them like he did his cash crops. He set an intention: if the rain was coming and he had a choice, to plant a row of cover crop or plant a row of vegetables, he would do the cover crops. Five years later, not only was his soil fertility the best he'd seen, but his farm business was also more profitable. He warned us all, we had to put our farm health first.
The second moment of intention enlightenment I encountered was during a keynote speech at the EFAO conference in November by Shannon Hayes, of Sap Bush Hollow Farm. She described her family's struggle to make a viable farm business in rocky, hilly eastern New York. Her speech was moving, well researched, and hilarious. She centered her discussion around three points:
- The problem is the profit
- You cannot attain profit until you recognize it.
- Overwork destroys profit.
Like many farmers, she and her family had struggled to make ends meet and to pay themselves for their hard work. But with some deep thinking, she recognized that one of the "payments" they were receiving and not "cashing in" was the time and flexibility of being self employed entrepreneurs. And because they did not take time off for rest, they were burning out. They made a radical decision: to take time off. A year later, not only were they happier and healthier, their business was doing better because they had the mental space and enthusiasm for trying new ideas, rejigging their operations to make them more efficient and slowing down to catch mistakes.
So that brings us round to my intentions from 2018 onwards: to put the health of the farm and the farmer first for Sweet Gale Gardens.
What does that mean? I've got a plan for growing crops for the soil and for beneficial insects--not to cut or sell. To feed the organisms that help keep the farm balanced and healthy. If the rain is coming, if there's only time for one more tray to seed, that's what I intend to do first.
It also means I've got time off already booked in my calendar. It means I'm hiring staff for the first time to give me mental space and extra hands. It means I'm making time to travel, eat good food, write, and sleep.
I am not doing this because I believe in the end, its going to benefit me financially. That would be great and I believe its possible, but I know its not a guarantee. I am doing it because I believe its what myself and the farm deserve: better intentions for better health.