For most of my life, all of my life, in fact, I have had an intense desire to be extraordinary -- not just to stand out from the crowd, but to be the crowd's meaning and purpose, and the one that gives it direction.
When I began farming, nearly ten years ago now, I was going to be the farmer's farmer. I was going to change the face of American agriculture singlehandedly with the force and determination of my body and my words. I was going to make it so that people would look at me and my farm as the model of how to farm and how to be a farmer.
Today, that is no longer the case. Today, I just want to farm.
Whereas before I took pleasure in the attraction of the spotlight, and in the thrill of doing something new, exciting, and on the cutting edge of a burgeoning movement, today I take pleasure in the rhythmic meter of daily chores, necessary projects, and trips to the slaughterhouse. I no longer desire to farm in the limelight. I am content to farm in anonymity, seen only by my family, friends, neighbors, and passersby as they drive slowly along the road behind me as I move on the tractor from one part of the farm to another.
Each morning I look forward to the banality of chores, not because they are a means to the end of being recognized as a farmer's farmer on the cusp of finding and describing an exciting, durable, and generalizable model of farming alternatively, but because they are an end in themselves. Daily chores are the purposive substance of the farm and the sustenance of the spirit of the farmer. It is in the very ordinariness of farming that I have found contentment. This is not to say that I don't find this ordinariness occasionally boring; I do, but even when I find the ordinary boring, I experience a cool satisfaction in that boredom.
Many years ago, I came across this maxim of Booker T. Washington's, "There is no power on earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple, and useful life." For years, I sought to capture this indomitable influence, but in the recent past, I came to realize that this maxim, a maxim seeming on its surface to call for steadfast humility, is in fact quite hubristic in its evaluation of the life that it calls for. The end of the maxim is not to live a "high, simple, and useful life," but rather to capture and wield the extraordinary influence garnered by such a life.
While I have abandoned the pursuit of the maxim's influence, my imagination is still captured by the vision of a "high, simple, and useful life" as an end in itself, for it is the vision of a profoundly ordinary life, a life of humility, of hard straightforward work, of honesty, empathy, compassion, and kindness. I find this imaginative vision made manifest in farming, and I find this ordinary life a life worth living for itself, and nothing more.
All photos by Zach Phillips.
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