Four years ago we set out on a mission to establish a new farm, an extension of the Great Performances family. The farm would supply us with food and more significantly, with a mission. It would feed our guests but more importantly, feed our passion. And it would be home to the newly conceived Sylvia Center, where children would come and discover the joy and flavors of fresh food. We thought it would change their lives and discovered that it changed ours.
Sunday was the 4th Annual Spring Celebration at Katchkie Farm. For 3 years it was called Spring Clean Up. This year, it was called Spring Planting Day illustrating the power of marketing, as this was the most amazing and well-attended day by far. The attendees, who hailed from the distant lands of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, NJ and Long Island, and as nearby as down the road and neighboring towns, were prepared to plant. Properly attired in farm-ware and accessorized with trowels, gloves, hats and sturdy shoes, they quickly accomplished all the planting goals that had been set for them. The children's garden was transformed within 2 hours. What was left to do? Eat, sleep, fish, hike, talk and eat some more.
Someone asked, with all that has been accomplished these past few years, what is left on your wish list? I had to stop and really think about that question. First of all, sometimes things move off the wish list on onto the to-do list, where they hang out for a long time. But as they are on the road to fruition, they are off the wish list. What's left - the bee colony, the wish for a small collection of animals, some fruit trees, a row of willow trees - and not much more. Some wishes have vanished, things that are just no longer of interest or importance. More significantly, the farm itself and seeing it come to life over the past 4 years, has had deep impact on what my understanding of how things evolve on a farm (and perhaps, in life). Knowing what is right is not always self-evident. Patience. To begin, little happens quickly. Time is elastic - what seems doable quickly, takes far more time than originally contemplated. What seems to take forever, in hindsight, happens in a flash. Growing this farm has taught me the value and the art of patience. But what I love most about thinking this has been a slow and meticulous process, is that it has happened virtually overnight. 4 years is miniscule in farm years.
The other component of wish-list analysis is that with farming, an appreciation of the details we scarcely notice, become very meaningful. A lot of rain, the absence of rain, the heat, the cold, the painstaking labor, the back-breaking labor, the long days, the not long enough days, the endless days - the measure of time and weather in ways that make or break a grower. And suddenly, the grand wish list boils down to a few very important desires.
When we first started working with children on the farm in 2007, we knew that having them see how food is grown, what it looks and tastes like when you pick it yourself, and then cooking a meal together, would open their minds up and start questioning what they were putting into their bodies. And of course, we were asked to prove the connection between what we were experiencing with them in the field and how it influenced their subsequent behavior. We have walked the fields countless times with children who stuffed their pockets with herbs and small vegetables, trophies to bring home and share with their families, hopeful that these new favors could somehow be incorporated into their lives.
But the hardship of this struggle to prove what we saw daily and knew intuitively to be true, vanished overnight as the movement behind health and nutrition education embraced the connection between a child's experience in a garden (or on a farm) and how they related to what was put on their plate. "First Farmer" Michelle Obama has demonstrated this principle to our entire country. I suppose the connection between what one eats, and health (and in turn performance at school), has been cleared up.
We have all been celebrating the immense gift of having a fertile, productive, life-affirming farm in our daily lives. It is an experience that continues to leave me speechless when the time comes to pack up the car and head back to the city. And for the updated wish list, I suppose I could update it.
Here is Wish List 2010:
1. A long and fun vacation for Farmer Bob, at least 3,000 miles away from Columbia County.
2. The harvest of crops for the 2010/2011 winter season, utilizing the new radiant heat system Bob has built.
3. Matching demand from our clients and cafes with what is growing seasonally on the farm.
4. Improved communication city to country/kitchen to farm.
5. Bring more children to the farm for Sylvia Center programs.
6. A bigger and better fundraising machine.
7. More permanent structures in the children's garden.
8. A more robust supply chain of good quality discarded cooking oil for the boiler.
9. Continue to build community between the farm and our neighbors.
10. And of course, more willow trees, some fruit trees, a small herd of goats, a single llama and a colony of bees.
Enjoy your vegetables. Hope for rain and sun in measured quantities. Celebrate Food; Celebrate life!