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Last Morsel—Farming Solo

Ryan Demarest

Written By

Ryan Demarest

Written on

February 13 , 2015

This past summer I embarked on my first foray into agriculture on a small piece of land in Waterbury. While I took some time to get settled, by mid-season I was attending a farmers’ market, selling to various restaurants and stores, and maintaining a small farm stand. With only a smattering of agricultural knowledge, it was a leap of faith into a new world and an exercise in radical self-reliance, as I would be doing the work alone.

With the exception of occasional roto-tilling, all the work I did this summer was by hand and on my own. My decision to farm solo came from a desire to keep costs low and to create a practical, experiential learning environment while operating an actual business on a manageable piece of land. But these drives were subsequently overshadowed by the ending of a romantic relationship in which farming was to play a significant part. I had anticipated some help from this relationship as I began farming, with labor or emotional support, but moving forward with the season and away from my partner revealed an unexpectedly individualistic situation.

In the early part of the season in particular, I was often tormented by personal judgments and fear of failure. In mid-July, as my mind raced through the days, I questioned my capacity to complete the work. But even during a desperate moment in which my body all but collapsed in the broccoli bed under the sheer stress and weight of the farm, I was determined to continue independently.

As the season progressed, I began feeling a level of personal fulfillment and accomplishment that I had never previously experienced. I was utterly grateful for each sale and compliment at the farmers’ market. On one occasion I spoke with a man who mentioned that my heirloom tomatoes were a topic of positive discussion on Front Porch Forum, an online community discussion board. Having not witnessed the thread myself, I blushed, indulging the fantasy of folks in Waterbury singing my praises by the nighttime glow of their computers.

Working alone was also an exercise in acceptance. I created ambitious chore lists, but soon realized that a successful day meant I accomplished half of them. I had the choice to either manage stress or be overcome by it. I could allow my mind to run with worry or I could “settle in” as my daily mantra dictated and be with the actions of my hands, allowing the worry to dissolve into the present moment. Each day was a lesson in equanimity, learning to accept plants that succumbed to poor health, pests that commanded their share, and the waning hours of the day.

The farm consumed me. It drove my mind to the point where everything else was secondary and mere background noise. I was only partially present during most interactions unrelated to the land, and I found myself drifting off during conversations, thinking about weeding the lettuce bed or the temperature of the hoop house.

The field was a mirror—an extension of myself. I could see myself in every row, every plant, every seed I sowed. It was a reflection of my strengths and challenges, my triumphs and shortcomings. I could see where I had slacked when weeds I had been watching for weeks finally took over a bed, could see my inexperience in the cluttered broccoli that I planted too close together, could see my complete devotion while gazing at the neatly pruned tomato plants in the hoop house after a weekend of snipping and sweating.

There were moments throughout the summer in which I was able to see it all. My body would stop moving, my eyes would adjust, my hands would fall gently to my sides, and I would smile. The weeds, insect holes, and forgotten beds would fall away, and I could see order, neat rows, and food where there had been nothing only a few months before. I saw in front of me the scribbled sketch I had done long ago in a dirt-stained winter notebook. It was not a picture-perfect farm by any stretch of the imagination, but in those rare moments of recognition, I felt whole and joyful, like I was doing exactly what I needed to do.

About the Author

Ryan Demarest

Ryan Demarest

Ryan Demarest is excited to be entering his second year of growing vegetables at Elephant in the Field Farm in Waterbury Center. You can find his vegetables at Waterbury-based restaurants and markets, or purchase them through his CSA and farm stand. He writes about his experiences at finaglefarm.wordpress.com.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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