On our desert farm, no day passes without learning more about the land and about ourselves.
The list of things that must be done every day is long, repetitive, and unavoidable.
After reading eight Wendell Berry fictionalized accounts of his imaginary small, rural, and agricultural community of Port William, Kentucky from the early to mid-20th century, I’ve turned to his essays. In The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (1977), Mr. Berry writes,
“We are divided between exploitation and nurture… I conceive a strip-miner to be a model exploiter, and as a model nurturer I take the old-fashioned idea or ideal of a farmer… the standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter’s goal is money, profit; the nurturer’s goal is health – his land’s health, his own, his family’s, his community’s, his country’s. Whereas the exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it can be made to produce, the nurturer asks… what is its carrying capacity? How much can be taken from it without diminishing it? What can it produce dependably for an indefinite time? The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible. The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts;” the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.”
One month ago, we re-tilled the original 3,000 sq.ft. plot, concluding that our initial planting was not successful. We re-seeded the plot – no transplants except for 24 tomato plants we are trying to save from the February planting.
Last weekend produced a banner day. As I watered the plot, my son studied the ground for activity. Two weeks after seeding, he counted well over 50 small plants – cucumbers, collards, and corn – breaking through the surface. Each one is a prayer answered. Each one represents our commitment to the land, our attention to detail, and our expanding knowledge base.
While we may not be working as well as possible (yet), we are working better than we were
four months ago, and the fruits of our labor are visible. Each tiny plant affirms our belief that we can nurture this desert land just as the Hohokam Indians did a thousand years ago.