FARM & GARDEN | Confessions of a Farmer: Fighting despair with hope and potatoes

A basketful of potatoes and hope. Photo: Mark Rupp

A basketful of potatoes and hope.
Photo: Mark Rupp

By Terri Smith –

I try not to despair for the world. I had almost entirely recovered from the previous case of despair that led me to become a farmer. And yet, here I am all over again, back at the edge, crying in frustrated anger as I wonder what is to become of our world. What is it that led me back here? Did organic farming suddenly fall out of fashion? Has our ozone finally depleted beyond repair? Was that the sound of the last tree falling in the rain forest? No, not just yet. It’s living in a household that contains two 20-something-year-old boys that has brought me back to the brink.

It’s not that they’re not good boys; they are. One-on-one, Mark’s son and nephew are kind, funny, and intelligent. I truly do love these boys, but they act like the destruction of our planet is just a necessary part of life and nothing to be concerned about, or inconvenienced for. It scares me that they may be a realistic sample of the next generation. Their apathy is as depressing as their antipathy.

“Hey, ya dirty hippies,” offers Mark’s son as his way of saying good morning.

I cringe, “We’re not really hippies, you know?”

“What the hell are you then?” he asks.

“I’m really just not into labels, actually,” I reply, “Just like you shouldn’t just call yourself a redneck…”

“But I am a redneck!”

“Aww, you don’t need to limit yourself, though. You’re so much more than that!” I laugh to show that this is a funny conversation. Around here it’s best not to show weakness.

Baby steps: before I moved in, the recycling bin (and the yard) was always filled with plastic water bottles.(I guess I should be grateful that there even was a recycling bin, but that was Mark’s doing, and I doubt I would have been interested in him in the first place if he didn’t at least have a recycling bin, so I can take a few things for granted here). But we do seem to have managed to get it across to the boys that bottled water is monumentally stupid. If there is anything I’ve noticed about 20-somethings, it’s that they really hate being seen as stupid. I think it may have been The Lorax that helped. Maybe. We watched the adaptation of Dr. Suess’ story one night when our helper Svenja was still here. The boys seemed to like Svenja and as she was about their age, they wanted her to like them, too. Mark’s nephew was laughing at how the townspeople in the movie were so ridiculous as to actually buy bottled air. Poor air quality and a good marketing scheme were really all it took, (scary, right?).

Mark turned to him, “You do realize that they’re making a point about bottled water, right?”

“Ye-ah,” he replied, “obviously.” And whether or not Mark said more to them later or not I really don’t know, but there have not been any more plastic water bottles in our house since and that is something.

I do understand. It took me years to get to where I am now. In elementary school we were bombarded with bad news about the planet and not given any real solutions or even cause to hope. It’s no wonder those born a decade or so after me are so used to hearing about the hopelessness of caring for the environment that they have ceased to pay attention at all.

Also, let’s face it: for the most part we were all pretty self-centered in our early 20s, especially if we hadn’t left home yet. When you don’t yet need to take responsibility for how you meet your basic needs it’s easy to not pay attention. When one of your biggest concerns is the fact that your Dad took your parking spot and now you’re going to have to walk an extra 15 feet with all your gear, or that Terri rearranged the spice cupboard and now that one time you might have to make dinner for yourself your steak spice might not be where you are used to it being… well, how are you ever going to be able to expand your consciousness enough to contain concerns as large as say the lack of oxygen we will face if the oceans continue to die, or what are we actually going to do if we run out of clean water?

I keep trying to not let this article turn into a rant, but I don’t think I’m succeeding. You see, I thought I could easily live with 20-something-year-old boys. I’ve had a lot of them on the farm over the years, and I’ve taught many of them how to work, how to cook, and how to do basic household tasks, and we’ve had great talks about the state of the world and how we can help. But that was different. Those were boys who wanted to come and work on my farm. Not boys whose home I invaded.

Besides all of this, Mark and I are a great fit. He is excited to be turning his farm back into a farm again. We inspire each other to be creative, and we have so many plans for this place and for how we can live here as an example of an alternative/sustainable lifestyle that can actually work. We feel like we are managing to find a good balance between work and play. And yet each week when his son comes home from his week away at work, I feel like I have failed because I do not think I am making a difference here at all. If I can’t make a difference in my own home, how can I ever make a difference in the world? What example am I setting?

I walk out into the garden. Angrily I shake the tears from my eyes as I kneel between the rows of potatoes Mark and I planted together in May. The smell of the morning’s rain lingers in the damp ground, but the earth is warm beneath my bare knees and the sun is shining. I begin to feel better. I begin to know what to do. I dig my fingers into the rich soil at the base of a plant. My fingertips touch the round surface of a new potato and I roll it out of the ground. I move on to the next plant and the next, stealing a potato or two from each. When I have enough I pull a few onions, pick a few handfuls of snow peas and some basil and dill and head to the kitchen with a jar of last year’s homemade pickles. I put the potatoes and some eggs on to boil while Mark chops everything else into a bowl and mixes it with some mayonnaise, Dijon, and salt and pepper. The boys are outside getting ready to go dirt biking. I call to them through the window, “do you guys want some food before you go?” Of course they do; they’re boys! They come inside, a herd of buffalo up the stairs, and Mark and I sit down with them to bowls of fresh potato salad. Words may not reach them yet, but food might, and one day when they are fending for themselves and are tired of eating crappy take-out food maybe, just maybe, they’ll start to understand.

 

Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.

 

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