Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Farm

It happened at the Farm. A deep feeling of connection, evocative memories, a longing when separated—I had, incidentally, developed my first sense of place. I was a senior at the University of Oregon and I had elected Landscape Architecture 390: The Urban Farm, a matter of University lore that 80 other students grew to know, too. As far as electives go, it wasn't a hard sell: produce, potlucks, festivities marking solstices and equinoxes. A graded course in organic gardening was experiential learning at its finest. I was hooked and quickly realized this would be much more than just another elective course for me.

Spring, the air throbs as a murmur turns into the rumble of an airborne swarm; Summer, twilight sets in, sprinklers sputter to rest, messenger bags and bicycle-bound milk crates are hastily charged with produce portage. Autumn begs us to put our cider down, returning our rosy hands to leaf collection. Winter stillness is broken by the clang of a steel gate, an alumnus, or maybe trespasser, choosing from the cold-tolerant cole crops that represent the remaining forage, dotting rows of burlap and cover crop. Spring, again, hums to life.

Changes in my thinking occurred in this place. In our readings Wendell Berry told me eating was an agricultural act. Gene Logsdon's Midwestern pragmatism told tales of family farms as ecological communities. Masanobu Fukuoka taught me to patiently observe. With Tom, one of my group leaders, we would sit in the shade of apple trees to bat around our own ideas of food systems, issues of population, and land use. I was stimulated intellectually by critical examination of a process that is perhaps most central to our daily human existence—eating. At the Farm I tasted the life in my food, my body made itself anew from the loam, my waistline responding in weeks. In the garden I learned that we are not only what eat but where we at, as well. I had always loved food and eating, but I hadn't taken pleasure, as Mr. Berry puts it. Prior to the Farm I had been disconnected from whatever world my food came from. My grub came from that bucolic postage stamp that graces packaged food everywhere: a red barn and windmill set against rolling fields of green. I was, as they say, corn-fed. But that corn was grown in the flat states, twisted and reworked to fit its name onto the ingredient list of almost everything I ate. And after it had traveled thousands of miles of highway, between warehouse and processor, distributor and vendor, it had lost its place. Through the simple act of grazing on vegetables above the beds from which they had grown. I developed a sense of place. The Farm wasn't becoming a part of me. Rather, I was becoming a part of the Farm. My spirit was enriched by the infective energy of this transformative understanding. I have become part of other places since I left, but not like there. I return, any chance I get, to see how things are going. I am tightly connected to other folks who became part of the Farm. They are becoming part of other places, just as I am. But we carry the Farm with us wherever we go.

A sense of place emerges from protracted time spent in a space, through observation and interaction. It arises through coming to know your place by your senses by what you think of a place. Home can be our first sense of place; where we spend great deals of time and where we stop trying to perceive and simply let the senses of our place wash over us. This must extend to eating from our place, so we make and our made by our immediate surroundings. 

- Luke Maurer
(Master's of Leadership for Sustainability Education Candidate at Portland State University)