I mentioned to a friend recently that I’ve been working hard at our spring (now summer!) planting these past couple of weeks. In his reply he questioned the necessity for such hard work. I’ve been thinking about it since. It’s true that this past week has been a strenuous one for Diane and I. Early in the week when temperatures hit the mid-90s, we sweated on our knees under a bright sun as we used hand trowels to punch holes in our newly-laid black paper mulch and plant our carefully nurtured tomato, pepper, cucumber, and eggplant seedlings. Completely biodegradable, this mulch will control weeds around the plants as they grow, reducing the need for hoeing and rototilling. It isn’t cheap, but since we don’t use chemical weedkillers, we hope it will pay for itself by saving us the labor of mid-July weedings.
Working efficiently and reducing unnecessary labor is important, of course, if our business is to succeed. But my friend’s email got me to thinking about the joys of our work. Yes, our shirts were soaked with sweat and our backs and wrists were sore, but the sky was blue above us and whenever we glanced upward, we’d see Great Blue Herons winging their steady way to and from their rookery as they foraged for food for their pin-feathered children. Are we not doing just that same work of procuring food for our loved ones? I thought, looking at the small cucumber whose roots I’d just tucked into the ground. With a little luck and some good care, it will grow to feed our families, our friends, our customers.
Just as the herons nest and nurture their young in large treetop colonies, so our little farm is supported by a caring community. Many thanks to Caroyln Buskirk and Mark Waters for sweating right along with us this week. As we worked, Mark, a chef at Calvin College, shared with us his dream of opening a soul food restaurant in Grand Rapids and we talked about the difference that fresh herbs and vegetables will make in the dishes he’ll serve to his community. It’s going to be hard work, he admits, but it’s work he’s passionate about and a dream he can call his own.
Perhaps that’s what I want to communicate to my friend who wonders why I am choosing to work so hard. That I in fact find some of my greatest joy in hard work when the work feels truly mine, when I feel called to it as I feel called to this farm. That there is delight in the strength of my back bending over the earth, delight in coolness of sweat evaporating from my forearms, delight in the end-of-day hunger that turns the simplest meal into a feast, and in the exhaustion that fades into a sweet, dreamless sleep. I wouldn’t trade it for luxuries or for leisure.