Saturday, March 17, 2007

Occupied Territory

A reader characterized my life as "busy...but fulfilling."

Sometimes fulfilling, sometimes frustrating. Sometimes it brings a lot of wonderful people across my path, but at the same time it can keep me more isolated than I want to be. But, yes, on the whole, I love it...the sabbatical taught me that, as well as teaching me that this way of life is a CHOICE, not something I have to do. I can be content with other ways of living, too. If I have to.

It fulfills fills me full. It occupies me. Farming IS my chosen occupation...and pre-occupation, too! That's a word that takes me interesting places...the occupation of farming keeps me occupied; does that mean it lives in me, as in "Dear Occupant"? Thinking of an occupied house brings to mind "haunted"...or "possessed"! As much as I possess and occupy the farm, it occupies and possesses me.

One of my reasons for taking the sabbatical was to discern whether this way of life, this occupation, was truly a choice--or simply a treadmill I'd gotten caught up in somehow, and couldn't get off. My answer came two summers ago in south central British Columbia. I went to Sorrento, a vibrant little community on the Trans-Canada Highway, to be a full-time summer volunteer at Sorrento Centre, an Anglican Conference and Retreat Centre on beautiful Shuswap Lake, nestled among scenic forested mountains. I was assigned to the kitchen staff 5 days a week.

During the first week, I learned that there was a small Farmer's market in town on Saturday mornings. I couldn't resist...I walked over to see how it compared to our Downtown Lawrence Farmer's Market. E-Z-Up canopies, piles of fresh veggies, strolling shoppers stopping to visit with friends, dogs of every description....Not so many booths, a few more crafts, but overall a similar atmosphere on a smaller scale. It felt like home.

But how strange it was to be on the other side of the market tables! I stopped and visited with various vendors when they weren't serving customers, putting the conversation on "pause" with practiced ease as customers came and went. One woman running a large vegetable booth alone was especially friendly...and busy. I just sort of automatically handed a plastic bag to one customer while she was taking money from another...and thus began another informal volunteer position for me.

I showed up every Saturday at Sue's booth to help open plastic bags, answer customers' questions, ring up sales, tear down the booth. Weeks later, I realized I had not even eaten a single one of vegetables I was selling! I wasn't doing it for income, and I wasn't doing it for food, I was doing it because I simply enjoyed helping customers carry away bags full of beautiful, fresh vegetables. That's when I knew I would pick up the trowel again on my return to Kansas.

Eventually I ended up spending most of my weekends on Sue's farm, engaged in a variety of tasks like cleaning jewel-like garlic and onions (the one thing in all of Canada that triggered my allergies), sorting mountains of beets, handweeding endless rows of lush vegetables while surrounded by stunning mountain vistas on all sides. I even travelled back there again last summer to work some more, while enjoying the cool summer evenings and freedom from allergies. (Can I get there again this summer? Hmmm....)

Sorrento's Zone 5 climate allows a similar range of products to what we grow here in Kansas, minus the okra and sweet potatoes. But the garden season is only half as long as ours, because it's so far north. I feasted my eyes on the endless rows of beautiful vegetables growing to their full potential in a way I seldom achieve...something to strive for. I also brought back many ideas for improving how I harvest, handle, and store vegetables here at Pinwheel Farm.

It will take awhile to put it all together here at the farm again, after such a long absence. But it will certainly keep me occupied....

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