I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was 19 years old, in part on principle; as a budding environmentalist, I wanted to avoid burning fossil fuels, even as such a decision inhibited my independence in an area that lacked much public transportation or infrastructure for safe walking and biking. Another (not insubstantial) part of me knew that I am clumsy, forgetful, and accident-prone—that part of me was simply afraid to get behind the wheel of anything with more than two wheels and pedals. Although driving still makes me a little tense, I am beginning to enjoy it the teensiest bit. Back in 2009, when I worked at Gault Nature Reserve in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec with my beautiful and brilliant friend Monica, I learned to drive an ATV, which we used to carry around heavy equipment for the research we were doing. I surprised myself with how much fun I had driving around on the trails at the park, which could be pretty treacherous.
Here at Hawthorne Valley, I’m getting to know a vehicle of more intimidating stature; a few weeks ago, I started having periodic tractor-driving lessons on our cute, (not so) little Kubota, and through the infinite patience of my instructors, I learned to drive stick shift and to navigate without impaling cars, buildings, or people in the hay spike sticking out the front. I now use the tractor in the mornings to put silage bales out for the cows, and periodically throughout the day to move bedding and feed bales around the farm. The thing made me nervous at first, but my managers have given me responsibilities and entrusted me to use it unsupervised, and that goes a long way to bolster my confidence in my own abilities.
The fossil fuel issue still gives me pause. I have recently been immersed in Wendell Berry essays, and he talks a lot about how tractors have changed our relationship with the land. According to Berry, they substitute fossil fuel for solar energy (the sun feeds the grass that feeds the horses that pull the plow). They also decrease a farmer’s autonomy, making him inextricably linked and dependent on the fuel economy and require greater initial investment. They also do something less tangible, something psychological, in making the farmer think of his land in an industrial way, in terms of speed, efficiency, productivity, rather than biological terms, picturing the farm as an organism whose health must be maintained. Last week, I went to a presentation given by a Hawthorne Valley Farm employee who had taken a year-long sabbatical and, amongst other things, he visited a bunch of biodynamic farms across the country. One of the farms he visited, Live Power Community Farm, uses draft horses and solar power, and I’m really intrigued by working at a place like this one day.
Quote of the day: “Of course agriculture must be productive; that is a requirement as urgent as it is obvious. But urgent as it is, it is not the first requirement; there are two more requirements equally important and equally urgent. One is that if agriculture is to remain productive, it must preserve the land, and the fertility and ecological health of the land; the land, that is, must be used well. A further requirement, therefore, is that if the land is to be used well, the people who use it must know it well, must be highly motivated to use it well, must know how to use it well, must have time to use it well, and must be able to afford to use it well. Nothing that has happened in the agricultural revolution of the last fifty years has disproved or invalidated these requirements, though everything that has happened has ignored or defied them.”–Wendell Berry in his 1989 essay, “Nature as Measure,” found in his collection, Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food