Text and photos By Virginia Hamilton
This summer was a particularly rough one. While wading through a host of personal issues, I was also absorbing a constant onslaught of images of bloodied, dust-covered children being pulled from wreckage and black bodies dying on shaky cell phone cameras. Refugees, soaking and sinking. Too little water and way too much water. White men yelling endlessly on television. A constant barrage against my black, poor, migrant, Muslim, and trans brothers and sisters. It was inescapable and likewise I felt as if I should not seek an escape. This was my burden to bear as well. With all of this came feelings of helplessness and uselessness as I navigated my purposeful entrance into activism. What can I do? How can I do it?
Meanwhile, I live in a dreamworld. My office is a sweet little valley under a wide open sky, guarded by ancient mountains. I work on the computer in a homey little office. I weigh cattle in the shade of an antique barn. I get splashed by young hogs in their wallow. I am constantly surrounded by my big family—my colleagues and my students—whom I love fiercely. Here I am, grinning madly in a freshly-mown field, still wondering what I can do. What we can do, as farmers, to make a difference?
“I can feed you.”
Food has always been synonymous with love for me. Both of my grandmothers were constantly asking what I needed to eat. It was their way of asking, “What flavor will this unconditional love take today?” My most treasured memories of family always involve shared meals and what we ate—layered salad on Easter, buttery toast on Saturday mornings, Cardamom bread on Christmas day. Hot dogs and beans on a picnic table in the Vermont woods.
My passion for a good meal is what lead me to agriculture. My love for the work is what lead me to stay. I love this work. Every animal, blade of grass, and smear of mud. I have told past partners (perhaps unwisely) that no, I will never love anything as much as I love my cow herd. And I meant it. This work is hard, constant, and allows me to channel my fierceness and nurturing energy into a means of survival. That love is transformed into food for my community. My meat on the table at a community member’s home spreads that love, amplifies it, fixes it directly into their bodies as new muscles, neurons, energy for the day ahead. It is profound magic. In a world spinning out of control, I can tighten a fence. This is what I can do.
Farming is a tremendous and powerful act of love. As a farmer, have I taken the time to recognize that today? Have I whispered my affections as I turned soil this morning? Have I paused to recognize the fullness in my heart as I wade through knee high alfalfa? Have I let myself take a moment to smile wildly at slick, fat cattle? Have I appreciated and honored the strength and dedication of my fellow workers? By our very nature, we are passionate, resourceful, and tender folk, and we are what our communities need right now. Like farming, feeding others is both simple and radical—it can be as easy as a full belly, the opportunity to get out in nature, or a friendly smile at the farmer’s market. Likewise, we can harness our passion and resourcefulness as meaningful activators of change in our local and national communities. Farmers and activists have cobbled something out of nothing for centuries, and we can do it again. How can we rally for the underprivileged in our communities? I ask you, how can your food become your activism against the terrible forces at work in the world?
You, my dear consumer, are also equipped to do your part to change the world. Nobody has loved this food as fully as the farmer, until you. That purchase becomes land properly cared for, my butcher’s son’s college tuition, cash flow for my local freezer truck driver, and most importantly, the fuel that you need to make your own small changes in the world. Purchasing your next meal directly from a farmer is exercising your ability to buy into an economy of love. We are not helpless against the forces of hatred. In the same way that you have the power to choose how to nourish yourself, you also have the power to choose how you nourish your fellow human, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Participation in this economy of love, little by little, has tremendous power. Be inspired by this, do not stop there.
“I can feed you.”