Last night, a fellow writer asked if I’d been doing much writing lately. I had to sheepishly reply that I’ve been doing essentially none. I’ve always maintained that for me, farm work and writing are the perfect combination, that they balance each other out, that each is better for the existence of other. I still believe in that balance, and yet the reality is that as soon as I started real farm work, writing fell by the wayside.
A month ago I started working four days a week at Peacemeal Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Dixmont, Maine with 10 acres in cultivation. After years of dabbling in apple picking, carrot weeding and chicken slaughtering on the farms of various friends in the Hudson Valley, I have to say that it feels darn good to have my hands in the dirt full-time. (Or at least real world “forty hour work week” full-time) The trouble is that it was much easier to write as a farm dabbler than it is as a full-time farmhand. My writing has always been inspired by farms, farmers and food and I naively assumed that as my exposure to those things increased, so would my writing. And yet I’ve written nary a word in the past four weeks.
As I kneel by rows of carrots and beets, scuffle hoe the onions or pot in tomatoes in the greenhouse, my mind swirls with ideas and inspiration. I’ve become convinced that there’s no better place to think up story ideas than in a field of head lettuce or garlic, and for ten hours a day that’s what I do. And then I drive home, coated in dirt and sweat and sunscreen, crack a beer and start working on the house and before I know it I’m on my way to work the next day, another essay or book pitch pushed a bit further back in the overstuffed file folder that is my brain.
I am in awe of farmers like my friend Shannon Hayes who just released her third book while still farming full-time at her family’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it. I can only hope that one day I’ll figure out what it takes.
For now, I’ll settle for a happily aching body, a well-fed belly and an inspired mind.