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The author with his wife and child in a tent.

Farm and Community

The author with his wife and child in a tent.

Photos courtesy of the author.

 

We had our first frost of the season last night. It’s the first of October and we live in New England, so I’m not complaining. We’ve had warm and easy weather for the past few weeks, but I’m always checking the mid‐range forecast this time of year, watching for frost. We spent most of Saturday getting ready: covering what we could, bringing in peppers and eggplant, and processing the tomatoes and basil that wouldn’t keep until our next community‐supported agriculture (CSA) pickup. This morning before worship, I fed my two goats and then walked the gardens. We lost a few of the tender flowers and herbs, but the frost was light and I expect most crops to recover.

My wife, Megan, and I live on a small vegetable farm in southern New Hampshire that we call Sun Moon Farm. We’re both 37 years old, and today is our sixth wedding anniversary. We have a son named Fox, who will be three in February. From June through October, our farm feeds 100 families, and life is busy and hard and good. Over a 20‐week season, year after year, we develop strong relationships with our community of customers. As a CSA farm, we intentionally invest in these relationships because we believe that community—like our food—can help to make a place resilient and sustainable and that these are traits that all of us need to be developing.

In the winter months the farm is much quieter. We harvest hardy greens and herbs from our greenhouse and sell roots and alliums from the root cellar. But most of our winter work is planning for the next spring and summer. Megan makes the planting plan and orders the seeds. I take longer morning walks with Fox and the goats and have more time to read books and finish craft projects. We’ll start the first seeds in February and start opening gardens in March or April. By May we’ll have a crew working long days with us.

Our crew works and lives with us, so when the farm is busy, our house is busy. Every year we hire two farm interns, usually college students. We share our home year‐round with a friend who has worked with us for a few seasons now, and this year we also housed a farm‐ and community‐interested Quaker couple for the summer. Our work week begins early on Monday with a gathering worship, a chance for each of us to “check in,” and time to talk about the needs of the house and farm. Cooking for lunches and childcare for Fox are always part of the work week’s responsibilities to be divvied up.

On harvest days—twice a week—Megan is up before 4 o’clock to start baking bread, and I’m in the field with the rest of the crew by 5:30. Other days are easier, but all farm days are long, and many are physically taxing. We grow good food here. It is quiet work that often allows me to talk to friends about climate chaos or comic books, conversations that often continue on the porch when we’re sharing lunch. These conversations make a day’s work lighter or put purpose to our lives. My work is simple and honorable. I like that it keeps me close to home and family. But good work isn’t always easy work. I know that when I choose this life, I’m also choosing the strain and insecurity of depending on my body’s work for a living and that I’ll feel frustrated, anxious, and sometimes resentful when I think about money, work, security, and justice.

Our property has been continuously farmed since the 1780s and was home to The Meeting School from 1957 until it closed in 2011. Megan and I met here when we were both working for the school, and we were still working here when the school closed. With friends, we were able to purchase this property and began planning a small, intentional neighborhood that we call South of Monadnock. Our family and our farm share a commitment to South of Monadnock’s mission:

To live well together in a way that supports and challenges us to live into our best selves, collectively and individually. We are working towards a positive vision for the future and honoring this property’s history by building authentic community consistent with Quaker practices and principles that prioritizes purposeful, joyful living; peace work; place‐based education; and Earth stewardship, including diverse, sustainable agriculture and wild‐space conservation.

Right now we are only three families (and, of course, big gardens, a few animals, and a rambling spread of hayfields and lively woods) with faith that other lively, purposeful people will heed their own calling to eventually fill all six households on this old property.

A lot of my Quaker identity is rooted in the decision that I made with my wife to settle here, continue farming on this land, and build a community. We recognized that a good life is possible here for us, our family, and our human and nonhuman neighbors. There is opportunity for real work, honest relationships, and an authentic experience of the natural world. We meet our needs simply and closely. I’ve wanted other things, but when I really opened myself to hearing what I am called to do, the decision to stay here felt clear. “Just as a tree cannot bear fruit if it is often transplanted, so neither can a man bear fruit if he frequently changes his abode” (adapted from Verba Seniorum, a collection of third and fourth century writings from Christian ascetic communities). Megan and I met here and were married here. We grew our farm and had a son. Working for peace is spirit‐led work that begins at home, and home for me is here.

I believe that good farming, like good teaching, is long‐term activism. Farming and teaching are both optimistic vocations: they assume not only that there can be a future for humans on this planet, but that there should be and that our work can make that future world better. Good farmers work hard to build and balance their soils. We value the complex, often unseen, web of life all around us, allowing for sustainable yields over a very long time. I believe that this is a good, actionable metaphor for Quaker peace work, too. A good onion harvest this season won’t end a war, but providing access to healthy food healthfully grown—and the nourishing relationships that often accompany it—may be part of the foundation for the world we want. Work towards this aim might ultimately subvert the causes of war and continuing conflicts. Farming and community are an active yes to peace, and I believe that living a yes is a very strong way to say no to war.

Participation in rural life can be lonely, and the work of farming can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. An isolated life could set me in ruts or into self‐pleasing patterns as easily as it could keep me rightly aimed toward peace. So I know that my life and farm need to be grounded by the joys, challenges, and accountability of community. Living in close, committed relationship with other people is one of the most radical acts of love and peace that we can make in our lives. At South of Monadnock, we are building a community where that sort of commitment isn’t just made to a husband, wife, or child but to our neighbors as well. That is a powerful commitment. We won’t all be farmers—and need not be—but we should all live fully engaged lives, and we should bring what we learn home to our community. Together we can divest ourselves of the seeds of war and continue building a more peaceful world.

 

Craig Jensen likes board games, comic books, and the bread that his wife bakes, but time with his son, Fox, is his favorite thing in the world. He grows beautiful dahlias and would like to spend all of his winter making toys. He is a member of Monadnock Meeting in Jaffrey, N.H.


Posted in: Features, Quaker Lifestyles

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