This winter, I've spent one day a week volunteering on a farm just outside the city. It's been wet, and cold, and the labor is not glamorous - putting in fenceposts, pulling weeds, repairing various equipment - but I get to work side-by-side with Rob, the farmer, and I've learned a lot just by watching, listening, and asking questions.
On one of my first visits to his farm, Rob requested my help in emptying a 55-gallon drum of waste from their composting toilet. This particular drum had been filled and sealed three years prior, and had since turned into fertilizer. We strapped the drum to a dolly, and three of us pushed and pulled it up the hill and into the pasture. When we stopped, Rob loosened the bolts holding on the lid, and we tipped the drum over, spilling odorless, dark brown soil onto the grass. Along with the compost, out tumbled a plastic water bottle and an old spatula. A spatula? I thought, glancing at the other intern, whose face reflected my own confusion. Rob considered the find, and then explained: three years ago, his younger daughter had been in diapers. He and his wife had used the spatula to scrape the (cloth) diapers clean before washing them; it must have fallen in at some point. Rob picked up the spatula , shook off the loose dirt, and stowed it in the side pocket of his Carhartts.
While I consistently try not to romanticize Rob's lifestyle, I was struck in that moment by the intimacy and complexity of his relationship to the farm. Everything has a history, everything plays a role, and nothing goes to waste. Including the poop.
On another note, the most exciting thing about getting excited about food is that lots of people are doing it - especially young people. I found a lovely essay on the Green Fork Blog about why so many 20-somethings are steering their lives toward farming. In "Cultivating Change: Interns on the Farm," Neysa King captures everything I've been feeling and trying to say in this article.