One of the great pleasures of feeding ourselves from the land around our home is
the nature, variety and joy of the work it requires. It is work that our
species grew up with; it is in our genes.
Last night we cooked a dinner of fingerling potatoes dug from the earth of our
farm. I harvested a basketfull of them to take to market last week. We
prepared the ones that we couldn't sell - the potatoes with green spots from
being exposed to the light or those that the mice had sampled.
A little washing and cutting, and into the pot they went for boiling. I picked
a handful of fresh green beans, and Suzanne sauteed hot peppers, garlic and
basil with a little olive oil and then added the potatoes and beans. A lot of
fresh ground pepper and a little soy sauce for seasoning, and voila. Served
with slices of perfectly ripe tomatoes, it was a great meal. It was also a meal
that required some of the most satisfying work we get to do.
Although we all have other work - our son Dan is going to college, Suzanne's
teaching and I'm writing, lecturing and recycling - the growing and preparing
of our food is an increasingly important part of our lives. It is important
because we enjoy the flavor, the seasonal change and freshness of local organic
food and because we need to eat good food in order to maintain our health. But
being intimately involved with feeding ourselves is also important for the work
The work is whole. The planning we did nearly a year ago just provided
delicious nourishment for our bodies. We plant, harvest, cook and eat the
fruits of our labors. Our work teaches us and improves us. Next year, for
example, I'll pay more attention to "hilling up" the potatoes.
The work is continuous and engaging. The garlic planted last October, and the
onions planted in April were both harvested in July and now hang to dry on the
back porch. The peppers, started on a windowsill in March, were set out in June
and we'll be picking them into October when it is time to plant the garlic
again. The potatoes were planted in May. When I finish harvesting them, I'll
plant a cover crop of buckwheat or oats to protect the soil until I plant garlic
The work is done outside. For most of our history, humans have worked in the
open air surrounded by the sun and rain, heat and cold, and the breezes and
beauties of our planet. The pleasures of working with fertile soil and plants
in the presence of butterflies, birds and bees are numerous.
The work of feeding ourselves is very physical. Our bodies were meant to be
used--to bend and lift, to walk and carry. It's only recently that sitting in
the office, school, car or TV chair became an acceptable thing to do.
The work is varied. Planning, preparing soil, planting, tending, harvesting,
preserving and cooking each provides challenges and builds useful skills.
Getting better at these tasks will make our lives richer in the years to come.
The work is useful and relevant. There are few things which are more important
than feeding our families. Study after study points to this as one of the key
challenges for the future of our planet.
The work is forgiving. If one crop doesn't come in another will, and there is
always tomorrow, and next year.
This is work that I can envision doing as long as I live. Once we spend more
time outdoors, the interweaving of the rhythm of the seasons with the work of
producing food creates a rich texture for our lives which resonates with the
lives of most of our ancestors.
The work of feeding ourselves personally and directly from the soil and water
around us still engages up to half of the people on this planet. It more and
more seems to be one of the few ways we can really use the energies and skills
of the Earth's burgeoning population in a productive way.
The nature, satisfaction and relevance of our labor should be an important
factor in shaping our future. It only will be, if we make it so.
Happy Labor Day.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C 1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. This essay first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing