Virtual Life

What is it like to be raised in a time when your friends set up a virtual bed next to yours for a sleepover?   What is it like to create instagram lives, play remote games with people you may never meet in person, wearing skins that resemble them only in imagination, texting conversations instead of watching their eyes?  It is a lot of fantasy.

We were already prone to weaving stories. What ‘a tangled web we weave’ now. I worry for their authenticity. I admit my own history of big ideas, big views of self, while welcoming the ‘smalling’ that comes with mid-life. The youth seem to see everything as possible, strive for lives heretofore unattainable by their parents, and watch as digital lives create wealth; if that becomes the goal, Heaven help us all.

All I can do is head outside, drop to my knees, and pull weeds. I can sit on the sofa holding a buck rabbit, share photos of horses helped by neighbors who know them not but came to the rescue because community comes together in crisis.

…I can show them real.

Love always,

Your Velveteen Rabbit

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit


Staying put

The fires are raging outside Portland, near Salem, and Beavercreek. Amber evacuated her animals. Her horses are safe and her dogs and cats with her.  One draft horse wouldn’t load. They spent hours. The ashes and heat got so bad they had to give up, and it was long past time to go.  Clare, over in Gaston, is taking in more animals every hour. She has 10 horses in the barn already, six more on the way, and just set out to pick up 25 sheep. Thank God for neighbors.

Can you imagine?  I can’t.  I wasn’t home when it happened to us. Ironically, when Screech Owl burned down, I was in Portland. That was 2009.  It’s been just over a decade now, and still she stands, waiting. We have a few more years of schooling and then the time will open up, to return, repair, and restore.

Unlike the dry west, it rained all summer here after we enjoyed a long and glorious dry Spring, with Covid keeping us home- an extremely beautiful Spring. We were the lucky ones, appreciating the opportunity to stop, slow way down, and just be together.  Not all enjoyed that luxury of course. Many, like Colette, gave countless hours.  I spent a good many myself, at the sewing machine throughout April making masks for law enforcement. The officers were so gracious and grateful, that repaid every moment spent in spades.

Officers. What a tragic year this has been in so many, many ways.  I do wonder how the children will share the tale in hindsight. The phrase will never be the same.  Neither will we:  not my job, education in general, race relations, the economy, the dollar, the food system, our country, our culture.

The list goes on for me personally. My friendships have changed. My goals have collapsed.  One friend is dying of cancer and choosing not to call it by name. Another called me racist and kicked me out of her life. She might be right, and ‘yet and still’, we all need to learn tolerance. I think she and I will mend, in time, as the earth grows back after fires. As for the other one, she may rise like a Phoenix as well – faith needn’t falter.

My priorities have clarified and narrowed intensely.  The only purpose now is to know and love the earth,  live well with her, and celebrate the gift of Creation – yes, with a capital C. Someone is the progenitor. This is no accident. Living in gratitude, increasing in competence and sharing what’s available, we walk into the next decade for Farm School, staying put where we’re planted.


Spring, New Beginnings

The motherwort in full bloom called for grey goose and tinctures.  The lemon balm called for hot water immediately, and more for drying. The nettles made great omelettes and jars of tea. Kale came in abundance, spring yard salads decorated the table, the march of the flowers steadily brought the warm breezes out of the chilly frog-voiced nights, starting from the yellows of daffodils and forsythia into the blues of iris, violets and bachelor buttons.   Now the roses crawl the fences and barn sides, and I am glad to know my home soil.  The asparagus sprouted, potatoes are peeping up, tomatoes and blue berries setting, blackberries forming, and raspberries setting their canes further into the overgrown yard. I am of here. I belong. This is home.


My efforts to add to the pool of work to produce local food were called into question a year after beginning, when someone else started offering the same gift, for a fee.  I tried to contact them to find out if their effort had been a success. If so, I would not compete, offering free financial workshops, when they might need to make a living and farmers were willing to pay.  I backed off.  I waited to see if anyone contacted me. Months have gone by and no one has stepped up or reached out.  I do not feel the offering was focused enough.  The goal was collaborative supportive community.  What I found was a lot of wanting to do the work but not a lot of deciding to track the numbers.  The numbers are just a hurdle.  They’d be better off if I choe a few I could just do the books for, or if i found accountants willing to donate their time. That would be helpful!

Sacred and Profane

We use our land like a bank.  We whore out our own mother. I am angry.  These systems – the banking system, the economic engine of housing, the tax breaks for clearing all the land and planting monoculture trees.

Do we not know quality?  Do we have no sense of value?  If we fancy ourselves aware of a quality life, then why do we allow this use-job?  Why do we sell out?  We use the land, and once we put a house there, we use it again.  We borrow on the house to pay for other immediate needs, or because colleges demand the ‘equity’, and in so doing we tie the place deeper to a hopeless future.

Every time we cash out our land, we make it less and less possible that the bit of soil we know can remain free to breathe.  There’s no way to maintain a home place if it’s in hock to the bank.   In the end, the land will have to be put up on the block and sold to the highest bidder because, like the giving tree, it is asked to give every last bit of itself for our greed and need.

We buy and sell the land.  Chief Seattle was right.  (Actually, apparently he never said those words, but the phrase is still  right.)  That’s where we went wrong, the buying and selling.

Private property?  Private is nice.  But property?  We all know what’s happened to women and others who have been property.  The story of the soil is a story of rape, abuse, use, entitled privilege and a mystic veil of cultural heritage.  I am not so sure this legacy is anything but shameful, just as our other stories of property.

This land is not yours to use as you wish. Pimps! Take your profits and go, go away from here, away from the land I love, honor, cherish and respect.  You have no relationship to this land, you objectify and see cash.

Go make an honest living.


Carol Hewitt Made the Day!

A dozen small farmers gathered in the warmth of Dawn Breaker Farms’ living room, as late winter rain poured down outside.  Carol Hewitt shared stories of  requesting and gathering funds, from hundreds to a few thousand, for that tractor or roll of row cover.  “The last check you write should bounce”, she quipped.  Carol has a philosophy about money and it’s not about accumulation and the next generation; her legacy advice has more to do with using money like seeds and soil: regeneratively, creatively, to grow more resources.

I drove away thinking of others in the community whom I might call upon, and the thought emerged that I need to bring in our mentors, our ‘elders’ who have put in a few decades at the small farm game.  Maybe Alex or Cathy will come next time.  I will ask them.

What a privilege to spend time with people of substance: people who have chosen a path and walk it well. I am sinking into this community. The roots that bind me here have held strong, and as the wrinkles begin to line my face, I feel my core softening.  As my wood turns dowdy, I will gladly fall in place with the hope that somehow my being here brought a bit of fresh air to those with whom I’ve had the gift of growing alongside.

Be well, beloveds.

February 4th, Hurdle Mills, Dawnbreaker Farms SOIL with Carol Hewitt

Come on up to Ben’s place: “Good food. Raised right.” Bring a folding chair.  You have time to go to church/meeting/zendo/synagogue/the woods in the morning. We’ve moved these to afternoons.  Ben can only seat 30, and we already have 15 after only posting this once, a week ago. Carol Hewitt is one popular woman!  She’s also lovely and brilliant, so, go figure.

Since 2010, Carol has helped farmers and local food businesses find affordable peer-to-peer loans, and now is launching SOIL, a revolving loan fund funded by charitable donations.  See her website:  SlowMoney NC about the SOIL fund!

Carol was raised by a New England vet who packed her about with him from farm to farm, much in the way of James Herriot.  As the landscape of her home gave way to development, and farms disappeared, Carol’s current purpose took root.  For years, she supported her spouse Mark Hewitt, who is a renowned NC potter, and she raised two lovely daughters into young, empowered women.   And, by the way, she also wrote a book, helped launch a food co-op and a local musical.  No big deal.

Now she is showing up in a new way for small farmers, with her usual brilliance and her whole heart. You do not want to miss getting some time with her.

And, by the way, you don’t want to miss Ben either.  Why is it that men named Ben tend to live up to their gentle-heart name?  This one is no exception – except that he is a rather exceptional example!   Come see Ben at Dawnbreaker Farms.  And spend time with your peers. It’s time to fill up our spirits before the season gets underway.

To visit SOIL:

See you on the 4th!


Katherine’s Cheese

Her goats were producing so much milk that Katherine started making cheese, and then she had so much cheese that she started calling friends to come get it. This is the slippery slope of farming.  Fleming told a similar tale back when I apprenticed at Celebrity Dairy.  That was 1993.  25 years since I landed in Chatham. 25 years of friendship and community and Farmschool programs.  Katherine and I go back farther, to Chapel Hill in the late 80s, and she goes way back, because she’s from here.

How is it that I get a friend who gives away chevre? That’s like having a money tree. And a soul tree. I guess that’s what it means to take root in a place.  Katherine has roots, deep ones.  Though mine are more shallow, they still hold me hard to the bedrock of home.  I can’t seem to leave, now.  I think about it, dream of blue ridge rocking chair views,  fold upon fold of mothering bosoms fading into the mist, but the inexorable draw of community and culture will likely see me scratching at white clay, watching pink and baby blue sunsets at Screech Owl.

Fall Farm Financials: Making and Keeping the Books. Save 11/12

Hi folks,

Season extension and fall gardens are in the works, and several of you are into home projects that need to be finished before winter.  Tony preferred an earlier date for his workshop, so we will have to wait and see if his offering is a part of the picture.

In November, we will gather and have guest speakers at a farm near Saxapahaw, and will update you over email regarding the finalized date. Currently November 12 is coming up (Veteran’s Day Weekend)  as a good option for some of you.  Lunch is BYO, with share food optional.

That day we will also offer an after-training social: Farm Financials Journal making workshop (1 – 4 pm) following the financials session (11a – 1p), to help you  really want to keep your books!  🙂   There will be a fee for materials ($20)

Here’s to a sweet transition into Fall,

The folks at Farmschool