The other day, a student who recently read my memoir commented that they could barely imagine me going through that “farmer” stage. I smiled, wondering if I should tell them that it wasn’t exactly a stage (that implies I moved on to something else)– but more like a part of my personality was unearthed, and once you expand who you are and what you know, you can never go back. In other words, the farmer in me is still very much alive.
The one thing I learned from my failed life reinvention was that the quality of your life isn’t dependent upon where you live. Your lifestyle is defined by HOW you live. I tell yogis all the time that if they want to be serious about living their yoga, they don’t have to run off to Tibet to meditate on a mountain top for a year as the culmination of their education as they strive to be truly authentic. We don’t need the artificial trappings of environment or extremism to define us. A serious yogi needs to learn how to be kind while standing in line at the supermarket if they want to practice advanced yoga. If you can take any concept of ideal living and maintain your commitment, attitude and efforts towards that end, and apply your beliefs to your existence as you are deeply engaged in the real world then you are truly authentic. It is easy to remove yourself from society and stay on the path of simplicity because nothing is challenging you to be otherwise. Try to maintain a personal commitment to a simple or naturalistic lifestyle when you are working and raising kids, and dealing with neighbors and bosses and traffic and bills. If you can do that, you are the real deal, not romanticizing who and what you are because you thrust yourself into a situation where you have no choice but live a certain way because you’ve isolated yourself from society and withdrawn your options. I left the mountains worried that I had lost my opportunity to live an organic or artistic life, but in truth, I live more in tune with my ideal now than I did when I was buried in the mountains. Even Thoreau left the woods. Carrying what I learned during that time back into a vibrant, active community of Florida is what made my time in the country truly expansive to me as a person.
So, in regards to living an organic, natural, farm-oriented life . . . it didn’t take me long to embrace all those priorities into my new life in busy Sarasota. My first little home had a garden on the side of the house with tomatoes and herbs. I did some canning, and shopped at the local farms feeling this was a lifeline to the world I had lost. When I moved to Heartwood, the first thing we did was plant a garden and get some chickens. Without going crazy, I continue to move towards my ideal lifestyle, which included living in tune with the environment and respecting food sources. Now, I grow what I can, and each season I do a little home canning to provide preservative-free, fresh bounty to our off-season meals. David and I shop at Obrien Family Farms, right around the corner from us for most of our produce. Someday, we hope to extend our own growing capabilities at home.
Obrien Farms is an extremely efficient and unique hydroponic garden business that changes seasonally, but offers “you pick” opportunities and homemade goodies and a farmers market shop and more. This farm is very much like a place in Blue Ridge that was all the rage (Merciers) only here, we don’t have the crowds or the commercialism that made the other place seem more a tourist attraction than an authentic farm. David and I love stopping by Obriens (and we visit other local farms too), partially to shop, but also to learn. The hydroponic systems are remarkable and very inspiration if you believe in preserving resources and the environment. Someday, we dream of putting in a greenhouse and hydroponic systems at Heartwood – not on the scale of Obrien, but just for our family and the yoga community who visit Heartwood. We’d love our gardens to be a resource to teach others about how to grow healthy food at home, no matter how much space you have.
Despite sandy soil and hotter weather, gardening isn’t harder in Florida – simply different.It is more challenging to farm productively here since success involves more than putting a few seeds in the ground and waiting for nature to do the work, but the growing season is long and filled with the same level of deep harmony with the land that I felt in Georgia.
I have ten chickens now that free range around Heartwood providing us with farm fresh eggs. David plans to build us a new bigger chicken coup this month to keep my bold birds from creating havoc in our gardens. My beehives went bust when my two slowly building hives swarmed … dang bees just took off and landed in a hole in one of our oaks behind the yoga center, so now I can watch them high up overhead busily creating a new home, but I can’t collect honey from them. I will need to have them removed eventually, I suppose, rather than let them live there, laughing at me. I’ll try setting up new hives in all my bee boxes again next season – and remove the wild bees so they won’t raid the formal hives. We are too busy with the construction of a new septic and parking lot now to play with honey issues, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it as any farmer up against the elements and nature’s fickle personality would.
I recently made homemade veggie marinara sauce and this week I’m due to make more fresh berry jam because my last batches finally ran out. I’m still making homemade wine and cordials, and a cute tower garden outside my kitchen window is always exploding with herbs. It is getting so hot, I’ve cut away the lettuce and only basil and parsley seem to last. Soon it will be time to plant beans and fall veggies. (The seasons are very different in Florida than in Georgia) Yes, things are growing all around us with nutritious healthy veggies on our property or from the many farms and fresh farmer’s markets nearby that fill in the blanks of what I don’t have time or inclination to attempt to grow myself. Sarasota has a huge organic and naturalistic community, and I can’t imagine anyplace being more supportive of a healthy, wholesome lifestyle than here. All you have to do is care enough to expand your shopping habits beyond the local Publix or franchise restaurants, get a little dirt under your nails, and decide that fast food will never hold a candle to slow, slow, slow food you grow, harvest, and prepare yourself.
Yes, the farmer in me is alive and kickin’. If only I had space to keep another donkey!