We’re starting a series of posts about our AmeriCorps and VISTA members and how they have engaged with sustainable agriculture and forestry since serving with Rural Action and the Chesterhill Produce Auction. So this week, I thought I’d share a story about welcoming new life on my family’s land. Enjoy these photos of lowline angus calves and some words about what it’s like to be a beginning farmer…
After living in Minnesota’s Twin Cities for seven years during college and post-graduation, I felt the call of home growing louder. Quite literally, calls from family members asking me to move back were frequent, though gentle. While I loved Minnesota and will always consider it a second home, it remained just that, second to home. I missed the cicadas of Ohio’s hot summers, the peepers in spring, the longer growing seasons, the wildflowers, and yes, even the humidity.
Throughout my years in Minnesota, I spent a lot of time working on urban and rural farms, as well as teaching in the public schools as a food educator. But the prospect of moving home and raising food on my family’s land in Athens was the first time I’d considered spearheading my own farming endeavors. Amidst packing my belongings and giving heartfelt goodbyes, I read Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. I think I unconsciously hoped to embolden myself in this decision to move home. Berry writes extensively about “the politics of homecoming” and the impact that a person can have by investing in the ecology and culture of home. He writes:
“One who returns home — to one’s marriage and household and place in the world — desiring anew what was previously chosen, is neither the world’s stranger nor its prisoner, but is at once in place and free.”
Wendell Berry’s words have been on the back burner of my mind over the last 8 months, as I’ve begun my AmeriCorps service year with Rural Action, as I’ve met farmers regenerating the land across Ohio, as I’ve remembered the speed at which springs here burst into blossom, as I’ve been present for family occasions, and as I’ve embarked on my own farm enterprise.
That farm enterprise arrived three weeks ago in the form of 8 Lowline Angus calves. Given my Creative Writing major, it may come as a surprise that I’ve decided to start with cattle. It’s true that I have a more extensive vocabulary in the mechanics of poetry than in the mechanics of fencing. But I’ve begun with cattle for two reasons: 1) my family has raised small herds of cattle before and 2) I believe in the regenerative impacts of properly-managed herd animals. I am privileged to be a beginning farmer with access to land and pieces of startup infrastructure. My concern for the changing climate motivates me to do something physical to combat global warming with visible results on the land.
While I’ve read about the science of management-intensive grazing, I have SO much to learn now that my boots are on the ground. I am googling terms I never knew I’d need to know. I am chasing escape artist calves that manage to walk through fencing like it’s butter. I am trying patiently to get these calves to let me touch them (which sometimes involves lying down in the middle of the field and waiting for them to come sniff me!) And I am inching my way towards the distant vision I have for this piece of land, for the revitalization of family farms, and for a future in which we bring our society into equilibrium with the natural world.
Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.