What does it take for an experience to be memorable?
My first memorable experience farming or gardening has to be planting garlic on a small organic farm in Sweden. Åke, a native Swede, and his wife Ting Ting, an immigrant from China, started Gårdsbutik, their large garden and meditation center in the South-Eastern region.
There were many other wwoofers (world wide organic farmers), cycling in and out, some to travel, some to learn, and others to take refuge from other countries. Siad was a young man who escaped Morocco and sought asylum in France, but had been consistently arrested in Paris and wound up wwoofing in Sweden. Gårdsbutik was a beautiful safe haven, and was only about an acre. The farm, incredibly diverse and efficiently tended to, and was surrounded by wild fields covered with daisies as the common weed, and old growth forests. The natives were tall like the pine trees. The country landscape was dotted with red and yellow painted houses and threaded with canals.
When I arrived in late summer, much of the work I did involved harvesting, washing, packing, composting, and processing. Åke, the group of woofers and I worked on a few infrastructure projects, and sometimes I did small tasks alone like shoveling, raking, or cleaning. Often Åke would take me and another wwoofer into town to run the farmers market. All of us together took turns with the CSA delivery and farm stand. I worked with Ting Ting and my friend Svenja from Germany in the farm store often, and with Ting Ting alone if it was my turn to cook. Even though I was on a vegetable farm and vegan, not all the meals strictly adhered to plants only. Once she cooked moose, and I graciously offered my turn to someone else.
The garlic planting, though simple and fairly straight forward, inspired me because it made me feel apart of the process from the very beginning. I wanted to be more apart of giving life and the sowing process, rather than just the taking and reaping. The garlic was not growth that I could monitor directly. I couldn’t see its slow hibernation, duplication, and incubation underground, but it was more of this pleasant feeling of hope and wonder as the seasons changed, as we walked past the rows of alliums almost daily. The planting process involved creating small holes in the dark soil, holes to be spaced out from out from one another, like neighboring nests or dens. I felt a small wave of joy as my thumb pressed the bottom of the clove into the black, soft, and welcoming earth. Svenja and I worked side by side and tucked them into bed for the rest of the fall, winter, and spring. I would not see them again, but I trusted the earth, the farmers, and even the summer wwoofers to be good caretakers. I remember the plastic tag covered in crumbs of dirt labeled vitlök (swedish for garlic), above the row where I was kneeling, as if it were an arrow pointing towards abundance.
The winter months came eventually, ushering in blizzards and swallowing hours of daylight whole. I had worked on two other farms and came back with Svenja. We spread compost over the beds and forked steaming hot horse manure tangled in clumps of hay bales, onto the snow laden mounds, white sand dunes in a plant desert. It was profound to feed new life with decomposition.
Six years later was my first summer farming up at Good Heart Farmstead in Vermont. Ironically, one of my first tasks in that lush green season was to move the hay aside on the garlic beds, allowing the sun to penetrate, gently waking maturing bulbs from their long slumber. It felt as if I was drawing the blinds or curtains for them. I got to watch their green shoots pop up through soil and witness the stalks grow taller and taller, until the tips browned, letting us know they were ready to come out of the ground and into the world. I learned how to harvest them quickly, and pulled bunches at a time. I was soaked in sweat, drinking in the air, and in a constant table top position until all were liberated from the depths of the earth.
It took a very long time to see this first experience of growth through. Even though I’ve had lots of prior experiences seeding, transplanting, and harvesting, they were always in fragments, somehow removed, and therefore not so memorable. Good heart was the beginning of sewing together so many essential patterns in my life, and I can’t help but wonder if I was fated to work and live there, or just ready. This notable experience gave me permission to feel like a grower for the first time. My present had connected to my past. The task of farming and gardening felt very incomplete and at times stressful when I wasn’t apart of the seed planting, with a hand in the whole process, and then my belly in it too. Sowing the seed, nurturing growth, seeing the growth bear fruit, and then eating that fruit is what helps us to feel whole, to gain wisdom, and to appreciate the miracle that is the cycle of growing, human and vegetable alike.
Perhaps that is why this memory in particular, holds a very special place in my heart. A powerful memory, an experiential memory, is a combination of nostalgia, an moment that shaped your identity, and something that defines or alters the way you view the world, and the way you view yourself.