Invoking Angels–Aurora Farm in Transition
Written and published Fall 2004
Fern, our home cow, presented us with a bull calf this morning. Fern is in prime condition from feeding on new grass, prime for making milk and being a mom. This year we had blessed rain in August and September and she’s out in the pasture with her baby enjoying new autumn grass, the first we’ve had after five years of drought. Each of those drought years we were feeding hay—scarce even in this hay-growing valley—by July and the rice crispy crunch underfoot when you walked in woods or field was enough to break your heart.
We live in grateful and mutually appreciative cooperation with our home cow, who is ultimately the source of fertility on our small acreage.
And so are the turkeys thriving, outdoors on grass most days in their moveable turkey tractor, which is getting a bit small for the 10 of them, half-grown now.
Seeds are coming in too. This morning I harvested by hand cosmos seed and broadleaf plantain. That’s what we do at Aurora Farm—raise seed for backyard gardeners, high-vitality, authentic, un-tampered-with seeds of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Heritage seeds, open-pollinated old-time tried and true varieties. We market over the Internet mostly. Lettuce, carrot, parsley, spinach, calendula, lavender, pumpkin…the seed-gathering season starts in July with chives and ends sometime in December with the harvest of the last leek seed heads. Timing is everything.
We grow probably 80 percent of what we eat, counting meat, eggs, dairy products, potatoes and other veggies, salad, lots of fruit. We live a lifestyle that is closer to that of our ancestors than most people, closer to the land, more dependent on Nature, in tune with the seasons. An anachronistic life, perhaps, but it has suited us.
The milking, and all the tasks that go along with it—feeding and persuading Fern that we’re only taking our share, mucking out, straining the fresh, raw milk into jars for the fridge, yogurt making, cheese making, butter making—it’s a rhythm of life, a morning and evening pulse in our lives.
So there’s the cow and a calf and welcome milking chores; a flock of chickens, the turkeys, the gardens, the harvest, maintenance on four big buildings and stewardship of 31 acres…
And it’s all gotten to be a bit much for Barbara and me. She’s been doing it for many years and is feeling destiny’s push to do something new and different; I’m well into my seventh decade, past the time I should be doing this much grunt work. The boys are grown now and we don’t require this big a place or this much responsibility We could do with partners. We should to begin to back off. But there are questions arising in us during this age-old process of passing on the legacy of the land.
We have been holding these questions for years and should share them, on the chance that you may hold them with us, or offer some perspective:
How does it go when it’s time to turn over to the coming generation—read a Stronger, More Clever, More Enthusiastic, and Younger set of people—a farm and business we’ve worked so hard to manifest, in co-creation with the land and unseen allies;
And the corollary question since could hardly just leave and hope for the best: How to realize at least some of the value of what has been accomplished here, in the form of those abundant dollars we all must have? If the elders need to get out of the way and give the outfit over to the youngsters, how do the elders step into the real world without at least an illusion of security?
For many months we’ve advertised for people to share the farm with us. Keeping in mind Question #2 above, we’ve had to restrict serious negotiations to those who have some capital to invest, who can buy into the situation, and there have been some of those folks interested from time to time. People who have had a presence in the community or corporate world and made money. But those who have the money also have ties and obligations and a certain level of comfort in their lifestyle; the dream is one thing–the actual shift to living in the country and heating with wood and being earth stewards for a living seems just too much for them, at least for those we’ve talked with. Another category of responders to our offer of sharing are the young, strong, clever, well-intentioned inquirers, plenty of them, but all more or less penniless.
For both kinds of interested parties who contact us, invariably via email after visiting our website, the Aurora Farm presented there is a virtual reality, an idyllic one, as attractive as we can make it. Then, some visit and the on-the-ground reality affects diverse people each uniquely. Some the land embraces and uplifts. Others not.
It’s time for us to take the next steps. We need to become elders. Barbara can teach, I can write. Together we expect to share with a community of like-minded, supportive people. We have been isolated too long, in quiet and honorable service to the land and the seeds. Our light has been under a bushel. We have been in service to the Earth mother over decades, striving for an ideal of right livelihood on the land, living respectfully and responsibly on the land.
Aurora Farm, the landscape, is old, old beyond our imagining; Aurora Farm, the farm and business that Barbara created, has grown up and requires parents no longer, but partners. Our notion of a partnership is exceedingly flexible and offered on generous terms, we think. There are many unusual elements in this transfer of stewardship, this process that starts out looking like a real estate deal and soon becomes much more.
For Aurora Farm is an organism, a living, growing being not so easy to pin down. “31 acre hilltop property” doesn’t even come close to the reality. Aurora is a place where beings of many species, including quite a few invisible ones, make a living and a life together in co-creation. It’s forest and mossy outcrops and gardens. There is a legacy here to transfer to new owners, a legacy of fertility and right livelihood, of appropriate scale and heartfulness. Any transfer has to be a land-based transaction, not a culture-based one. A value-based deal, not a money-based one.
But here is what we’re up against when we put it up for sale.
The real estate guys have heard it all before. In the eyes of the owners, who have melded their lives with a farm over decades, every place is unique. Where we, the stewards, see history and family memories, the real estate brokers see shabbiness and care-worn proprietors. We hope for a price that reflects values we hold dear in our lifestyle, that validates our work; they want a price that will move the “property.” They know the market, we know what went into the place, every hard decision, every outpouring of love.
They have no interest in chickens or compost or milk cows, the woodlot or the gardens. Their mindset centers on the properties they know have sold in the area in the past year or two. So-and-so much per acre. Buildings? Even better, but they’d rather sell a ranch house with a modern kitchen. These are idiosyncratic houses and workshop structures and nowhere near new. The price they quote insults and saddens us. Don’t mistake. These are good people, these brokers. We shouldn’t expect them to be other than who they are, realists. But we have been living ideals all this time, and there’s no fit here. We may wind up selling outright, but not with the help of these guys.
However, we haven’t looked at all the possibilities, when we’ve tried 1) farmsharing and 2) the real estate route. Let’s get creative here.
Let’s turn Aurora Farm into something it hasn’t been before. Let’s repackage it. It has been:
ANACHRONISTIC FAMILY FARM FOR SALE
In a spirit of thankful and awe-struck acknowledgement, I want to say here that Barbara has always been the guiding light and will behind this place. As she learned to be guided by the spirit of the land, she took a neglected, property and saw only its promise. She eased it toward its potential as a nurturing, family-centered gem of a farm. She worked and worked, whether she was in the moment daunted or exalted by the task. I admire her and love her for that. By now Barbara speaks with the voice of Aurora and manifests its being in her own.
Like the farm and like Barbara’s blooming confidence in the early years as a co-creative gardener/farmer, the seed business grew as an organism, from an inspired observation…to the germ of an idea–selling righteous seeds, grown right here…to the skill-building needed to transition from herb and salad grower to seed gatherer…on to all the marketing issues: printing seed envelopes, advertising, selling, the website. The business grew as an art form, idiosyncratic and quirky as its proprietors, all bound up with our lives financially and otherwise. We are the eaters, growers, gatherers, stewards, herdspeople, entrepreneurs, educators, compostmeisters, seedspeople.
What we have never been is business oriented, and this entity which has a web presence as a business, and various appurtenances that make it look real, is really kind of a shirt pocket affair. Can we rationalize and legitimize it, transform it into something recognizable, say, to the money people? Angels, donors, investors, grant givers, contributors, fellow travelers. What would the alternative to ANACHRONISTIC FAMILY FARM FOR SALE look like?
A Land Trust?
A Non-Profit Corporation?
A School? [of Life, of Seeds, of Healing, of Biodynamics]
An Intentional Community?
A “real” Corporation? i.e., a profit-making one
A Preserve, or Refuge of sane agriculture amidst the industrialization of our food supply?
Absorbed, perhaps into a larger, well-funded entity.
Maybe one or more of these would work for us, and we’ve even done a bit of web research on some of the options listed…Land Trust and non-profit status mainly. Here’s the rub.
We are already busy enough with day to day duties of stewardship. At this stage, when we should be moving into the role of elders, we just don’t have the juice to create something entirely new out of what’s here. These are new tricks and we’re old dogs. We don’t really want to learn the vocabulary, the social and legal parameters of something so complex as a corporation or trust.
This outfit needs an angel…several angels.
Calling a lawyerly angel who will sort through the options and advise;
Calling a spirit-in-business angel who will gently point out what we have overlooked amongst our resources;
Calling a reality angel to matchmake the dream and the real world;
Calling garden angels and stewardship angels to share the responsibility for the health of this land and all the beings on it;
Calling financial angels, for all we have is wrapped up in this place;
Calling marketing angels, for there are many seeds waiting for a garden;
Calling patrons, participants, supporters–people who appreciate the value of the seedwork, the worthiness of independent, family-sized initiatives like ours;
Calling Co-Conspirators and Accomplices, for this almost-subversive activity we’re engaged in, this revolutionary activity: growing our own food and sharing the seeds.
Above all we call for someone to come and learn from us so we can move gracefully into retirement in a win-win social environment with a sense that the legacy will go on.
Meanwhile we do get validated: we received last month a grant from the Angeles Arrien Foundation in recognition of our seedwork. We have a greenhouse project underway and requests for our catalogue come in pretty steadily.
We have been ahead of the curve for a few years, but more and more folks begin to understand that there are alternatives to the industrial approach to agriculture; nevermind the irradiation, genetic manipulation, sterilization, and hybridization of seeds…we’ll do it ourselves. A few even realize that seeds are too precious, too sacred to sell at all. Our business is a paradoxical enterprise all together, for our attitude can be Nature’s: seeds should be dispersed freely, given away to the gardeners of the planet, passed on as gifts and legacies, bits of now presented in faith and fond hope to then. The price we charge is not for the seeds themselves, but for the service of bringing them to the customer.
And when Barbara went to Olympia, Washington last spring to do a compost workshop for a few friends, the event cloned itself and she wound up doing three workshops in four days, one to students in the eco-agriculture program at Evergreen College. People are thirsty to understand fertility, to learn the techniques of soil building, to grasp the details and experience of the Biodynamic preparations. The building of fertile soil, our daily task in cooperation with the worms and the cow, the microbes and micro fauna, is second nature to us, but its practical application is a revelation to less experienced gardeners. There is no worthier endeavor than to teach compost making, no greater gift to the planet, and Barbara is a master teacher, one of those whose profound understanding of her subject on every level of her being—as a farmer, an artist, a mother, a cow person—inspires confidence and fosters competence in her students.
There are angels out there, and answers for our questions. We know this because we see many worthy endeavors funded and thriving, and this transitioning of land and livelihood has been a feature of the passing of human generations for eons. It’s no mystery how it’s done. In service to the things that count: family, Nature, fruitfulness, All Our Relations.
I paused in the woods today to look closely at the stump of a big larch we’d cut a few weeks ago, which has mostly made its way to the firewood stack. I started to count the rings, but my eyes and patience both failed me and I resorted to an estimate: It’s been 200 years that this lightning-battered tree had stood on that spot before we felled it. The crown, some 80 feet above the ground, was shattered by lightning at least once and there grew from that blasted top a half-dozen raggedy limbs, each searching the sky ungracefully, gallantly. The stump, just above the butt swell, is juicy with resin and those 200 or so rings testify to the transitory nature of our tenure here on this land. When this tree was a sapling in the first decade of the Nineteenth Century Lewis and Clark passed by a hundred miles south; Hudson Bay Company trappers had yet to penetrate the Rockies to this area; the place itself, this flat valley, was a rather unwelcoming marshland, visited by the indigenous band later called the Kootenai, but no-one’s homeland. This tree witnessed all the changes: the draining of the marsh, the logging, the influx of farmers and cowmen, greed and progress—and the irreverent slash of a national border just south of us. That historical backdrop even I—short-lived next to this tree–can comprehend. But the tree is short-lived next to the mossy rocks and the overlighting Deva of this landscape, and our 15-year tenure less than an eye blink to them. For us, 15 years is a great chunk of a lifetime; for the tree those years are brief seasons, but at least recorded in the rings; for the spirits of the place, our tenure will be unremembered except maybe a tiny blip on the long eons made by our halting attempts to co-create with the spirits of the place. SIDEBARSIDEBAR
SIDEBAR How It Is That We Can’t Just STOP
What We’re Doing
There is, as we have said, a greenhouse project underway…a turkey flock, raised from poults…a chicken flock, raised from chicks…all begun this year. And we continue to honor catalogue requests and seed orders.
You see, what we have been about here all the while is developing potential; nurturing while we are being nurtured, growing while we’re growing ourselves, finding ways for the land to fill human needs, while the humans balance the energies and call in the good, true and beautiful.
And then there are these two young men: William, almost 20, and Nathan, 18. While they may not be ready to take over, they deserve a shot at the legacy held by the land they were raised on, and to make their marks. For William, his building skills in stone, timber, and his calm approach with animals. Nathan too is a builder, of relationships and trust and his own leadership skills. He’s now a lead lift operator for Vale Resorts in Colorado and plans to be in Whistler, B.C. for the Winter Olympics.
And the seeds. How can we NOT gather the seeds as they come? Since they are presented to us freely from Nature, an obligation is upon us to disperse them.
While we hold in trust this land and heritage for whoever will be the new stewards we can allow free rein for everyone’s imagination, gifts and talents. There is a momentum stirring here and we aim to flow with the energies wherever they take us.