“They’ve taken over the farm! The landscaping committee”! Jin Fan Shr, a Dharma Master, tells Mark, a good friend who also managed the organic farm in our Buddhist community. “You haven’t heard?” “Oh...” Mark said slowly. He is sad, but he has been expecting something of the sort. I listen from the side as Jin Fan Shr goes on to explain that people from higher up were displeased with the way things were running and that the landscaping committee was taking over management of the farm. Mark, as a volunteer, was to be assigned other duties.
Six years ago, I joined a group of kids and worked in the farm for the morning. We dug carrots from the soil, marveling at how small, dirty, and ugly they were. And though I finished the day with clothes and feet dirty enough to drive my mother insane, from that time on, I was absolutely sold to the farm. Despite dire warnings from my parents about the need to study during the summer (I mean, really?), I’d bike down to work there whenever I could- usually a few days a week. If I had been forced to do work as a punishment, I would have enjoyed it much less, even disliked it. But as a volunteer, I enjoyed the work and therefore did more of it than I ever would have if it were forced upon me. I would charge through lanes of weeds, ripping and tearing them from the soil as if they had done me great personal wrong. Then I’d bask in glory as Mark, 20 years my senior, would view the scene of destruction open-mouthed. Or I would methodically search the zucchini plants for any stray squash lurking in the depths of the prickly leaves and stems, picking each one out as if it were another sneaky thief caught by the Grand Detective Miguel.
Sprawled over acres of land in a corner of the property belonging to the monastery, The Farm (a proper noun only in my head) was where I could contribute to the community. The notion of earning your lunch never rang more true to my ears than when I sat down to eat at the community dining hall and ate vegetables that I had helped plant and harvest. I worked to experience the joy of watching plants flourish under my care, the satisfaction in weeding out the harmful, the fulfillment after a long morning’s harvest. And especially, I worked because I was free. Free to stop and start whenever I wanted. And so was the farm: free. From its jungles of overgrown weeds to it’s hectic schedule and harvesting season, it seemed miraculous that everything worked out in this chaos.
In late summer, we’d harvest wild Amaranth that had completely conquered whole sections of vegetables, suffocating the poor plants that we’d actually planted. We’d bring truckloads of these to the kitchen only to be soundly reprimanded by the kitchen staff for overloading them with vegetables. A lawnmower cleaning off the fringes of a field once cut into a hose, resulting in a fountain of water that jetted fifteen feet into the air for half an hour, nearly drowning a poor mole that happened to make it’s way across the field. One summer, Mark, my brother and I would plant watermelons at a feverish pace to make it in time for a soccer game. In the fall, the melons turned out fine. A few were rotten, but Mark and another friend decided not to waste food, and ate what they thought was still okay, only to be violently sick later on. Once while harvesting kale, I was startled to find that the undersides of the leaves were all white, only to discover that I was looking at millions of tiny aphids.
These events entertained me greatly, but they were now a thing of the past, for I would never again be able to enjoy the farm in the same way, knowing that I’d be working under people who had fired a good friend. The whole feel to the farm would be different as well. It had always been run by volunteers, who then gave produce to the kitchen at the monastery. Now, it would be run by workers on steady pay who might even sell to markets in town. The community aspect of the farm, I thought, would crumble before my eyes.
Months go by, and from what I hear, the landscaping committee hasn’t planted much, and they’ve even closed up a greenhouse. The few plants they do have were bought as small sprouts, making me relish in the possibility that they don’t even know how to grow from seed. Although I enjoy seeing the new management struggle, inside, I pray for the old days. I had cultivated a bond with the farm. Together with nature, I cared for and tended to life, I exulted when it prospered and mourned when it died. From the sudden, hectic mass harvests to the gut-wrenching stench of compost, I learned to love the farm and its ways, From the time I first knew that it would be taken away until this very day, I have increasingly felt its absence as a void inside me. And though it gives me vindictive pleasure to think that the new management is hapless and unproductive, I know I’d rather be in my work pants and straw hat, picking out potatoes from the damp, soft soil.