“Listen carefully, my child, to the instructions of your master, and incline the ear of your heart. Cheerfully receive and faithfully put into practice the advice of a loving parent, that by the toil of obedience you may return to God, from whom you have drifted by the sloth of disobedience. To you, therefore, my message is now directed, who, giving up your own will, take up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true king.”
This is the first paragraph from St. Benedict’s Rule, a book written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot.
My interest in this little book started after visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani in 2016. At the time, I was searching for a way to return to God in a way that felt more real and certain.
Mothers, farmers and other lay people have created extensive opportunities for professionals, specialists, nonprofits, consultants, and others who make a living working at the tasks that were meant to be done from a place of freedom.
God’s divine wisdom and intuition.
Many of these tasks are related to every day bodily functions, hunger, spiritual growth, economic disparities, and human values. The work of spiritual labor. It’s not that professionals cannot do these tasks, but my concern is in our dependence on them. Emotional labor has been turned into work that is only valued once something has been produced from it, once a financial transaction has occurred.
As a mother and farmer that has pulled up a chair in professional spaces I found myself surprised at the assumptions of my motives and the confusion caused by my intentions. Farm women of Faith especially face a unique burden as they walk out of the fields of contemplation and the kitchens of essential labor to find a world that’s built on an economy of oppression.
I’ve been silenced, but my strength is multiplied when I choose to sit in silence.
from a place of stillness and solitude I rise up again and again to face the challenge of the work at hand, and the need for storytelling to bring us back home. In the process of modernizing we’ve lost the innate ability to live into the richness of God given opportunities. Eating, moving our bodies, making babies and birthing them, even the act of dying has become difficult to do among the non-essential “add-on’s” of death care.
i want to live a life of all-in, essential, God powered experiences that bless me, my family, and our community.
Pre-civil war lead spoon found on an old home place on our farm. It likely spooned up food much like what we are growing and preparing on this farm now. A woman, no doubt, spooned food by force rather than choice, and that matters. May we learn a new way to understand how essential good food is to making and keeping us healthy. May that opportunity grow towards our neighbors in ways we’ve never seen.
Food is a deeply personal act that gets repeated throughout life in different ways depending on the season, our frame of mind, the people we are with, our financial means, and most importantly-our hunger.
We are in a time when many who, by privilege, upbringing, or previously inspired circumstances, will CHOOSE to continue eating nutritious food or in need of an emotional break might make the decision to eat comfort and convenience foods. The whiz-bang rush of emotions provided by a childhood treat or a midnight college splurge might take them back in time in just the way they need right now.
Alternatively, there are people in our community with health conditions caused by a lack of medical care, income, stability, and they too are looking for the whiz-bang that connects them to something that feels good. Fresh food offered in a deep act of love can and often is, that thing.
I've experienced that in my own life with the taste of a kiwi at 7, and witnessed it in others time and time again.
For those who have believed that we need a more equitable food system, but also need a reprieve, that's okay.
We take turns in this work. Our farm, by partnerships and collaboration, is ready right now. Our kids are a little older and our farm is established. We've got some incredible women working on the farm and we've got the time and the means.
When we said Local Food For Everyone, we didn't mean everyone at one time, but rather everyone in their time.
That's why you see our farm responding to supplemental nutrition programs @cfmbgky, delivery through HOTEL INC, distribution of food safely to COVID-19 positive patients-because it is absolutely the time of many right now.
This is equity, you who have the means encouraging us to sacrifice so others can have their moment.
Very soon, we will need some of you to support and surround us as we continue to grow more food and distribute it to everyone who wants it, and until then it's okay to rest friends.
We will keep you informed of any way you can keep supporting us from the safety of your home.
My mama and Sterling planted these tulips for us last fall, and I’d never have imagined that she wouldn’t be able to come visit while they were in bloom.
They were planted at the same time as the tunnels providing us spring production now. There’s a special beauty in these crops that offer a lesson on thoughtfulness and patience. What felt innovative and abundant just a month ago suddenly feels limited in the wake of an increase desire for fresh, local, and safe food.
These lessons are requiring Nathan and I to sit down to discuss our options, reach out to our consumers and partners, contemplate and pray in such a way that we are good stewards of the food we grow. It's important that we ration both the crops and our energy so we can be in this farming thing for the long haul.
In these times, it’s hard not to harvest every plant down to the ground in a single picking knowing we could easily sell them all at a premium price. It’s difficult to resist getting more than our fill and storing up more than our share.
In order to resist the desire to work harder and longer hours we are balancing work with time at the creek or in the woods. We are picking tulips and delivering them to the door of those we love, but can't embrace, at least for now.
Every creative idea in my work as a farmer, mother, and community member has come from fear that took me into social isolation so that I could grieve, pray, and contemplate what action was most useful for myself and others.
The silence and solitude was always painful, but necessary. It’s when I finally surrender to the fear, admitting that I'm not in control, and remembering that there's power in small acts of hope that a simple idea would finally come to mind. My heart rate slows, I can fall asleep more easily, my mind stops racing, and I'm more certain that my decision will not become unknowingly destructive.
Contemplation in action might be seen outwards like a way to creatively feed kids fresh food or an inward expression of seeing my children with respect and dignity.
I never know how long I'll be called to this time of stillness, maybe a day or a month and one time it was an entire year, but I've learned to trust the process.
Acting too quickly with anxiety driven fear or remaining in my own isolation for too long doesn't allow me to lean into the inner voice that provides the answers that move us forward.
It's easy to allow fear to paralyze you when it's really meant to organize your inner and outer world in such a way that you feel at peace and your love meets others right where they are with exactly what they need.
I'm spending time in prayer each day hoping that these times of heightened fear and social distancing will bring about creative ways of meeting our basic needs with less resistance to what's best for us.
It won't be easy work, but nothing that holds deep meaning is.
#centeringprayer #contemplationinaction #benedictineoblate
Our farm is at a paradox during this moment in time. We want everyone who has been committing their food dollars to local food to keep getting access. This means our all-you-can eat farm members who account for 50% of our income, long time customers at @cfmbgky the homeless and food insecure at HOTEL INC the BG City and Allen County Scottsville schools and customers at @boycegeneralstorellc
We’ve been very intentional about building these programs with relational providers who carry the same values as our family because times like this are inevitable.
A particular focus right now are the FRESH RX FOR MOM and SNAP participants @cfmbgky
Want to listen in to Nathan and I sharing our story in co-founding the market, teaching beginning farmers, implementing food access programs, and eventually becoming full-time farmers?
Our episode of Breaking Beans is live and we can be found at the 10 minute mark:
When we made a decision to become full-time farmers we made a commitment to a daily practice of solitude. Our lives were suddenly filled with questions, concerns and the overwhelming unknowns. We had every reason to stay busy with distractions, but prayer and reflection became increasingly necessary to success in our work and peace in our hearts.
It wasn’t easy at first, but over time we learned to crave the rhythm and ritual of silence. With practice stillness lowers the heart rate, regulates the nervous system and clears the mind. It’s then that intuitive and creative solutions that serve us, our family, and the community rise up with more clarity.
From the moment I knew I’d write you a letter, I’ve pondered on what I could say that would be both encouraging and useful to you. After a couple weeks of contemplation I’ve settled on two things:
First, motherhood is at its best when kept simple.
Rhythm and ritual are grounding ways to restore the home back to the values you hold for yourself and family. A bowl of fruit has been that grounding force in our home since the children were little. A simple way to bring peace and presence to the chaos of everyday life.
Second, motherhood offers a woman a special gift. The insight and ability to engage in deep work in a world that prefers what’s shallow, fast, fleeting.
A woman creates a baby, but born with it is a natural instinct that when tuned into allows a mother to view work quite differently. Busy work, that perpetuates decision fatigue, and anxiety can be put to rest in favor of work that produces real fruit.
When a woman looks at her work, in the home and out in the community, from this new vantage point she is more capable to know when to say yes, and when to say no. When she makes a commitment she shows up 100% ready to do the work, and that takes other people by surprise. Our work becomes more equitable, inclusive, innovative and effective. We become what we always knew we could be.
We thank our baby, we acknowledge ourselves.
This work deters the right people, as hard as that can be-let them go, but it attracts the right people, every time-cling to them. Night feedings, soothing a baby, resting your body, and connecting intimately with those who love you provides space for silence and solitude.
Say hello to the resistance to this stillness so that you don’t hold onto it too tightly. Allow it to rise up in you so that it can flow up and out, replacing itself with strength and never ending love.
In moments when you notice your strength isn’t what the world has defined as power the people around you will recognize it and call it what it really is: joy and zeal, the very things the world most needs right now.
The world is slowly waking up, and mothers know the lullaby.
We wanted to send a message from a farm family in Kentucky.
Those of us who have escaped traditional roles, the hustle and bustle, early morning wake up calls and the constant contact found in group activities are breathing a sort of privileged sense of relief right now.
It’s a time when those around us are reconsidering their overactive schedules, figuring out how to balance work, life, kids, and daily meals.
There was a time when, not pushed by circumstance or risk, that we worked through those same things.
This is the time when you hold us accountable.
What is easy for us to lose sight of, and even hope for, is the difference between self-actualized privilege and forced figuring it out on the seat of your pants while you struggle to make ends meet.
Please know, NMA, is here for it all. If anyone you know participates in SNAP, WIC, Senior Nutrition, or if you know a mom to be on Medicaid please reach out. We can get them immediate assistance to food access @cfmbgky and double their dollars.
If anyone you know is food insecure in Warren County and needs food access through HOTEL INC please let us know.
If someone you know might fall through the cracks because they don’t qualify for a program, but schools being out or companies closing means food gets tight, please let us know.
As privileged and beautiful as our life is here on our farm, we care about you all and we are willing to do what needs doing to get people loved and fed.
This is a portrait of Michelle Howell, a hardworking farmwife, mother of five, author, and advocate. On the left side of the bust you can read text from the poem “Anyway” that was on a wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India. “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.” “The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.”
Leslie Nichols, Artist