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A Symphony of Collaboration

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A Symphony of Collaboration

Recently I wrote about the sound of swarming bees, which I later described as a phenomenal humming symphony. ‘Bees-on-the-move’ is just one example of the type of obscure live music that can bless a farm. Sometimes, my favorite agrarian concerts require a bit of imagination to hear.

When farm visitors first enter our high tunnel in early spring, a feeling of reverence envelops them. I liken it to walking into a concert hall, an old one-room schoolhouse, or a small chapel. It’s quiet, but it’s not soundless. Stories reverberate off the walls; there is music simply in the architecture of the place.

In one eighty-foot bed, slim bean vines spiral and twirl upward, flanked by lines of slender ballerina-like brilliant red beet stems, all seemingly en-pointe. In another bed, two rows of flat bluish-green kale leaves surround each stalk and arc outward like fireworks popping on-cue while willowy fennel fronds sweep up the middle of the bed—a tender anise-scented lace. Dark red and lime green rosette lettuces create the patchwork quilt of a comfortable lullaby that hugs the ground of a third bed. Above, angular multi-jointed pepper plants dressed in glossy green with purple trimmed nodes, rise rigidly like conductors with their stiff wands. Puffy, lavender colored Phacelia softens the hard corners of this room, a diminuendo edging to this boisterous performance.

It’s an odd juxtaposition: the space has all the energy of a sold-out concert, yet our human ears hear only distant birdsong or maybe a soft breeze. More often than not, my farm visitors sense this dichotomy. Often they stumble as they try to put into words this experience, saying: “It’s thrumming with life,” or “I can almost hear the plants growing.” It’s true. Packed in every particle of soil is life, multi-layered and pouring forth. Being in the presence of these miraculous plants in high states of inaudible growth can make a human feel as if they are outside the glass window, looking in.

I’ve come to believe such “thrumming” is the eloquent music of millions of soil, sky, and plant conversational exchanges. Think of it as an improvisational symphony of collaboration: interchanges of root, insect, leaf, macrobiotic and microbiotic soil life, all connecting for the benefit of Life itself. Each being from eggplant to earthworm, is driven to fulfill a mission by utilizing innate talents. Each being in essence is singing its gifts to the world.

Just think. If we could tune into the right radio frequency, would our ‘quiet’ early morning produce field sound as raucous as a New York city street on Friday night?

Just think. What if all humans could live up to their potential and work toward a mutually beneficial equilibrium as plants do? What would our symphony of collaboration sound like?

Each year, with eyes wide open toward the woeful march of development encroaching ever closer, I choose to settle into the rhythm and magic of many quiet, but not silent, green and lively lives. This is where I find refuge and inspiration. Like the mother swallow, or a swarm of bees, a plant knows itself in ways humans may not grasp. Each being has a mission, purpose, and potential that is not questioned. Each being takes what it needs, yes, but there is a sort of interminable giving. The scales of botany’s reciprocity are balanced. Plants can no doubt be self-serving – a blackberry isn’t sensitive to a fir seedling’s need for light. But even a blackberry does not play favorites. It shares it fruits freely: no living creature is turned away.

Whether in the high tunnel or out in my fields, when I stand in the presence of growing plants, I know I am surrounded by billions of generous beings, all united by their drive to express their unique gifts to the world. One universal melody carries the tune: the exquisite, common refrain we call photosynthesis. More than anything, I wish I could hear the song of photosynthesis. Take a breath. The oxygen you inhale? That’s the gift of plants and sunlight– the quintessential symphony of collaboration.


Photosynthesis can be represented using a chemical equation.

The overall balanced equation is:

6CO2 + 6H2O ——> C6H12O6 + 6O2
Sunlight energy

Where: CO2 = carbon dioxide
H2O = water
Light energy is required
C6H12O6 = glucose
O2 = oxygen


I hosted a group of Culinary Arts Instructors on a farm tour recently, and we stopped near a long bed of tall, purple-green plants. This was last year’s flower sprout crop, now abloom with humble-looking yellow petals. I asked everyone to stand among the waist high plants and fall silent. A previously unnoticed humming became audible. It was only then my guests became aware of the thousands of insects in our field. A thrumming passel of pollinators was actively foraging the ‘unimpressive’ yellow flowers. Suddenly, fascination filled the field too.

I broke the spell and pointed to the newly planted squash 30 feet away and the budding orchard 300 feet away. I explained the need for a healthy population of pollinators to ensure our crops are viable.

We feed the bees so the bees can feed us. In the complexity of our modern lives, the simple truth of how things work is right before our eyes, or rather, sometimes right before our ears. Yet, too often, we disconnect ourselves from the natural places where we can see it, hear it, and understand it directly, without interpretation, for ourselves.

Working farms are places full of such many points of connection to our natural world, and surprisingly also to our most sincere selves.* On a farm, one can watch, smell, taste, and feel working models of Life because they are everywhere, like role models and guides showing us ways we might walk more skillfully in the world. Listening may sometimes be a more difficult avenue for understanding, but stretching one’s auditory imagination can lead to extraordinary insights.

I grew up in a household in which it was understood that those of us living a life of privilege have an unspoken responsibility to work to better the lives and the environment of those around us. Our greatest power to transform untenable situations rests in knowing our gifts and knowing how to leverage them for the greater good. No two of us carry the same “genetic gift makeup.” No two of us can contribute exactly the same thing to the world, and no two of us need try.

Here at my farm, I keep working to reveal the invisible, often inaudible, gifts of life at our feet and fingertips. I keep working to translate these ordinary miracles, which support our very human existence, in the hopes of sparking very discernable human curiosity. Curiosity opens the door to gratitude and to the discovery of our own incomparable gifts. Cultivating a listening spirit is one way forward. ~AJ

*In this context, farmers become ecological system interpreters, stewards of reciprocity, and teachers of agricultural literacy. It is through the farm’s many ‘points of connection’ that I continue to discover the true nature of my work and of my gifts.

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite…

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born, and in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, and to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret…

Work is love made visible.

– Excerpts from “On Work” by Kahlil Gibran 

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