Farm News

A Journal of Joy

four blue robins eggs in a nest

Each day, I honor a simple writing practice. In the early morning, I sit down to unwind my yesterday and mindfully plan my today. One breath at a time, I listen for the thrumming in the symphony of my own life. Out of my heart and through my pen, I carry the tiniest beakful of spent straw and common mud onto the page before me.

Metaphorically, each day I venture away from my rote and trodden footpath, away from the raucous rushing river of ordinary time that keeps flying, flying, flying away too quickly. I pick up my pen, take a breath, and meander down a quiet side channel. I sit down on the proverbial rock at water’s edge. I cool my weary feet in stillness and gift myself the opportunity to look skyward.

Some days I write just a few lines. Some days, the page fills. The notes I jot down fall under three simple headings:

  • Yesterday’s Joy
  • Yesterday’s Gratitude
  • Yesterday’s Discovery

First and foremost, I make a concerted effort to remember the absolute brightest moments of my day. Then I reflect on who and what I can be immediately thankful for. Finally, I consider what my journey has taught me about my work or myself. My notes are never polished, comprehensive, or all-inclusive. I take care not dredge up distant memories; I limit myself to exactly the last twenty-four hours of my life. This is my method of cultivating mindfulness; a way to pause so I can catch up on some necessary mental housekeeping.

Occasionally, my thoughts are languid and still. I cradle my hot tea and wait patiently until the memories peek out from hidden places. Other times the recollections tumble out like a nest of wrestling fox kits. Within the covers of a non-descript grey notebook I record compelling ideas, specific phrases, descriptions of precious time spent with those I love or things I witnessed.

“Taught a very young gardener how to properly harvest her first ripe carrot today—elation, then understanding flooded her face. Speechless.”

Sometimes just a fragment of experience, a scribbled sketch, or a meaningful quote fill the pages of what I have come to call my Journal of Joy.

I start my day with this practice, because at dawn, my critical judgments, fears, and worries aren’t fully awake yet. Unshackled, I don’t try to solve or fix anything. I just revel in the gift of yesterday, knowing it is a stepping-stone into tomorrow.

Joy, Gratitude, Discovery. I freely remember the sparks of connection, of genuine resonance that I personally experienced. What tiny moment spoke to me, unleashed a wave of goodness, touched or inspired me? Over the last twenty-four hours, who was kind to me? Who made me laugh? What grace did I witness? What positive change did I help create? I’m not looking for life changing events, rather the tiniest flashes of pure connection, of complete authenticity.

There’s an old saying that we often forget exactly what was said to us, but we never forget how it made us feel. Once every day, I pause to glean such richness of feeling. I categorically collect my most powerful emotions, the often unspoken but highly potent energy swirling just underneath the surface of the pond of daily life. If I’ve had a setback, if I didn’t act with compassion, if I lost patience or failed to skillfully navigate an opportunity? These hurdles find a home in my notebook too. Joyful and difficult, I take time to acknowledge the facts and uncover the truth of the experience, to transform the emotion into a tangible discovery that will guide my actions moving forward.

My Journal of Joy is a way to rebalance the scales of perception. This is critical. The inky shadows of fear and loss must not override the self-sowing goodness taking root in all manner of obscure places. This writing practice is one way of carding the wool, of separating of the wheat from the chaff. It’s like sweeping the kitchen floor, or washing the sink after the dishes are done, a way to respect the fortune, grace and beauty right before our eyes.

My little Journal of Joy– it’s a small thing, taking up no more space or time in my life than a one-cup coffee break. Until recently, no one even knew about it. I rarely share my words or sketches, and yet it’s becoming the most valuable book of my life.

For one, this practice effectively slows down time for me. I relive the most moving moments of my daily life and thus can cherish them a second time. I’m no longer the kid who rips off the wrapping paper, stares at the Christmas toy for two seconds before moving on to the next one. That may be how I move through hectic days, but my Journal of Joy asks me as a matter of routine, to collect the gifts, one by one, smooth the crumpled wrapping paper and take stock of the bounty with which I am richly imbued. I give myself the opportunity to celebrate again the clever, funny, tender, rich or peace-filled moments I was fortunate enough to encounter in the last day of my life. What could be better medicine for the soul?

Secondly, this habit is a magnificent way to tend the inquisitive spirit. How can one bring more joy into their life if they don’t quite know what elements support it? By reminding myself of my joys, I incrementally begin to more deeply understand what supports my health and happiness. I learn the peculiarities and specifics of what fills my reservoir. Or rather, what experiences allow me to be in the flow, i.e. help me feel most effortlessly and completely my highest and best self?

Over time, patterns emerge, and I am able to see myself from a very different perspective, often with deeper, kinder affection. As the pages of my journal fill, I can clearly connect the types of experiences that light up my world. What exactly was I doing when Joy flitted down and chittered happily on my shoulder? I begin to clarify what specific situations enliven me, boost my enthusiasm, and enrich my life. Seemingly unconnected events are now easily correlated; I can recognize the commonality of vastly different experiences through the undercurrent of parallel actions, partners, or environment. Was I was teaching or tending or leading when Joy arrived? Possibly I was fixing or solving or fine-tuning. And who was I with? And where? This cross-reference reflection upon our many ‘yesterdays’ is a powerful form of internal evolution. Experience-by-experience, I am gathering the very clues that will lead me toward a jubilant independence. With joy in the lead, I step closer each day to becoming my best self.

Finally, my daily musings remind me of how vitally nourishing it is to allow yourself to love without explanation, justification or judgment. In a society confined by untenable, narrow ideals of perfection, the power of reassurance and the celebration of individuality must not be underestimated.

a cat, hiding in a tractor, gets a chin scratch from a farmers gloved hand

Imagine if one of your ancestors had likewise kept a Journal of Joy? Page by page, day by day: an honest testament of what one loved, of what one unabashedly cherished most, of what one wrestled with and discovered about the living of their unique life. A private record of unfiltered truth, small delights, and deeply personal vignettes, bestowed to the ones who are now walking the next mile of this unfolding human experience.

A Journal of Joy is not a once in a lifetime retrospective tool, but rather a real time offering, a testimony recorded as we lived it: one short day, one small joy at a time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to recount when and where and how it felt to be completely alive?

Where and when Joy perks up her soft little ears in your own life is worth noticing. Our little barn swallow uses mud as the connecting link, an interchange that supports the weight of home and protects newborn life. Likewise, we can use joy as a hidden infrastructure to support the discovery of who we really are and to protect the newborn possibilities of our precious, irreplaceable gifts. No one else can do this work for us; the journey is ours alone.

There is one final reason I am devoted to my Journal of Joy. My allegiance to optimism does not mean I live in a Pollyianish dream world. I espouse a philosophy of joy precisely because for much of my life, I have wrestled with a sensitive, impatient, and judgmental nature. Once, I actually carried the family nickname of Bad Attitude.

So on the increasingly rare day I can’t quite tap into the cheerful faith and hopeful positivity I admire, I don’t write. Instead, I open my journal and allow myself to flip backwards through the past entries. Let me tell you this. It never, ever fails. Sparks of happiness fly up at me, from every, single page. ~ A

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Befriending the Common

SATURDAY, June 4, 2016 CSA WEEK #2

Dear CSA Friends,

As a farmer, I have the unique pleasure of developing close friendships with a diverse group of… plants. Did you think I was going to say people? From apple trees to zucchini bushes, I greatly enjoy getting to know the characteristics, personalities and temperaments of many different crops. Humans develop and deepen friendships with each other, and likewise over time my plant relationships have expanded with respect and knowledge for the miraculous leafy ‘neighbors’ that feed, shelter, cloth and heal us humans. I have learned not only what the edible parts of many plants look like, but also how each plant carries itself through all stages of growth.

Just as the certain curve of a nose or the characteristic broad arc of a smile allows to us recognize siblings or connect parents to children, plants of the same “family” sometimes share common traits. Because I have held carrot seed, seen carrot seedlings, harvested full sized carrots and smelled the flowers of the carrot plant, I can easily spot her cousins, the Apiaceae family. I thus come to know celery and cilantro, chervil, dill, fennel and parsley by their lacy leaves, slow growth habit and beautiful, delicate flower clusters.

Just like blossoming family friendships, the more I learn of plants, the more my admiration deepens. My fascination and reverence for all these photosynthesizing kin extends to common, often much maligned plants. One friend in particular, the lowly dandelion, has been so unfairly vilified it puzzles and astounds me.

Dandelions are truly extraordinary plants! In The Teeth of the Lion, the Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion, Anita Sanchez explores the myths and truths of this most ubiquitous plant. Here’s ten reasons I respect the dandelion.

Chemical manufacturers have characterized dandelions as ugly and weedy. They have made us feel shameful if we ‘allow’ their presence in our lawns. This is a plant that has been systematically targeted by herbicide companies simply to sell weed-killer. Notice your immediate reaction to the thought of letting the dandelion thrive in your yard or on a pot on your porch. Sound crazy?

Tug a little on the origins of your beliefs.

Just because our greater society believes this to be a useless, weedy plant, do you?

If we can have the motivation to explore how we reject or invite the natural world into our lives, we open ourselves up to the possibility of a more peaceable coexistence. We stop making enemies where there are none.  We stop taking for granted wonder and beauty simply because they are common.

Dismantling our assumptions requires us to tease apart truth from the judgment of societal ignorance. Once we learn who our true friends are, we can begin to make quiet, simple choices that speak to our highest values.

Your Farmer, AJ


Excerpt from “What the Plants Say”

Weed, it is you with your bad reputation that I love the most.
Teach me not to care what anyone has to say about me.
Help me to be in the world for no purpose at all except for the joy of sunlight and rain.
Keep me close to the edge, where everything wild begins.

~Poet Tom Hennen

This Week’s Pick Six

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1: Nature’s Apprentice

Saturday, May 28, 2016 CSA Week #1

CSA Friends – Welcome!

Have you ever witnessed the behind-the-scenes activities of a road show or an art exhibit? The set up and take down, the bustling, diverse workers, the dramatic transformation of one small stage or space over a short period of time? A year on an organic farm is akin to such a production. This one stars Mother Nature and features a colorful supporting crew of agrarian characters of all shapes and sizes. Your regular visits to the farm this year will give you a glimpse of one such ecologically inspired creation.

Often times my work makes me feel partly like a roadie, partly like a stagehand and mostly like an artist’s apprentice. In January, seeds arrive and the “canvas” is readied. In February, out come the 7 foot metal posts to build bean and tomato trellis. In March, we stage for transplanting the aromatic stocky stemmed tomato plants with fine thin hairs radiating like delicate antennas.

All summer such work continues. One moment, one seed, one stake, one plant, one weed, one harvest at a time, we study and connect to the ‘art’ Nature and her weather patterns craft. As devoted assistants, we do our best to nurture her offerings. Like good apprentices, we concern ourselves with healthy soil, plant placement, lighting, temperature, and of course, supplying good, cool drinks of water as needed. Each day, we put our hands and heart to the soil, trying not to control or dominate, but instead, watching for the drama to unfold, or listening for the melody of the season. We take copious notes, attempting to choreograph the ordinary and yet absolutely mysterious creational process. How does the Earth miraculously transform the building blocks of life into delicious, nutritious fare, and freely for our taking?

In winter rains we haul the posts backs to the bin near the barn. We do so, knowing, if providence allows, our same hands, those same posts, will meet again the following spring.

April Joy Farm is one big food – centered experience that travels on the river of the seasons: from soil, seed and field, to hands and hearts, to Home.

Home, where chopping a spring scallion or finding our fingertips stained with the brilliance of rhubarb, we touch and taste and smell and feel new gratitude for the Artist’s tireless work.

Because of each passing experience, each nourishing meal, we become aware of the extraordinary masterpieces we once held so unthinkingly in our hands.

We begin to question what a compassionate partnership between the natural ecosystem and human desires truly entails. We discover deep joy in celebrating the art of every day life.

We trust over the weeks ahead, you too will begin to hear snatches of the sweet and most assuredly surprising tune our Nature, the ultimate Artist, is forever composing.

Your Farmer, ~ AJ

To stay in one place and watch the seasons come and go is tantamount to constant travel: one is traveling with the earth.    ~Marguerite Yourcenar

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The Truth of our ‘Shoulds’

I received so much delightful feedback about my essay on the pitfalls of should, I thought I would share how questioning your ‘shoulds’ can have very practical impact on one’s life.  – AJ

Whether or not we should do anything is the question lying on the top layer of soil. It’s not really at the root of the matter. Should we do this particular thing? What I’ve learned through lots of wrong turns is that it’s best not to immediately bust out a pros and cons list. That will get exhausting all too quick. Instead, I find it most helpful to investigate what it is that is leading me to ask that question in the first place. For instance, behind the question of whether we should add beef cattle to the farm is some sort of motivation. In essence, the initial question itself is rather insubstantial. My job as a farmer who wishes to keep her farm afloat, and do so happily, is to uncover the impetus that is pushing the question. When I notice a question rise, is it because cows would improve the quality of the hay field with their manure? Or is it because they would keep it mowed so we wouldn’t have to use diesel and the tractor? Because it would mean we’d have to finally do something about that raggedy fence line that is falling into disrepair? Do we want cows because more than one person has asked us to sell beef? Or do we want cows for the value of their manure? Is a team of oxen calling to us? Maybe deep down we really just love the sound of cattle lowing or those huge glassy eyes reflecting some sort of calm out into the world.

Most always, I’ve been shocked to discover that the true reason I am motivated to want to do something may not have any relationship to how I justify the action.  For instance, I realized that when I thought: “we should replace that whole section of deer fence” it wasn’t really because we have deer eating everything in our fields. I’m shocked to realize that my underlying motivation is really about ego. I want our farm to look ‘neater.’ I want to impress everyone that comes down the lane. It has nothing to do with the practical workings of the farm. It’s all about how I want others to view me. Wow. That’s a devious buddy of an ego at work, right?

Whatever it is, uncovering the driving force, the energy so to speak, underneath the should question is a critical step. Of course, if there is only one reason, it’s a fairly straightforward analysis. Spreadsheets and estimates, calendars and labor budgets can be hammered out. You can more readily decide where to go from there. But things can get mucky when you discover there are multi-faceted reasons why. This is tough especially if the why is just a feeling or resonance you can’t quite put into words. In that case, it all comes down to how much effort and courage you have to get the shovel and really dig as deep as it takes for as long as it takes to bring to light the driving need that has sent its little sprouts of clues up into the sunshine.

You have to really look yourself in the mirror and ask again, “What am I trying to accomplish?” and to that end: “What is it I am willing to let go of?” Whatever it is, the determining the logic underneath the should question is a critical step for me. Otherwise, I end up tackling more than I need to, and life is harder than it needs to be.

Sometimes excavating motivation and intent isn’t as hard at all.  I recommend regular bouts of creativity. Weld, paint, build, sing, collage, sew, practice your cartwheels, bake… let your left brain rest and let your right brain play – however she or he joyful wants to.  Early in the morning, I make it a point to sit with pen, paper and myself.  On the page, I let myself wander wherever I feel like going, with no judgement, no critics, no fears on board.  If I’m thinking about a certain should, I will often gain the perspective I need to move forward with confidence and clarity.


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