The second week on the farm had important lessons about control. The first came when the derecho storm system wrecked havoc throughout the state and took away power from the farm for a day and from parts of town for an entire week.

During this time, I wondered about things like drinking water and flushing toilets and staying cool in heat waves. We were blessed, in a way, having power restored so quickly. The storm also brought rain, for which the friars had prayed for quite some time. Though the days without power were certainly not a welcome side-effect, the rain ended weeks of drought and brought about a resurgence of growth in the garden.

Especially the weeds.

After we regained power on the farm, I biked into town and stopped to clear limbs from the bike path. Several trees were still down in town, though people were going about their lives calmly. In fact, Athens’ local Brew Week was still in high spirits uptown. As bars and restaurants lost stock in the outage and slowly regained power, they offered things like $2.00 beers! Discount chips and salsa! and the ever-heavenly Air-conditioning!

A city boy, I loved that last bit.

It was in these moments that I first started thinking about control: the efforts we make to ensure comfort (television, central AC) and survival (clean water, relief in heat waves). And maybe I’ve been a bit of a control freak for most of my life. The message sent by much of Athens was simple: keep going.

No power? Drink up! Eat up! Keep calm and carry on!

At the farm, this lesson became clearer. Organic sustainable farming—in my current three weeks of experience—involves hours of sweat and dirt and work. The larger part? Trust. Waiting. Not being in control.

Though I have no comparison to mainstream production farming, these methods seem to be ideal. Pesticides and herbicides would no doubt make farming easier—it might be easier to control weeds with chemicals targeted to kill them than with hours and pulling and hoeing by hand—but their effects on the surrounding land and water may not be best for future generations of crops, wildlife, and human communities.

Further, living at the mercy of nature with only natural irrigation and well water to abate droughts means living without a degree of control—and with a degree of faith—that is astounding. The Common Friars’ work is ever more impressive when you consider the commitment they have to simple living and simple healthy farming, even if that means comparatively lower yields. But that’s precisely the point: good food, honest food, honest living.

It isn’t so much about controlling the land as it is about working with the land in this intricate, exhausting, and inspiring dance of growth and death and starting over.

City boy. There’s still so much to learn.


Robert Meissner

2012 Summer Intern