by Becky Code

 There’s a feeling of gentleness at Good Earth Farm. You feel it in how warmly the community members treat one another, in the tone of voice with which they speak to each other, in how they pitch in to help with someone else’s chores when something unexpectedly comes up.  As a recent 5-day visitor, I felt it in the patience with which they answered all my questions about the farm and their community, in their willingness to share their space with me, in their generosity in just opening their home to me, a complete stranger.

This is a working farm with cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens, yet the residents speak of the animals by name (except most of the 150 chickens) as if they are members of the family. There’s Lucy, the befuddled little lamb, who hangs out with the chickens instead of the other sheep, that is, until an unsuspecting jogger runs down the road, at which point Lucy follows them like a dog chasing cars. There’s Wendell, the goat, who has been known to give one of the hornless rams a black eye during their head-butting. There are two dairy cows:  Daisy, who, despite being milked every morning, still hasn’t caught on to the drill, and Kitty, who is pregnant and all black except for some peculiar white markings on her right flank which look like “11   ?”. (Interestingly, according to the I Ching, the symbol “11” represents “when heaven and earth meet.”) Inside the house are Peggy, the soulful beagle, and three cats, one of whom is Ginger, the Jekyll and Hyde feline, purring in your lap one minute then hissing at you with furry fury the next. She, like us, must have her tender breaking points, a reminder for us to be patient with each other and to not judge, lest ye be judged.

    A typical day begins with communal prayer at 6:30 a.m. which centers and focuses the priorities of the day on something beyond mere physical labor. There’s something about voices praying in unison at that time of the morning—pausing at the same moment, drawing in a breath at the same time—that conveys a sense of shared purpose, of interconnectedness, that resonated with me and which I don’t experience with individual prayer or with a once-a-week congregational  service. After the morning milking, there’s a group meeting to discuss and prioritize the projects that need to be worked on that day: garden, livestock, newsletter, grant writing, food distribution to local food banks, house chores, etc. Work is done until about 1 pm when lunch is served to whoever is there that day—residents, volunteers, visitors—none is turned away. Later in the afternoon, there’s time to work on individual projects before evening prayer and dinner.                          

     What I found most refreshing is the scheduled time after lunch to rest. Like most Type A personalities who are addicted to production and accomplishment, I tend to work myself to exhaustion if I’m not careful—if not physically, then most often spiritually, losing heart without noticing who’s really cracking the whip. In addition, one afternoon per week, the members of Good Earth Farm get away from the farm work, the phone calls, and visitors for about an hour and half to discuss some inspirational text they’ve been reading: Thomas Merton, St. Francis of Assisi. These built-in respites help maintain a healthy balance and a sustaining rhythm of work and rest, work and rest, that seems so natural, so easy to settle into.

    One of the missions of Good Earth Farm is to provide the Athens County food banks with quality fruits and vegetables grown on the farm. None of this substandard, restaurant-reject food, but top-of-the-line produce picked that day and delivered as fresh as possible to folks in need. Last year, the farm donated about 7,000 pounds of a wide variety of fresh produce to local food banks. This year, their third in operation, they hope to double that amount with the help of volunteers.  

    The farm operates under a principle of sustainable agriculture so the vast majority of food consumed there is what is raised on the farm.  I ate several dietary “firsts” during my visit there: bok choi (outside of a Chinese restaurant), turnips, other greens, homemade butter. But what took the cake were the burritos made from beef tongue which were surprisingly delicious. In the morning, I’d usually have a bowl of homemade granola topped with homemade yogurt and honey from their hives up on the hill. Lunches were usually hearty soups made with whatever vegetables were on hand and salads with fresh-picked lettuce and greens. Homemade applesauce or apple butter was all I needed for dessert. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so nutritiously—such a variety of foods and so little preservatives.

    The four men and four women of the Good Earth Farm community lives simply according to what they call “gospel poverty.” Many ride their bikes into town instead of driving a car whenever they can. There’s a washing machine but no dryer which becomes a challenge when the weather doesn’t permit wet clothes to be hung outside. Then they’re decorating all sorts of places in their bedrooms. Wet sheets get stretched out on several racks set up in the living room where there’s space to spread them out. And, like so many people in this country, most of the residents live without the so-called safety net of health insurance.

    What struck me is that the Good Earth Farm community isn’t merely a group of housemates. It’s not just a bunch of people sharing the work toward a common, albeit altruistic, goal.  It’s a shared life. No one’s playing taskmaster keeping track of who might be slacking in their responsibilities; no comparing of who might be working harder than whom, or who’s not completing their chores according to certain unspoken standards. They’re all in this together—compassionately, lovingly—living the reality that no one is perfect but trusting that they’re all trying to do their best, even if that day, they might fall just a little short. It’s not simply life on a farm, but a shared commitment to grounding their day in God, and supporting each other on each of their spiritual journeys.

    I feel so blessed to have had the privilege to witness this faith-community in action. But I also felt a tremendous amount of grief in leaving Good Earth Farm that Friday night—a place where paradoxically the soul can rest in the midst of much physical work. And I wondered how I could hold the farm’s peace in my heart while re-subjecting it to the clanging cymbals and beating drums, the dog-eat-dog mentality that all too often predominates in our everyday culture. There was a full moon on that cold November night, and as I slowly drove down the lane, the low beams of my searching headlights caught a glimpse of Kitty standing in the pasture calmly munching on the hay and alfalfa from the feed bin, radiating her “11 ?” like some cosmic, cud-chewing question.

 Becky Code teaches part-time at Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens, OH.

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