It’s been a busy spring for Concrete Beet Farmers. We started intensive planning for our farm in the dead of winter. At the time, spring couldn’t come fast enough, and all we wanted was to get our hands in the dirt. As the snow finally melted and we began working outside, the pace of life seemed to increase tenfold and this thing that had just been a plan on paper suddenly became a real live farm. Now we’re standing at the end of May, looking June square in the face- exhausted, dirty, and thrilled for what we know is going to be an incredible season.
Before we embark on a summer of blogging about the farm work, the vegetable selling, and our little part in changing the agricultural paradigm in this country, we wanted to take a few moments to sit back and reflect on this spring. In between finishing up classes, spreading compost on vacant lots, and planting seeds, we were able to attend some truly wonderful sessions at Macalester on citizenship, service, and ethics.
At the Civic Forum, we were excited to have an opportunity to hear about some incredible scholarship by our peers and respected professors about the Somali-American experience. Although most of the papers presented delved into the political and theoretical issues behind the topic, we were able to make some important connections to the hands-on work that we’re doing in the community. There are at least three Somali families on our block and, while we reach out to all our neighbors and hope to form strong relationships with as many folks as possible, language and cultural barriers are real sometimes. While all of us speak Spanish and can easily converse with our Hispanic neighbors, it’s harder to strike up conversation with Somali parents who might not speak English well. We’re finding, however, that kids are often the best way to start engaging neighbors. They’re always excited about making new friends, they’re fascinated by watching things grow, and they almost always speak some English. The Civic Forum was a great reminder about the many struggles for belonging and citizenship that the Somali-American community faces, and it renewed our commitment to forming relationships will all of our neighbors.
This spring, we also had a wonderful chance to slow down and take a few hours to reflect on what it means to be doing service. The session with Professor Jamie Monson and Eily Marlow was a great reminder of how important it is, especially as a group of six people coming from different backgrounds, to take time to get on the same page. It’s important to recognize that we may have different ideas about what it means to be doing service in the community. Is it a better service to give away some of our produce to the church down the street sometimes, or to sell that produce to a nice restaurant so that we have more financial security and a more viable financial model for small farms? It was also great to hear from Eily about the importance of reflection- especially when working in a group, it’s essential that we take a moment to step back and be up front with one another about how we feel things have been going, and where we want to go from here.
The sessions this spring were a welcome chance to come inside after a long day on the farm and put our hard work in perspective. We’re not toiling away in the fields for nothing- we’re creating a new dream for how agriculture can be done in this country. It can be an act of true citizenship, the ultimate engagement with the Earth and with our neighbors. We’re farmers, and we want to serve our country food.