Greetings Friends, Neighbors and Strangers,
Sending this digital letter out into the world is not unlike holding a mature Dandelion seed head to the Wind. A couple of weeks back we were in the lion stage here; yards in the neighborhood glowed with that stubbornly cheerful yellow color. I noticed my neighbor Pat mowing his lawn as often as he could, attempting to tame it back to straight green. Within hours, however, they’re back out. Now we have entered the time of dispersing seeds, to the delight of some, and the agitation of others. I, along with the Sheep and Cows here at the Farm, adore those tender Spring Dandelion leaves—mildly bitter, tonic, digestive. The sight of Dandelion fuzz drifting on a Spring breeze makes me smile. Stubbornly cheerful, persistent, alive.
Every once in a while, the digital wind blows this weekly story-plea to a patch of disturbed, fertile ground. Seeds know how to get to work in places like that. Stories too. This week, I’ve got a couple of heart-warming stories for you. But first, this week’s invitations and requests:
Summer’s Eve Gratitude Feast:
4pm on June 4th (Feasts will always be the first Sunday of the month). Preparations will begin Friday, with work in the kitchen Friday 4-6pm, Saturday 10am-Noon and 2pm-4pm. Table setup will be Sunday Noon-2pm. If you can join us for any of those slots, please call or email Adam at 802.922.2808 or email@example.com.
Weekly Farm Frolic:
Every 2nd, 3rd, 4th (and occasionally 5th) Sunday we gather at 3pm to plant, weed, harvest and more. Please join us if you’re willing, or just come for Frolic Supper at 6pm. A main dish will be served, and we welcome your additions of sides or desserts.
Milk Crates for storing and transporting dinner plates—we could use about a dozen of the smaller size (cubic rather than rectangular).
Silverware. We have received plenty of plates and bowls, but could use more flatware.
Rhubarb: Do you have extra Rhubarb in your yard?
Dessert Bakers: Are you interested in baking a crisp or cake or pie at home to fill out the dessert plates for the Feast? Contact: 802.922.2808 or firstname.lastname@example.org
STORY: Speaking of Gifts
Last Winter I got an email from someone asking if I would talk with him about starting a gift economy farm. He had typed those three words—gift economy farm—into a search engine and my work at Brush Brook Community Farm came back as the first result. The internet has a way of assigning unearned expertise. I wrote back with my phone number and told him to call any time. I would gladly try to be helpful in any way that I could. Dante was his name. By the time I got back to my house and seated at the breakfast table, the phone rang.
What followed was one of the most moving conversations I’ve ever had. Intimate dialogue with someone you are meeting for the first time can have its way with you like that.
Dante tells me that he is interested in starting a gift economy where he lives in rural Georgia. I ask him to describe the landscape there. Seventy percent Black, and very poor, he says. Cotton country. Pine plantations. Mostly old people left in town. They watch their grandchildren during the week while their kids are off at work. Every weekend the town fills with life, a family reunion at every house. The kids bring groceries from distant supermarkets. No local food. Few gardens even. Just a few remaining patches of Collard greens.
Dante works as a bookkeeper. He and his wife and their two kids keep Goats and Bees, Chickens and gardens. They haven’t been able to save up for a well yet, so they haul water in the back of a pickup truck for the house and the livestock. They have extra eggs and honey and vegetables to share. He’s read a book about gift economy. But he is at a loss for how to begin.
We talk for over an hour. Deep, intimate storytelling reaches across the distance between us. In a tender moment, Dante says, “You sound like a good communicator. I’ve never seen myself that way, and I am wondering if I will be able to explain this to my neighbors.”
I reply, “Starting a gift economy is like marrying your neighbors. The conversation that emerges will necessarily carry the tenor of your unique personalities, and the personality of the place itself.”
I ask Dante if he can describe the fire that burns inside of him. He says, “Yes. I long to align my hands with my heart.” In one short sentence he has summed up what I spend pages and pages trying to describe.
When it’s time to part ways, Dante invites me to call him by his Muslim name: Mujahid. He patiently teaches me how to pronounce the name. I invite him to call anytime. He says the same. We hang up. I’m broken open.
I can tell you quite honestly that there are plenty of low moments here at the Farm. They sound something like this: “Nothing’s ever going to change. The forces are just too vast. Why push so hard? Why keep pleading? No one cares anyway.” I’m not proud of that narrative, but there it is. And then, without fail, a bit of magic sneaks in through the back door and taps me on the shoulder. The world is chock full of drifting Dandelion seeds, full of persistent, brightly-colored beauty.
Let me tell you about my new friends Barb and Rich. We met at the little Episcopal Church in town. Barb’s uncle was the preacher there for three decades. My father, now retired, was an Episcopal preacher as well. One of the Feast invitations made its way into their hands, and so Barb gave me a call. Giving food as a gift is what she loves most, aside from her husband Rich of course. After the Feast, Barb began leaving homemade bread and other treats in the Farm mailbox a couple of times a week. I am not the only one in town being fairy-dusted in this way. She even made a sticker for her gift-bakery operation, calling it Barb’s Wake and Bake Bakery. She wasn’t initially aware of the phrase’s slang association, but has decided to keep the name anyway. It makes a good story. I can report that her baked goods are infused with a touch of mind-altering magic for those low moments.
Barb and Rich stopped by the other day to drop off many boxes of plates, flatware and serving utensils for the Feasts—as well as a loaf of her famous English muffin bread. One of their neighbors is clearing out their house to ready it for sale. After hearing Barb’s description of the Feasts—how the food is offered as a gift to anyone who is hungry for any reason—this neighbor said that they would like to give anything from their kitchen that would be useful to the Farm. Attached to the loaf of bread was a note with the address of the kitchen-wares gift-giver. “In case you want to write her a thank-you note,” Barb said. The other note on the loaf of bread: “Best toasted.”
I don’t have a toaster at my cabin. Instead, I warm bread in a skillet on the stovetop. We were sustained the next day by Barb’s English muffin bread, fried to crispy in a dollop of rendered tallow from the Farm’s Sheep and Cows, alongside fresh Asparagus, wilted Dandelion greens and a bite of smoky braised Lamb—a proper Spring breakfast.
Many thanks to you for reading.