I recently joined an organic farming co-op at my parents’ house on Long Island and volunteered there for the first time last week. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it wound up being one of the highlights of my summer. The farmers there are all very passionate about organic farming and their enthusiasm is contagious. They seem to be totally in their element and they have a certain glow / high energy vibe about them. I was teamed up with a farmer and we picked Swiss chard and a variety of different peppers, including Carmens, Scotch Bonnets and Chocolates.
It was actually pretty meditative. After a while, you get into a groove, where you detach / escape from the external world because you’re focused solely at the task at hand. It also just feels so good to be outside, connecting with nature. The sense of flow I experienced reminded me of Constantine Levin in Anna Karenina, an aristocrat, who while joining his workers one day in the fields on his estate, feels a sense of peace and euphoria:
He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind by the peasants and to do his work as well as possible…In the very heat of the day the mowing did not seem much hard work to him. The perspiration with which he was drenched cooled him, while the sun, that burned his back, his head, and his arms, bare to the elbow, gave a vigor and dogged energy to his labor; and more and more often now came those moments of unconsciousness, when it was possible not to think what one was doing.
The peasants later break out into song and Constantine realizes he wishes he could be a peasant:
The whole meadow and distant fields all seemed to be shaking and singing to the measures of this wild merry song with its shouts and whistles and clapping. Levin felt envious of this health and mirthfulness; he longed to take part in the expression of this joy of life. But he could do nothing, and had to lie and look on and listen. When the peasants, with their singing, had vanished out of sight and hearing, a weary feeling of despondency at his own isolation, his physical inactivity, his isolation from this world, came over Levin.
I think a good part of what Levin had been experiencing was the endorphin rush that comes from physical activity and the feelings of peace and connection we have when we’re outside in nature. But he also seems to be envious of the sense of camaraderie and community that we feel when we’re working alongside others, as well as being useful and contributing to a worthwhile cause.
Afterwards, I was tired (it’s a moderately intense workout) but felt so calm and happy. I was able to use the free vegetables I got in a ratatouille stew, which was delicious and the perfect way to end the day.
One of the things I learned from this experience is the value of trying new things – not that I didn’t already know that, but sometimes you need to be reminded. Farming used to seemed interesting to me, but not enough to ever get into it. Now that I know how wonderful the experience of farming is, I’ll be making an effort to do it on a more regular basis.
So if you live in an area that has community supported agriculture (try Google searching CSA plus your town/city), I suggest trying it out and actually looking forward to the volunteer work involved! And if you live in a major city, consider supporting local farms by visiting the farmer’s market.