Now that the snow is falling, the farm is a study in contrasts: the stark brown skeletons of the milkweed plants, the thick edging of white on every tree limb, the vibrant chartreuse green of the Chinese cabbage. Those sprouts will grow slowly for the next couple of months in the greenhouse until they are harvested in February for the winter CSA. The odd tension between winter senescence and the sappy determination of the microgreens in their planters mirrors my own combination of exhaustion from the summer farming season and excitement, now that most farm projects are buried under snow, to get deeper into the mental work of my PhD and of designing the next farm season.
In some ways, the heart of my farm is my winter CSA business. It was the crucial economic piece of my farm dreams as a solo farmer: to have year-round income and stretch out the work over the whole set of seasons. It has become a metaphor for so much of my life. In the way that I defy the cold and snow and dark to run a full CSA, I am fierce about challenging the silencing of women’s voices in farming, and women farmers in policy-making.
Creating broader changes in agriculture, agricultural policy, and the social will to have healthy food systems in an era of climate change and wanton consumerism will take dogged persistence over a lifetime. This summer was physically demanding at a level I had never experienced before. The work was relentless, and there was no time to dodge weather I would rather not have been in. As I pulled carrots and daikons in a long day of freezing rain, working into dark with a headlamp, I thought about all the jobs I could be doing instead… sitting at a desk, going home at 5 p.m., getting paid a regular check, getting paid for my work, period. But I don’t want a job, I want a livelihood, and I want work that gives me deep purpose. At some point you reach a level of exhaustion when the only thing that keeps you going is the fire deep inside you; sometimes it is beyond any meaning you can put into words except maybe determination. As I hauled tubs of produce to the root cellar, I realized that fire was maybe the same fire that I call hope that keeps me going in the broader work of sustainability and societal transformation.
This year more Americans were killed than ever before in the Black Friday ritual to the gods of consumption. Where is the meaning in that? Why don’t the news programs have an honest discussion of the real costs of our cancerous economy? At the same time, climate change brings ever more disastrous storms, the gap between the haves and have nots widens. These things are deeply interconnected. I farm, like many of the women I have been interviewing for my dissertation, because it is a tangible thing I can do to wrest a hopeful vision of the future out of the whiteout of our contemporary life. I may never see the result, but I keep working. The snow piles up outside my house one snowflake after another; billions of those little water crystals will trap my car in the morning as I try to get to town. Incremental change can still be a massive drift of a result.
My greenhouse is only 12 feet by 24 feet, but it is the abundant centerpiece of feeding ten families through the scarcity of winter. My farm is only a tiny little 40 acre field in a tough growing environment, but it models what is possible with human ingenuity in a time of peak everything. I can’t separate my scholarship from everything the soil teaches me, and the northern snows whisper to me. Perhaps it is time we all listened to the winter.
Dr. Clare Hintz has a B.S. Degree in Biology and Writing, a M.S. in Sustainable Systems with an emphasis in Agroecology, and a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education with a focus on Regenerative Agriculture. She currently teaches permaculture design and regenerative agriculture from her production permaculture farm in northern Wisconsin. She is the editor in chief of the Journal of Sustainability Education. In her spare time she knits, reads feminist science fiction and cooks really good food for friends.