before the great unleaving
it's a warm, golden season -
of cooler mornings
and sunny afternoons
for lazying about
the pasture is dried out
but where the water runs
there's greening, flowers opening -
three boys at the river's edge
with pants rolled up:
hunting for fish, frogs
water bugs -
and us, big people,
seek oak tree shade
crosswords and company.
Twelve years growing a marriage and most of those spent learning how to farm regeneratively and raise little men, rising at dawn and retiring long after the sun has set. Not a day passes without a hearty conversation between us, and that's the privilege of living with your best friend; of sharing the best and worst of your selves and still feeling safe enough, loved enough to keep at it. We have gathered twelve years in our hands; seasons of comfort and difficulty, of joy and anticipation, of drought and abundance, of adventure and mundane life, gritty and awful, faithful, golden loveliness. We have worked hard to understand each other better, to listen, to hold carefully a thing that sometimes feels overwhelming fragile, or momentarily obscured. We are still leaning how to rest, to nurture what's separate, to invigorate the mingling. Marriage is play too, ridiculous and sweet. To grow a life together is not always to agree or know the way forward but to know you belong beside each other and that's enough. The path ahead is glittering faintly, and we're bound to fall short, to disappoint and delight, but there's promise too. So much goodness yet to come //
January is hot and humid. The pasture is tall and golden, seed heads flying. The cows have been ailing with eye infections and my farmer man is out working long hours in the heat. We've watched rainclouds build and roll over us without giving a drop. We've savoured dips in the dam and ripe summer fruit. I've put ice cubes in my coffee and begun a special quilt project using only linen scraps. Twice I've gone for a walk and watched the same wedged-tail eagle perched, perfectly still on the branch of a tall gum tree. We've stretched our hands into the soft fur of our new maremma pup, Pippin. He is the first puppy we've owned, and although a working dog, he is full of delight and fluffiness. I cannot help but smile when I see him. It's summertime - when the days stretch on and on, and we sigh audibly with relief when the evening breezes come in. We have nowhere to go and not much to do, which is to say, we're content to lay low in this beautiful and exhausting season //
The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?
-Wendell Berry, "The Man Born to Farming", 1998
This poem by Wendell Berry lingers in my senses, how beautifully - how truly - he evokes the lessons of the farming life; the ever-shifting landscape of a farmer's heart and mind, seasons of shadow and loss, wellspring and renewal.
This year marks eight years that Alex and I have been farming. Eight years our full-time vocation, livelihood. and partnership among the dung and eggs and pasture, chickens and bees and cows. Every year brings it's own difficulties and blessed relief - this one battered us with wild weather, pandemic and unexpected choices and gifted us an egg-packing house, full water tanks and growing hope.
Unlike Wendell, Alex and I were not born into farming; though at age 24 and 31 you could say we became re-born to it. Tending the earth, listening to it's wisdom, braving harsh realities and a steep learning curve (that contains to grow), rejoicing with our neighbours, our patrons, our landlords and our children when things come right - we realise how small and insignificant we are, yet with hands to ground, are closer to God, made whole.
Seven years farming
Four years farming, an ode
Down by the river
no boys playing,
banks submerged with rain -
sodden and soaking,
debris caught and foaming.
I watch the water
it's a funny kind of sympathy
she reflecting me:
that spilling out, forcefully,
an overflow of feelings
days of rain and howling winds bring -
of wondering, half-sleeping,
weeks of lockdown and isolation
familiar paths, unsettling us
again and again.
I'm a mess of worry and relief
we know we're the lucky ones
with animals safe, with house in tact
that's dry and warm -
spirit within us, hovering,
rest and disturbance.
Down by the river
I'm a woman lingering,
listening to the flow -
birds are singing,
darting in the trees
and on my face
blessed sun, shining.
Early June is quiet and cold. Rain and wind shakes off what remains of the autumn leaves. I watch boys ride bikes around puddles and muddy their knees. Slowly, I clear out the garden of weeds and dead things, add to the bonfire pile and compost heap. Mulch the broccoli and leeks. Sow beans, peas, lettuce and carrot seeds. Prune the roses and the plum tree. I spy the green tips of bulbs emerging, hyacinth and daffodils. Inside the wood heater is kept stoked and warm. We mark off the days until the lockdown lifts, then the days until the school holidays, how long till spring begins. I bake often - for hunger and comfort, elevenses and afternoon tea. Winter is reading in bed with a hot water bottle on your chest and socks on your feet. Winter is slowing down whether you want to or not, feeling the cold and savouring heat //
Banana, Coconut + Raspberry Bread
125 butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar // OR 1 cup honey or maple syrup
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup rice flour + 3/4 tapioca starch // OR 1 + 1/2 cups GF plain flour mix
1/2 cup coconut flour // OR desiccated coconut for a rougher texture
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons GF baking powder
1 cup frozen raspberries // OR berries of your choice // OR 100g chopped dark chocolate
Makes 1 large loaf
- - -
In a large bowl or mixer cream together butter and sugar - followed by mashed bananas, eggs and olive oil. Mix in flours, spices and baking powder. It should be a thick batter consistency. Finally gently stir in raspberries. Pour mixture into a high-sided loaf tin that has been well-greased (or lined with baking paper - I usually just squash a rectangle of baking paper into the tin) and make in a moderate oven at 180'c for 45 mins - 1 hour. It will be ready once a skewer or knife inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.
GF Anzacs with a twist
2 cups quinoa flakes
1 cup puffed amaranth
1 cup desiccated coconut
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup GF plain four // OR 1/2 cup each rice flour and tapioca starch
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- - -
Preheat moderate oven to 180'c. Place quinoa, amaranth, coconut, flour, zest, cinnamon, flour and brown sugar in a large bowl. Meanwhile heat the butter and honey in a saucepan over a low heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in bicarb soda (it will fizz up a bit) - tip wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Shape a heaped tablespoon of mixture into paper-lined oven trays (I ended up with four trays of cookies). Use a fork to flatten the tops and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Cool and store in an airtight container - they last ages!
Late autumn is the sight of healthy mama cows and some seventy plus calves grazing the pasture as the sun sets // the crunch of leaves underfoot and the damp, dewy morning air // weeding out the veggie beds, and harvesting every tomato red, green and in between // it's the sound of boys playing cubbies in the ash tree and the smell of wood smoke, of fresh paint. on the walls of the spare room // It's the golden glow of dusk on the trees, the bonfire pile growing // and the cool wind whispering a slow, sad song of a season ending.
"His eyes can read the animal atmosphere;
And see through their silence to sense their minds.
His skilled hands can guide calves and lambs to birth.
Out among his animals, in rain, cold and snow,
Talking to them in affectionate callings,
Something in him turned to their rhythm.
In these times when geography becomes virtual
And developers urbanise the earth
May the farmer continue to hold true ground,
Keeping the intimate knowing of the clay alive,
Nourishing us with the fruits of the earth,
Serving as custodian of that precious threshold where
The rhythm of nature with its serene pulse
And sublime patience restores our minds."
From John O'Donohue's blessing "For the farmer"
We've been farming for seven years this month. Alex and I have known each other longer in the world of dirt, chickens, bees, cows, eggs, poo, grasses, farmers markets and small children longer than anything else. We wear the lines and strain of seven years fumbling, experimenting, learning how to grow food: care for creature, root and worm.
Seven years studded with wonder and provision, fatigue and injury. Seven years of benefiting from the wisdom - the loving - of others: local farmers young and old, educators, writers, activists, friends, family, customers, neighbours, strangers.
Overwhelmed for seven years with the state of our world; our earth; our tables, our hearts. Remembering good things are worth fighting for: worth the time and sacrifice; that there's more than just ourselves; that we must remain curious; that we are made to know place; we are made for regeneration.
Farming is a profession of hope. But then, isn't all seed planting? Growing a garden, yes, but also teaching, learning, making with your hands, parenting, healing, understanding differences, finding common ground, forgiving, beginning again.
There are three chickens in the yard
I can see them from the kitchen window
scratching in the garden beds,
kicking up bark mulch and dry earth -
they dart at anything that moves
jumps, skips, hops
so efficient are their beaks and claws
for this task of foraging, unearthing
and I think about this year nearly done
perhaps the hardest one for me,
or the most important -
why are important ones the hardest?
I could list the things that gave it shape:
the long days of mothering full time,
of postpartum fatigue, the last breastfeed -
of eggs packed, caneles baked,
story nights with local women,
books read, conflicts had,
farmers markets, chicken sales,
workshops, a school change,
an awful email out of the blue,
the flowers picked with my hands
but really it’s everything in-between
the dreams, the waiting,
curly heads, grubby grins,
shadowy doubts, sorrow stings -
hushed, yelled, wrestled,
wanted, endured, relieved
the yearnings and the forgotten things:
a twelve month unearthing
clawing for something - anything,
holding on and letting go
again and again and again
I could be making resolutions:
you know, those page long aspirations -
goals for what could be,
what I could do better (and not do at all)
But I’d rather stare out the kitchen window
let my fingers become prune-like
in soapy dish water -
and learn from my chicken friends;
to keep scratching at the surface,
feel the sun on my back
make the most of each season -
and choose kindness
again and again and again
Photo of me and the girls / by the wonderful Cat
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...