by Tom Bender
We were somewhat puzzled when we took over the farm. Buildings falling apart. Trash everywhere. Bones of dead cows out in the fields. Things dropped and abandoned. The homestead collapsing day by day. Why????
It took a while for some of the puzzle pieces to appear. The owner was 70 years old – reason enough. And exhausted from 12-hr days 7 days a week, while holding down other jobs to make ends meet. Why fix up the buildings when you dream someone will buy the farm, tear down the buildings and put in a subdivision of homes (though you’d made sure it was zoned “farm-only).
The farm was small – too small, as farms became mechanized. The soil was sand, and depleted. We’d heard of dairy farmers in Ohio, puzzled why their farms weren’t producing. “We’ve never broken the soil, and all the manure goes back onto it.” But every tank-truck of milk driving out from the farm was hauling away the nutrients from the soil. Same thing here.
And the homestead. Abandoned. Walked away with clothes hanging on the door and 4-H awards lying on the floor. We learned the answer to that. It was old, and pretty much beyond repair. They’d saved up money to buy materials to build their replacement house.
Then the barn burned down. There went all the money and time and energy, and more had to be scraped together again to replace the house.
I had a little sense of what that must have felt like. We’d moved here, built our house by hand, with no power tools. Doing two jobs in Portland on weekends, while gathering more materials for construction. Day we finished, the house burned down. Felt like someone kicked the chair out from under me as I was collapsing into it in exhaustion. And we too had to start over and build again.
But that was nothing compared to trying to get by farming a farm like this. This farm shrieked exhaustion in every dimension in every direction you looked.
So there was the core of our job. Restoring the richness of life. Healing the land, creating a new life-vision for the farm, and a role where it could give and receive together with the rest of creation.