Yesterday at the farmers’ market in Durham, New Hampshire, a student showed up at my stand (Durham is home to UNH) and while looking over my produce, suddenly noticed my farm sign.
“Hey,” he said, pointing at the sign. “Small farms matter Big.” He was reading the line that makes the bottom of the sign. He read it aloud again, and then, animated now, looked around as if he wanted to tell someone this remarkable news.
“It’s a fact,” he said. “They do. Small farms really matter.”
We talked and I learned that he was painting a house not far from the market. Then I learned that the owner of the house had an “amazing vegetable garden” and that while he painted he liked dreaming about having his own garden. He had grown up around gardens, he said, but only recently had he started giving them their due respect. If fact, he said it was almost a certainty that he would someday own a small farm.
Then he asked me if I had ever heard of Wendell Berry.
Wendell Berry? The Kentucky farmer/poet? Yes, I said I had heard of him. I was a fan of much of his work.
“Wow,” the young man said. “You’re the first person I’ve met who knows of Wendell Berry. Do you recognize this?” And looking off to one side he quoted Berry. He stumbled only once.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
“I recognize it,” I said when he finished. I didn’t know what to say. But then this came to me:
“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
“Wow,” he said. ” Is that Berry? I’ve not heard that one. That’s a variation on the same theme.”
And for a few seconds (people were waiting in line behind him) we were remarkably happy. We were sharing this one unique space of recognition.
Then he left. Telling me that his name was Walton, he turned, waved, and was gone.
I had wanted to tell him how once when I lived in Colorado I had driven two days straight from Denver to Kentucky only to find Berry’s farm, drive past it once or twice, chicken out, and drive back. But I didn’t. It didn’t seem the time or place. Unlike this story, that story is a long one. It starts and meanders and in truth hasn’t yet ended.