Monday, October 20, 2014

My Little Questions Became One Big One

If ever there was a time I'd like captured and frozen in amber, it is right now.

At the Pembina Gorge lookout
As the leaves around me turn gold, orange and crimson, my head floats and bobs in an atmosphere of intense joy. I exist in this beautiful, remote region of my country, far away from the glitzy, fast-paced metropolis i grew up in, and I am charmed - taken aback, even. Other than putting it to bed, my garden is done and nearly dead. Once the electric fence is dismantled, I will harvest my Glass Gem popcorn and declare my SCRANCH project officially Over. (At least the North Dakota version….)

Glass Gem popcorn
Has it been three years already? Seems only yesterday I was fantasizing about my NoDak plan, plotting out the details and worrying about the risks. Ultimately, I am mighty pleased that I cast aside my numerous doubts and took the risk to temporary cleave my life in two - summers in northeastern North Dakota and winters in Southern California. With additional long visits in Colorado and Mississippi, I usually answered the oft-asked question, "Where do you live?" with a simple, "America."

What I have learned during my 'little experiment' is beyond invaluable, the entire rural experience was life-changing. I came in search of knowledge, a deeper comprehension of organic food production, Farmers' Market logistics and the realities of Big Ag, not to mention my own family's land - the rich, black soil that is now part of my soul. I now understand that the farming lifestyle, is exactly that, much more than a career - it is a relationship with the land that runs deep. All that big machinery, the Carhartt wardrobe and a life spent outdoors make farming a seductive concept. Throw in the wild card of Mother Nature's various blessings and destructive tantrums and we can call it exciting too.

With fewer people becoming farmers (due to the high costs of land and machinery plus and the lure of urban jobs) the average age of the American farmer is 57. With technology advancements, chemical applications and the decline of the family farm (and subsequent rise of the corporate farm), farmers are becoming an endangered species. I feel quite honored to have spent time amongst them even if they never understood why I was there. To my delight, I found that they loved answering all my questions; I think no one had ever asked them before.

But what I learned most of all during my city-to-farm-to-city life is that there is a terrible communications gap between farmer and consumer. Straddling both worlds, I see the farmer sometimes forgetting they are growing food and not just bushels and I see the consumer being too quick to blame Big Ag while insisting on perfect, uniform produce.

One of my perfectly imperfect babies
Truth is, the farmer will grow what the market demands and the market is Us. Period. The only vote that counts in this country is the dollar and where you choose to spend it. If there are changes to be made in our food system, we cannot wait for the bio-tech corporations (Monsanto, Dow, Simplot, Bayer, etc.) to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, for they have none, they are a capitalistic entity. The government is not much help either; their interest is assisting the processed food industry (farm subsidies, tax breaks, etc.) whether it benefits our health or not. Broccoli does not employ lobbyists but Kraft Foods does.

Pondering my future, I want to meld all my superhero powers (communications, media, gardening, comedy, Ag knowledge, high pain/bug tolerance) into a a solid laser beam of Change in the food industry. This is my wish. I don't know yet what that particular job will be, but it will come to me eventually.

Meanwhile, as my departure date looms near, i wonder what else I will take with me in my filthy pick-up, other than squash, garlic and a few remaining tomatoes. However, the bigger concern in my mind is what I am leaving behind. Last summer, I found love on the prairie, a fiery connection with an unlikely man in an unlikely place. We come from starkly different worlds, separate eras (20 years apart) and opposing political beliefs but somewhere in the storm of deep debates and a million kisses, profound mutual respect has blossomed. When I think of him, I can actually feel my heart expand and then I want to bake cookies.

Last summer, at the Fargo Fair
Our love is strong and true but alas, we are at different points in our lives and, unhappily, the winter will pull us apart.

I am terrified, not only to leave this unique place I hold dear, but the man I share my days and nights with - how will I face a life without him as my partner? I spent last winter moping around sunny California with an enormous hole in my heart. Sure, I enjoyed time with family and friends, feasting on LA culture, gorging on sushi, running on the beach, but inside, my guts felt black and blue. I don't wish to go through that again.

Furthermore, I do not wish to endure six months of hard winter cut off from the world; he does not wish to leave his family or his lifelong home. Analyzing this puzzler from every angle in my dear friend Lisa's Orange County hot tub one evening last February, she gave me some tough advice: "You're just going to have to go back there this summer, love him as hard as you can, then say goodbye."

The first two parts, I have done. And so, for all my in-depth research and hard-won knowledge, I am left with one nagging question:

How do you walk away from love?