By Elizabeth Joseph, garden and education coordinator at Heifer Farm
As a new farmer, I was in the habit of sprinkling triple or quadruple the amount of seed needed into the earth at planting time. I would press and pat the seeds into the soil as though patting a friend on the back in a gesture of reassurance. With all those extra seeds, I was ensuring that in a week or two those first leaves would push through the soil, and I could then breathe a sigh of relief.
I have great faith in a seed. Convince me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. Henry David Thoreau
Overseeding meant that the plants were overcrowded, and that meant spending hours later in the season hunched over in the delicate and laborious task of thinning crops to the correct spacing. That was fine by me. I was taking no chances with the future.
As the seasons went on, and the seeds consistently germinated, I became more comfortable sowing an appropriate amount. Practically speaking, I learned to farm with more efficiency and efficacy, but really, I learned to farm with more courage and faith. I learned to trust myself, trust seeds and trust, as Wendell Berry puts it, “the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.”
This reciprocal cycle of nurture happened time and again, renewing our hopes and confidence— and I began to wonder: who was really growing whom?
During my very first season when it rained for what felt like the entire months of May and June, I was taught just how much was out of my control, but to be patient and persist nevertheless. Or when two feet of snow fell across the field in October another year, I was reminded that the best-laid plans are always subject to change, but we have a choice in how we respond to the unexpected. And each season, as some crops thrived and others faltered, I saw firsthand that sustainability is a process, and that pride and humility sit side by side at the table.
On a daily basis, I practiced better communication with a passionate team of volunteers, as well as with the land. Success hinged upon our ability to work together not just effectively, but joyfully. I learned the importance of considering the entire spectrum—the whole and all its parts, the big picture and the details, the beautiful vista of the field landscape and the critical microscopic organisms underground.
And most recently during this past growing season, after five or more years of no-till management, I discerned with great contemplation that what the field needed most was, indeed, tillage. I learned that amongst all the green of the field, there was a tremendous amount of gray, and rarely any black and white. Both on the farm and in life, conditions change, and we must adjust.
So while planting seeds takes a measure of courage, I can attest after nine seasons at Heifer Farm that doing so leads to great wonders. It leads to children pulling carrots from the ground in wonder and delight. It leads to young people seeking farm apprenticeships to create a better future for themselves and for future generations. It leads to literal tons and tons of nutritious, colorful and delicious food harvested and cooked to nourish and sustain those who eat it. And it leads to this particular farmer reflecting on a season’s end, brimming with gratitude.
There is magic in growing vegetables, and part of that magic is having your faith rewarded nearly every time. Seeds will germinate. It is what they are meant and designed to do. You have to provide the right conditions, be respectful and attuned to their needs, but with some effort there is no telling what beauty will abound.
After all, seeds are tiny bundles of potential just waiting to burst forth. They are hope in a better tomorrow. And they don’t just come in packets from the hardware store—they are any start, beginning or newness you want to cultivate in your life. So friends, be brave. Take no chances with the future. Plant gardens, sign up for CSAs, share seeds, smiles, snow blowers and bread with your neighbors. Go somewhere new, learn something new, meet someone new. Or stay home and see it in a brand new way. Most of all, plant seeds, often and everywhere, even if it means planting more than necessary. They will grow, you will grow, and I assure you, it will lead to great, tremendous, breathtaking wonders.