Sunday, February 5, 2012

Building Community

For me one of the most important resources I have for living in a farming area is the people of the community.  I doubt if I could live the life I so enjoy living without the help of family, friends, and neighbors.  There is a skill to building this community though and I have to admit that it isn't always natural to me to work on that skill.   On a farm there is always something else that needs to be done.  There are NEVER enough hours in the day.  So weeks can go by and suddenly I notice that I haven't been getting out to see friends.  This job is as important as any of my other jobs and I need to make just as much time for it as I do getting my hay in for the winter, making soap, or canning tomatoes. 

Now lots of people hear the word "job" and think that it is a bad word.  Not in my life.  There are very few jobs that I do that I do not enjoy.  So being with friends as a job for me is just my way of saying it is important and something I need to make time for.

Get togethers need not be super expensive or hard either.  A monthly potluck meal at different houses in the neighborhood means everyone will bring what is best for them, everyone can share and one person doesn't have to bear all the burden (and all the expense) of the get together.   So it's something that anyone can do.  Send out an invitation to your neighbors, near and far, and put aside a day to get together, talk, exchange ideas and worries, laugh at the energy of the young ones and learn from the wisdom of the elders.  Offer to help but don't be too proud to mention something that you may need help on as well.  Someone may have gone through the same thing you are going through and may be able to share something you have not thought about, tell you a different or better way of going about your task, or may be willing to roll up their sleeves and help you work with what is troubling you.  When friends and neighbors come together, they save each other lots of aggravation, save each other money, and neighbors who work together tend not to fight as much.  Just like anything else that you build, a community that we all have our hands in tends to be better taken care of than one we just wait for someone else to fix for us.

I enjoy our monthly or even spontaneous potluck get togethers and I also have a few different "farm parties" each year where I invite the community to come to my farm for refreshments and fun.  My biggest farm party I have is my yearly February 2 Wassail.  I open up my big sheds, heat up my wood burning stoves and put out a spread of food, most of which comes from my farm.  Anyone from the neighborhood can come but they must do one thing...they must go out into my apple orchard and wish the trees well.  I don't care how they do it, they can sing, they can read poems, they can do a play or skit, they can play a musical instrument, they can say a prayer, or they can simply walk into the orchard and say "thanks for the apples."  After that they can eat all they want, sit and visit, dance to the band (my cousin has a band), play in the kid's area, go sledding, go on a sleigh ride...I try to provide plenty to do for those who come.  It goes from midnight to midnight, with me being the first to wish the trees well and me being the last.

Wassails, a word that has three meanings, have been going on for centuries, basically since humans got into agriculture.  Originally they were when people went out into the fields, the orchard and the groves and sang to their god(s), "thank you for the gifts you give us."   The ground, sea, and air were often blessed, and the future crops were called upon to be bountiful.  This tradition started long ago and went on long into the Christian era of Europe.  The people thought knowing where their food came from was not enough, one must be grateful for it as well.

Wassails are usually done during the "dark time" of the year.  Most people who still practice them do them around the winter solstice or at Christmas time to honor and thank their savior.  I chose to do mine on February 2 because it is still in the dark time of the year, when people are a bit depressed and can use a fun get together to lift their spirits, but it's not right at the busy time of the holidays.  For most people there isn't much going on from New Years to Easter and this is just a gathering that lets us all have fun while we wait for those spring days.

I usually feed about 150 people every year and I put up food (canning, drying, root cellar) for this day so that people get to eat food from the place they just gave thanks to.  The gathering has grown over the years and now I have a few very good friends that come over for the couple days before and a couple days after to help me set up and take down.  Last year we had to postpone it for a week because we had a HUGE snowstorm on February 2 but this year it was a warm, wonderful day.  Lots of people came out and each tried to outdo the last one for what silliness they said or sang to the trees.  Even the high school band came out and played a song out in the snow in the orchard.  Many people sang for the supper.  The Lutheran minister gave blessings to the orchard and to the people who came together.  We took into close to $500.00 for the food pantry.  It was a good time.

Building community does take work, just like building anything does.  But the rewards that come from it will last longer than most of your other projects.  Sometimes, even when you feel you don't have a moment to waste on sitting around and talking, that is the most important job there is on a farm.