Friday, October 3, 2014

From Farm to Desktop

October is here - my favorite month of the year! And although I'm missing out on decorative gourd season and leaf peepin' back in New England, Florida does have some positive fall attributes. For one thing, carambolas are back in season (then again, when are they not in season??).

Starfruit to Heaven
And unlike New England, where farmers are putting their fields to bed for the winter, we're only just getting started down here in Zone 9

Farmers hard at work at Sweetwater Organic Farm where I volunteer once a week... 

You may not know this about me, dear readers, but I used to be an organic vegetable farmer. Yes, once upon a time, in the great state of Massachusetts, I hoed innumerable acres of squash and harvested too many tons of green beans. 

But let me back up just a bit. How did I come to be a grower (and lover!) of vegetables, you might ask? As an environmental studies major, I learned all about the atrocities that are happening to our planet, and I asked myself - what can I do? Eating food is the main way that we interact with our environment on a daily basis, and so I thought that food might be a good place to start. So I began to learn more about organic farming practices, closed-loop permaculture systems, and school gardening. I spent the last few years of undergrad chasing chickens and experimenting with vegetables I had never heard of before like kohlrabi (which literally look like aliens). I worked as a counselor at farm camp and ran after-school garden clubs for urban youth. I was hooked. After graduation, I spent a season on an educational farm in Martha's Vineyard, a season on small vegetable farm in western Mass, and another season on a permaculture farm in Homestead, FL. Many of my good friends dedicate their lives to growing food in a good way. And yet, here I am, sitting at a desk rather than working the fields.

So why am I here, at an MFA program for creative writing?

Well, when I wanted to learn how to grow vegetables, I went to workshops, talked to farmers, and worked on farms. When I decided to get serious about writing, I knew I needed an apprenticeship, mentors, an immersion. 

It hasn't been an easy transition, from farmer to writer. For one thing, I don't get to eat the fruits of my labor. I've gone from working on something tangible and real to working with abstractions like words, sentences, stories. Sometimes, when I'm hunched over my laptop for hours writing the same paragraph over and over again, I wonder - how is this important? I'm not feeding anyone! 

But, in order to be on this path, I have to believe that stories can change the world - that they do provide sustenance in some way. We need bread to live, but we need roses, too.