Farmer John Writes: Honor the Human Being

 In Farm News

Extended Season

This is Week 3 of our 4-week extended season. Only shareholders with an extended season share have deliveries left this season. If you are unsure of your delivery schedule for the rest of the season, check your delivery calendar in your membership account.

Garlic this Week

If you ordered a garlic bulb this week, you might get a bag of garlic cloves instead. The cloves were left over from our garlic seeding this fall. There are about as many cloves in a bag as there would be in a bulb, so you are getting an equivalent amount of garlic in your bag. 

Thanksgiving Feast

Farm employee Amanda and her mom Ann presented a most beautiful, delicious Thanksgiving feast for the crew last week. Everyone was lauding everyone else in light of the industrious work performed over the long season. It was the first time most of our crew had ever experienced a traditional Thanksgiving meal, and they were most enthused and appreciative. (Sorry, no photos. We were too busy enjoying our event.)

The H-2A workers, who have now all returned to Mexico, emphasized the tremendous financial opportunity they had received by being able to work here for $15.31 per hour, vs the $12 per day they would earn in Mexico. (In addition, they received free housing, utilities, and the use of a farm van. Their travel expenses were also paid by the farm.) At the lunch, they shared that many dreams for their lives in Mexico were made possible by their wages here this season.  

A Crop of Buildings

Whereas I have raised seasonal crops over many decades, my buildings represent one crop—one continuous effort through decades of prosperity, insolvency, illness, and vitality. It is no wonder that I consider my farmstead a major component of my life’s work. I have been creating, maintaining, and re-purposing the buildings here for over 50 years. When I offer a tour of my farmstead, I am really offering a retrospective.

You might think, when reading this issue of Farm News, that you signed up for a share of food and you might wonder why you are being subjected to another farm newsletter focused on farm design and beauty. Well, Angelic Organics is not just about its food; it is about the whole range of life and activity here, including the built environment. If you don’t already, I encourage you to take an interest in the whole farm, since it is the whole farm that functions in a way that brings you your food. In the local food movement there is a suggestion to “know your farmer,” and this newsletter will help you to know your farmer better.

Plants are Pre-Determined. What about Buildings?

I do not design plants. I tend them. The seeds that give rise to the plants are the designers of the plants. I design how the plants are tended, where they are raised, how they are harvested, but the plants grow from seed that is our heritage and that is mostly pre-determined according to the variety of the seed.

The built environment here is about 15 buildings or so, comprising the farmstead and our home. The ongoing design and rejuvenation and new construction is a most compelling and mysterious process for me. A seed is going to become the plant that is already determined by its genetic makeup—not so, a building. How does a building come to be, or come to be something different than it already is? Of course, there are architects, designers, engineers and project managers who produce buildings and renovations via their informed, educated processes, but in my world of buildings, I am the architect, designer, engineer and project manager. As I mentioned in the last issue of Farm News,No Professional Qualifications, a representative of the National Endowment for the Arts told me that I had no credentials for evaluating design, buildings; no training…

But I think I Have Credentials

The Seed. You might remember from the last issue of Farm News that I actually caused the basic forms of our main farm buildings when I was 8 years old, when my mother let me choose their shapes. With the help of my parents, perhaps I am in a way the seed for the built environment on this farm. 

Lifelong History with the Earth. Perhaps another credential that should be attributed is my lifelong history of working with materials of all sorts, as I have a training in the workings of the earth, of equipment, of tools. I might have lofty ideas for a project, but my feet are always firmly on the ground. As a lifelong farmer, I am steeped in earthly reality: process, heft, strength, resistance, resilience, death, life, rust, tension, form, time…

Love. Another credential is love. If I love a person deeply enough, or a river, or a book, or a mountain, or a pet, it will reveal more and more secrets to me. This is the case for me with my farm buildings. Impressions/imaginations of how to care for and develop the buildings form out of my love for them. 

(Should I send the above credentials to the NEA representative who said I had no credentials back in 1981?)

Honor the Human Being

I of course bring certain priorities or guidelines to the design process: function is of course paramount; ecology is important; beauty is necessary. The most essential thing about any building that I build or modify here is that it embrace the human being, elevate the human being, make the human feel honored and uplifted. 

Of course, my work does not always achieve that level of embrace. A color combination or form might elevate the mood of some souls and darken the souls of others. A different hue of a color might have worked better, a window should have ideally been installed an inch lower, a floor would have ideally been a different type of wood. However, all of these design and building efforts are always an attempt to facilitate function while bringing joy or at least affirmation to the beholder, the user. Affirmation? You, the beholder, are a human being. This building is here in part to hold you in high esteem, to remind you that you matter, to affirm you. (Attentive listening offers a similar affirmation to our fellow humans.)

Even our very functional shop, built with a shortage of funds, elevates the user with its use of color and its artwork.

Concepcion and Victor discuss Concepcion’s return to Mexico in the farm shop. Notice the red, yellow and teal color details. (The shop likes to host meetings.)

framed motto hanging in the shop: “Sure, We’ll Finish the Job” (Victor upholds this motto daily.)

Perhaps you recall my Week 12, 2020, newsletter on Portals, where I highlighted several portals on the farm. Excerpt from Portals: “The room through which one enters a home is often referred to as a foyer, which has its origins in Old French as the word for hearth, or warmth. Over the years, I have strived to enhance entrances so that human beings passing through them will feel special, elevated, wondrous–will feel warmed.”

example of portal on the farm: milkhouse staircase, lazured ceiling, uplit eaves

My impulse to elevate the human being through the built environment became more crystalized upon encountering a book of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures titled Architecture as a Synthesis of the Arts, which I have now read three times. Upon referencing it here, I realize it is now time for me to read the book a fourth time.

From a synopsis of the book: “In these lectures Steiner describes…the importance of an architecturally coherent and integrated community, and how this in turn affects social unity and harmony.”


Artist/Friend: “Let the buildings speak.”

To Be Continued

The danger of writing issues of Farm News is that certain things just want to be written, and those things don’t necessarily conform to space or time (a bit like the danger of designing buildings based on their wants and needs, which also might not conform well to space or time.) This topic of aesthetics and building design in light of my relationship to my farmstead and my fellow human beings has gotten away from me today. This issue, when I finally checked, was as long as two regular editions of Farm News.

I could condense it, or continue it in the final issue of the season. I’m going to continue it in the final issue.  

Farmer John

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  • Holly Denning

    Beautiful words, life lessons and glorious images brought to my mind and heart of the farm buildings, especially the magical feeling the portals evoke. Gratitude overflowing John for all you bring to the world

    • Farmer John

      Beautiful words from you, also Holly. Thank you for the encouragement.

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