If I tell you you’re going to hear the real dirt on me, you may expect something salacious. Sorry to disappoint. The real dirt on me is really just dirt.
I’ve been somewhat fixated on this topic since the day last week when spring seemed to hit the farm in a torrent of simultaneous events, as if mandated by the calendar. It may have been the day of the equinox or the day before, I don’t fully remember, but I emerged in the morning to such a balmy moistness in the air that I left hat and gloves behind when I did chores, for the first time in months. Rounding the corner heading toward Possum’s pen, I was honked at by a pair of Canada geese, my annual guests, freshly arrived that morning to set up their nest on the island in the middle of the pond. They will stay only until their goslings are hatched and fledged, about ten weeks from now. Coming back from the barn, I checked the progress of my garlic in the vegetable garden, and found sorrel leaves peaking up above the ground. By then, I was for the first time this year hearing a high pitched chorus of peepers from the nearby woods, sounding like a living breeze echoing in my head.
Eric, who had been visiting for the week, seemed to be having a touch of spring fever. In a way only those steeped in the romantic notions of French culture could, he attributed it to “la lune”. But I’m convinced that it wasn’t last week’s full moon, but rather the rush of sights, sounds and smells of spring that brought my mind to dirty matters.
It hit me as I entered the gate to the chicken yard. All winter, even as I chopped at it with a shovel, there had been a hard little ridge of mud there which obstructed the gate from closing tightly. It meant there was always a small gap at that door, requiring insertion of a wood plank to keep the chickens from wandering out and marauders from wandering in. But this first spring morning the ridge was soft and yielding; I pushed at it with the toe of my boot, and the gate closed fast.
But instead of thinking “Thank God that little issue has been resolved” I instead thought, “I know this dirt. It’s specific to this place, and this is where I am home.” I realized that I belong to this particular farm in a way that I could never belong to an apartment 13 stories in the air or even to another patch of earth a mile away.
It’s probably easy to understand why I would feel more rooted in this place than in an apartment, where infinite layers of human-made barriers cut you off from the ground. The soil is simply the highest stratum of the earth beneath it. It is I think a universal human instinct to develop mystical connections to and take energy from the patches of earth we inhabit.
Sure, one can love the City, too, but that love is different. In the City I take joy in the energy of the people, the way they carry each other off in spirit collectively. Spring fever there is felt in the parks and restaurants, bars and concert halls, where people gather to connect (finally once again) with each other. My apartment, even though I may have inhabited it for 40 years, is my respite from the city’s energy rather than my connection to it.
In contrast, my connection with the earth on which the farm sits, while enhanced by human companions, is not dependent upon them. I can feel a unity with a universal spirit here all by myself.
But why my feeling that it just wouldn’t feel the same connecting with the earth a mile up the road? Like all geological regions, our soil types and landscape formations transcend individual property boundaries. The government has carefully documented the different characteristics of agricultural soils since 1929, with the last U.S. Department of Agriculture survey updated in 1984. The maps, if I am reading them correctly, identify strands they’ve named Collamer, Livingston & Madalin, Kingsbury & Rhinebeck, and Nassau, running through this property, but those strands are clearly continuous with the same types on other nearby properties. Why should i feel that I nevertheless can tell my own dirt, that I know it in a special way that would not transfer?
I mentioned my puzzlement about this to another friend, Matt, a very practical civil engineering sort who also visited last weekend and was helping me to trim back rampant blackberry canes Sunday morning. He told me he didn’t think my feeling was puzzling at all. He observed, astutely, that the soil on this farm surely is different. It’s the result of the cumulative activity that has taken place here, a unique and highly variable combination of activities that would not be replicated anywhere else.
And he’s right. It’s not just the centralized mountain of compost, deteriorated vegetable matter and animal poop I am constantly adding to and then, once decomposed, redistributing around the property. It’s also the informal, highly organic process by which the particular plants we grow die and decompose in place, or are fed to the pig or chickens who in turn process them and deposit the residue as waste on the ground where they wander. I suspect there are unique proportions of nutrients and qualities of soil consistency resulting from this process, which would differentiate this place from other farms with different “recipes” resulting from their activity and product mix. And I’m sure there’s a unique spiritual mix making up the life force on the farm.
I know this dirt because I’m a creator of it, because I constantly have my hands in it and my jeans covered in it. Even though I can’t describe any smells and touch I would say are unique to this dirt, I think I still can recognize it as of this place. Maybe that’s what the French mean when they talk about culinary “terroire”. It’s what I mean by the real dirt on me.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
EGGS: $5/doz Plentiful, spring light has arrived, if not spring.
LAMB COMING: Lamb should be back from the slaughterhouse in a week or two. Stay tuned.
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.