July 17, 2008

It's that simple

Tonight I had one of the most satisfying meals I've eaten in a long time. Most satisfying, and most simple.

A day at Featherstone is not complete for me without trekking up to my cabin at the end of the day with two handfuls of fresh produce to experiment with. Mollie Katzen and her beautiful cookbooks have been a godsend as I cook almost every night. The problem is, I only have one mouth to feed and I have a stockpile of leftovers that are constantly nudged into the deep corners of the fridge by new leftovers. I like to cook more than I like to eat. (Wouldn't you have an itch to cook if you had access to a plethora of free vegetables, looked up recipes throughout the week for your job, and took pictures of gorgeous food ?)

Earlier this week, one of the female community members came to visit me in my stuffy cabin to inquire about having a dinner date some night this week, as her husband is on the road for work. We decided we'd do something light and refreshing. Perfect, I thought. An opportunity to share some of Featherstone's bounty (via my leftovers) with somebody else!

I walked over with an armful of iced Beet and Orange soup, Cucumber-Dill Yogurt salad, goat cheese, fig/curry dressing, and some mint lemonade. My 'contribution' was nothing, as my dinner-partner knew how to prepare a July dinner - salad, bread, and cheese. We set the table and spread the fare. While my complex dishes were a decent addition, her salad and homemade bread and cheese were just quite perfect by themselves. As I usually eat alone, it was almost strange for me to have conversation while eating. Usually I'm mentally mulling over my To-Do list. She asked me how my summer was going and I realized that was a question I've been too busy to even ask myself.

So I thought. "I'm busy," I said. But busy doesn't necessarily mean good, most often time its a key word for stress, which is quite the opposite of good in my book. The more I thought about it, I realized that, like college, the most valuable learning experiences this summer haven't come from the labor on the farm, the place you'd expect. In college, I've found I've learned much more outside the classroom than in - about how to deal with other people, about other cultures from my diverse group of friends, about how to handle stress, how to manage an unruly schedule, and how to set boundaries with work. It's similar here at the farm as I'm not learning nearly as much working on the farm, as I am living on the farm and interacting with the community.

I told her that living in the farm community has forced me into a new lifestyle, making decisions I've never had to before. For example, with my solar powered energy system, I have to seriously consider which lights I actually need on and which ones I can spare. Quite an alien question 3 months ago. I've seen that my actions and decisions have consequences. My rosemary plant will die if I don't give it a drink. Hundreds of our farm's members will have terrible dinners if I miss an ingredient on the newsletter's recipe page. My cabin's energy will run out if I don't conserve. My neighbors will be more warm to me if I feed their animals when they're gone. Simple things, really. But vital to be conscious of.

And I saw that what I've learned during this farm experience is reflective of the meal we were having: that Less Is More. I was amazed at how satisfied I was with bread, lettuce, and cheese. Its wholesomeness was as surprisingly nourishing as feeding my neighbor's chickens, picking basil, planting an herb garden, eating my usual morning nosh of granola and yogurt on the porch listening to nature wake up, or having an ice-cold beer with a friend on a hot July evening. Again, simple, but indispensable.

Just as less is more, more is less. I've met people here who are worlds happier with their humble living quarters than families living in suburbia. Living in excess forces one to neglect the essentials. How can one be in tune to how their body feels when they are preoccupied with making sure their pantry is overflowing? How can one enjoy the simple company of an endearing friend when they have 600-some virtual Facebook friends whose 'walls' have now become their main form of communication? (I apologize to anybody over 30 who doesn't get this reference- it's a Generation Y thing.)

I would have laughed had someone told me 3 months ago how complete I'd feel with scarce phone and internet connection, no TV, no meat, a pond, an occasional shower, dirt under my nails, a two-room off-grid cabin, a slightly sore back, vegetables, and a cluster of hippies.

Less is more. So much more.

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