November in the marsh seems to sneak away slowly, like the populations of roseate spoonbills, ibis, and warbles in September. The trees have barely begun to lose their leaves and the temperatures remind me of a summer day in Vermont. As we all flip to that last page in the calendar, the holiday season with its tradition and compassion, takes hold of my sleepy winter mind and brings warmth into my being. Though the marsh never truly clears out of creature inhabitants, the numbers of the local flora and fauna go from being so incredibly biodiverse that every moment churned with the quake and hum of life, to a quieter, more tranquil time whose year long inhabitants are more clearly highlighted. The king fishers and bald eagles have taken over the hunting of the snaking waterways and the otters can be seen submerging in the rising tide or scurrying accross the land bridges. A 6 foot resident gator has reclaimed a sunning spot on a dock in front of our home where turles spent the long summer days and attended the insect evening parties. It has been about a month since I have spotted an armadillo, but evidence of their presence in the garden is still an occasional find. A small group of 9 adolescent wood storks has taken refuge with a roosting group of herons, night herons, egrets, and comorants on the fishing ponds by the farm. The citrus has been harvested, and enjoyed, the crops and weeds have slowed their pace, and our final market of the season will be this weekend. As the season’s hopes, worries, accomplishments, and disasters seem to fade into my memories, the celebration of a new coming year has filled my spirit once more.
And what an ending to this incredible year. I have witnessed so many amazing individuals dedicated to small business, local economy, and the local and regional foodways of their communities. The Forsyth Farmers Market was a season long display of the efforts and inspiration of a collection of artisans and farmers. The elegant limbs of the live oaks and delicate tufts of spanish moss created a mirage of paradise in the blistering heat and a reason to bundle up and go outside on the coldest days of the year. My correspondence with farmers from East Coast to West Coast has given me hope when the rain would not come and patience when the rain would not stop. 2012 was a year for all of us to be proud of, a step in the right direction for the empowerment of our food movement. It takes a little bit of effort from each of us, and so many of the people I met this year have committed their lifestyles and everyday choices to the practices that protect our fellow human beings and the Earth we all share. More incredible still are the individuals dedicating their free time to educating their friends, family, and communities about the benefits of eating a healthy diet and supporting those who produce the ingredients.
Unfortunately the year did not end on a perfect or easy note for all of us who dwell in the sometimes challenging world of producing organic food. Jeff Poppen, also known as the Barefoot Farmer, is a biodynamic farming educator and farm owner of Long Hungry Creek Farm in Boiling Springs, Tennessee. His farm has been an organic, biodynamic farm for over 30 years and provides incredibly nutrient dense, holistically grown foods to over 200 csa members. His growing methods reflect an elevated understanding of the systems at play within the complex ecosystems of his beautiful farm. His exploration into Biodynamics has given him the advantage of using the natural world as the most significant tool for nurturing his diversified crops. Experiences on his farm and knowledge he has shared has incubated the hatching of several farmers who have radiated out of Boiling Springs and set down roots in the surrounding communities. The Barefoot Farmer has written two books, starred in the very popular and informative television series, Volunteer Gardener, written hundreds of articles about growing food in the Macon County Chronicle, and has made a lasting impact on the Tennessee landscape and Southern growing scene. Unfortunately for this seasoned farmer and educator, 2012 brought about a terrible cross examination of what we as small farmers and local farm supporters are up against.
Mostly complete in September of this year, two industrial chicken houses were built within 450 feet of Jeff Poppen’s home and precious acres of biodynamically maintained farmland. The chicken houses were constructed without regard to the only source of water the farm has available to it and the County Legislature violated their laws prohibiting the building of chicken houses and other industrial food producing buildings within a restricted distance of public areas, residences, and businesses. The construction of the houses was a bully move made by elected officials who have a limited understanding of the importance of nuturing local, small scale agriculture for the sake of the community. The decision was one born out of fear for change and the intolerance that we can generally link with ignorance or indifference. This farm boasted the title of the oldest organic farm in Tenneessee and as we close this year, Jeff Poppen is forced to give up his farm and relocate away from the toxic manufacture of caged livestock. This devistating move on the part of Tyson Chicken subsidiaries is a haunting living portrait of the real and not so glamorous difference between organic and conventionally produced foods.
This tragic step backwords from the forward moving ideals of agricultural change in Tennessee and the nation as a whole is a keen reminder of what is at stake in this modern world. Moving into 2013, we should remember the triumphs and the hardships we have all faced and shared with one another, accepting and learning from both victories and defeats. The holidays give us an excuse to try and reconnect to one another and show compassion for those in our lives and those we may only interact with indirectly, through our own rippling actions and the actions of others. This time of year reminds us that we are all in this together and the more effort and positivity we put into this place we call home, the more we will be able to care for one another. An abundant garden is grown where people not only come together to share in the meal, but also the harvest, and that spirit must continue to spark new life into our foodways everywhere. The Barefoot Farmer may have lost an iconic, celebration of a farm that served as a daily dose of inspiration and encouragement to all of us who choose to explore a better understanding of the complexities of this planet, but we shall not let him lose the support and appreciation of all of us who know the importance of his work in the Southeastern United States and his role in changing the national perspectives on growing food and living a healthful, mindful life.
“For the first time in the 40 years I’ve lived here, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Agribusiness has been destroying agriculture in many places for many years and I am not alone in this predicament. Actually, we are all in it together. I look forward to continue working for a just and sane agriculture, where people matter. I’ll probably move back after they’re gone.” – Jeff Poppen