Getting the Most from Farm Life: The Practice of Presence

As I prepare to dig a little deeper into life on the farm with my husband and daughter in 2018, my word of the year is "presence."

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Riccardo Cuppini/Flickr

Have you ever gotten that feeling that you’ve finally arrived? It seems like for my whole life, I’ve been working toward something. In high school, I dreamed of the college I’d go to. In college, I dreamed about my career and the places I’d travel and live. As I entered the real world, I worked my way up the ladder, looked forward to meeting the person I’d marry and wondered what kind of family we’d raise. I even cultivated this little dream about planting a garden and growing my own food.

Since moving to our farm, a lot of change happened very quickly, and many of the things I’d spent so much time dreaming about became reality. Mr. B and I planned our wedding in the midst of packing up our life for the country, and not long after we tied the knot, we learned we’d be bringing a tiny human into the world. Now, it seems like we have it all: an amazing piece of land, a partner in each other that we love and trust, and a daughter that makes our family three. We have arrived.

After spending so much time dreaming and planning, it’s an odd feeling to be in a place of getting to live out the things that you so anticipated. The excitement and wonder of the what’s-to-come has diminished, and now, I’m settling into this somewhat uncomfortable, somewhat satisfying state of just being. It’s weird, it’s new, and I often have to remind myself that I no longer have to position myself for future moves, whether in the metaphorical or literal sense. That’s why my word of the year (a tradition I started last year) is “presence.”

Through the practice of presence in 2018, I intend to more fully explore what life as a farmer, a wife and a mother means. The planner in me doesn’t know how to go about this. I want to make a roadmap, set goals, create lists. The nostalgic in me yearns for certain ways of life from which I’ve moved. But embracing presence means to loosen my grip on both of these things. It means not looking forward or looking back but truly relishing the moment.

Spiritual leader and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh put it most simply when he said, “Your true home is in the here and the now.”

I must admit, I’ve had a hard time allowing myself to settle into our new home and way of life. I’ve almost become addicted to all the change that Mr. B and I have undergone in the past 18 months, and I find myself constantly searching for a new project. Other times I find myself wishing we could skip the dirty, sweaty processes that go into some of the things we’re working on and jump immediately to the end result. But that’s not what farming and homesteading is all about, is it?

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People gravitate to this lifestyle because they can really focus on digging in and putting down roots. It’s the perfect farm metaphor, really. When cultivating plants, it’s sometimes tempting to check off easy tasks that claim to give you the end result you want: Add a little synthetic fertilizer, spray some insecticides, till up the weeds. Maybe the first crop is satisfying, but over time, your soil becomes weaker and weaker to the point where you’re putting all this time and money into making a crop grow that isn’t all that healthy anyway. But if you take your time to build up the soil—adding organic matter, using companion plants to deter pests and growing cover crops to add nutrients—you grow a stronger, healthier, more resilient crop.

The same goes with life.

Being in the here and now—practicing presence—can be difficult. It often takes more time. However, participating in the small, day-to-day activities, even if they aren’t the most easy or productive, helps build the joy that makes for a stronger, healthier life. Baking a loaf of homemade bread instead of buying one lets you feel that dough between your fingers as you knead it and breathe in its aroma as it bakes. Working a garden allows you to notice the warmth of sunshine on your back and the texture of plants you’re working with. Taking the time to play with your infant instead of worrying about dirty dishes and toys strewn about the floor, this lets you feel that butterfly-inducing happiness of basking in her big, toothless grin.

Having presence definitely isn’t something that comes naturally to me. While I’m sure there will be plenty around the farm this year to put the list-making planner part of my brain at ease, I look forward to what I’ll find in the everyday moments of farm life.

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