Transitioning at the end of the growing season after the first frost can be a rewarding and bittersweet moment for farmers and land stewards alike! Creatures & plants know the telltale signs of the shorter days and colder months ahead; much like we do when predicting the weather forecast or seeing the leaves turn brown after falling. These changes look very different depending on your climate, but for the land it marks a time of migration, taking stock, layering, and resting. For us humans, it becomes a time of reflection and inner workings. As we’ve accomplished our goals of outward service, we often feel a need to come back to ourselves to relish in our accomplishments and make sense of what challenged us this year.
As orchards shift to pruning, farms create season extension with low tunnels, and gardens wrap up their last harvest, we begin to think back on the impact our growth had on the land, in our communities, and within ourselves.
For me, as an apprentice working closely with farmers & herbalists in WNC, I can recognize the tremendous growth that came from being in a closer relationship with plants this year. As a result, my ideas around “systems change” expanded to include food justice as a necessary movement toward liberation on land, and my feelings of powerlessness diminished significantly. I began to see a through line between access to garden education and resilience in communities of color. That expanse in my vision for abundance sparked a journey towards starting my own land stewarding project, and I decided about halfway into the apprenticeship that I wanted to be a farmer! The plethora of knowledge and stories shared with me throughout the program gave me hope in the power of collective resistance to the systems that bind us through community care. One of these experiences was with an organization with this exact intention.
Located in rural areas with little access to affordable, healthy ingredients and produce, places like Dig In! Yancey County Community Garden provide fresh vegetables & fruit to community members in schools, markets, and by delivery to homebound elders. When we visited and worked closely with Pat Battle and his mentees, an all-women crew, at Dig In my first reaction driving there was the distance between houses and food stores/markets in the area. Community gardens are usually an urban effort to serve food-insecure folks affected by gentrification and homelessness but rural areas experience food apartheid in their own ways. Even when there were stores with access to food, most of them were gas stations, dollar stores, and overpriced chain grocery stores. Once we sat down with the crew, the farm manager and Pat explained that oftentimes school was the only time kids could eat and that many families (with access to transportation) drove over 30 miles to get their groceries.
Dig In has worked to provide access to fresh produce for families in the area for 13 years, and the work I witnessed being done is incredible! They not only provide free produce to fight food insecurity but they also host future farmers and teach agriculture interns from WWC through multiple growing seasons in the garden. Passing on ecological knowledge and teaching land practices to younger generations is essential in sustaining ourselves now and in the future. Being included in this year's cohort gave me a new lens to see that my growth and work in food & farming will directly impact the resiliency of the broader food network in WNC. Every garden, farmer, and herbalist we encountered gave us a glimpse into how each piece of the food justice puzzle adds up to make the network that much stronger. I left feeling empowered that however I decided to make a difference in the food world, my contributions would add to existing community efforts, and I would never be alone in this work for food sovereignty. This is just one of the many reflections I’ve had since the end of my apprenticeship and the beginning of my work with FEAST; I see clearer now the connection between garden education, honorable land practices, and the potential for communities to thrive. Accessibility is everything when building sustainable food systems.
For those of us with an affinity for warmer weather, it can be daunting when we start dusting off our coats and gloves this winter, but even the farmers must rest and refill their cups for next year's season. The circle of life continues even as the land lies dormant, and the nutrients and warmth of our outward and inner harvest serve to see us through even the coldest of winter nights. The work we do, the stories we share, and the memories we’ve made directly benefit the strength of our community, and much like the health of our soil, bounce back with renewed vitality in the Spring. Let us rest in gratefulness for the connections we’ve made and the growth we’ve witnessed this year, and remember that our inner gardens need tending too!