The Resiliency of Community
The phone rattled me awake at 5:30 that frigid February morning. I heard the distinctive accent of an Amish farmer coming through my sleepy mind. “Liz, they are here. What do I do?” In less than an instant I was wide awake, adrenaline pumping heavily through my veins, a feeling similar only to those parenting moments when I wasn’t sure if my sweetly sleeping baby was still breathing. As the adrenaline mounted, it was partnered by the feeling of being kicked hard in the gut—the absolutely helpless feeling of knowing that what I dread is upon me, and that I am entirely helpless.
I knew it, without him saying who “they” were. My farmers, the families I chose to get my food from for years, were under attack, being raided by the very government that was ostensibly set-up to protect their—and all our—rights. I was 120 miles away, and all I could offer was the consolation and solace of a distant voice over the phone.
Prior to that call, I had witnessed numerous armed raids, violent regulatory enforcement, court proceedings, continual harassment, and eventual shut down of peaceful farmers who were simply feeding their communities. Some farmers opted to stop farming because of the sheer fatigue of dealing with the destructive nature of those who are tasked with “enforcement.” Others stopped after years of enduring the façade of “justice” through expensive and arduous court battles heavily biased towards the government regulatory systems.
The farmers experiencing these raids and harassment were involved in sustainable food production, including raw milk and raw milk cheeses. They provided these foods directly to families rather than going through a central processor or distributor. Each of the farms had the opportunity to know the families they served and each customer had the added, priceless value of knowing their farmer and that farm’s food production methods.
I got the call that morning because of my role in facilitating and coordinating the connections between producers and consumers to make these relationships possible.
I’ve spent many a spring day walking the pasture with a dedicated farmer, listening to their tales of waking up long before sunrise to start the chores and how they treasure those silent moments in the barn while the cows breathe together in the stillness. I’ve seen the way the farmers watch their animals, knowing and loving the distinct personalities of each. In the blasting heat of summertime, they make sure their animals are hydrated while they spend those brutal hours in the field making hay as the sweet sweat burns quickly off their bodies under a stinging sun.
The falling temperatures of autumn bring an acute austerity as the farmers prepare for the inevitable chill, their ungloved hands carefully tending to every last detail. I’ve gushed my appreciation to farmers who pull themselves out of bed on bitter, zero-degree days so that I can stay in my warm bed and still have the fresh food I desire. Their contribution to my life is immeasurably valuable and I revel in the appreciation I feel for the beloved farmers willing to make that sacrifice on those frigid mornings.
In understanding the role of these gentle stewards of the land, and appreciating their peaceful contributions, I am horrified that these farm families must endure armed and masked men stomping around their farms with fingers too close to triggers simply because the farm is providing food to people who seek it. It is incomprehensible to me that people are blindly obedient to orders destructive to their neighbors—whose children play with their own children in ignorance of the parent’s accused “transgressions.” Yet, I know that history has witnessed this scenario play out more times than I can count.
The panicked whisper cracked my trance, “What do I do?”
My heart broke as scattered images surfaced in my mind of pre-revolutionary Russia where enforcers drove peaceful farmers from the homes and the land they loved. And images of the dissipated lives after Jewish homes were raided and destroyed in 1930s Germany. All because sentient people chose to follow destructive orders. The instance this cold February morning was the same. Furious tears erupted uncontrollably and I wondered, in palpable helplessness, “How could this be happening?” And, “What could I possibly do?”
The closeness of this situation made my feelings sharper. This was my community that these farms fed. And this was my community that these senseless enforcers threatened. Over the years, I witnessed the magnificently diverse community grow, nurtured by our shared adventure of sourcing food from farmers we all trusted. Weekly meetings to collect food, and the unity of sharing a deep appreciation for the systems that nourished us, led to a natural closeness.
I noticed countless acts of kindness over the years as people supported each other through challenges: death, moving, unemployment and heartache. Or celebrated successes and milestones together: births, adoptions, new jobs and weddings. One family, unemployed for months, heated their home all winter from another family’s excess wood. Others bought food for those who struggled, offered their hearts and homes to travelers, or held community events on the wisdom of restorative agriculture. There was always an open and beautiful sharing of experiences, knowledge, resources, recipes and wisdom that filled my heart with an inexpressible gratitude. I saw the love exchanged between souls who knew each other only through this community. I grew to love the members of the community so generously extending kindness to someone who they knew needed it.
We built a tangible community based on the food sources we loved, trusted and profoundly appreciated. Individuals who never even tried to understand what it was we valued or why we valued it acutely threatened this community that February morning. By simply following orders.
But this really was happening. And I could do something. We each could.
Resiliency is beautiful to see in any natural system. The resiliency of a community depends the diversity of parts and the freely given contributions of the individual. These contributions make us, together, stronger than any adversity we face. Like the soils that nourish the garden, so too, do we, nourish each other.
In the contrived and external termination of one farm, we were given a beautiful opportunity to come through in graceful unity and continue to support and nourish the eco-systems of community interdependence.
Those of us who supported the farms, while deeply saddened, we were not complacent. From this attempt to destroy our food choices, we emerged more powerful and energized than before. The violent enforcement and action against one farm was not an end; it was a beginning. The beginning of new relationships forged with new farmers. The beginning of leaders emerging within smaller communities. The beginning of a decisive victory for natural, nourishing systems of peacefully organic exchanges for food.
Other farmers in the community strengthened their resolve and supplied the necessary food so there would be no disruption for the people who needed it and no disruption to the local economy now dependent on the income from these small transactions.
Now, almost 3 years from that initial call, and far from the loud military boots on doorsteps, a community is thriving on the complex, intertwining dance of interdependence. Like the soils cultivated by the farmers, a community nourished by love, gives individuals the courage, brilliance and resiliency to overcome mountains of tyranny.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.