I love the seasonality of farming. It is truly one of my favourite parts of this work. When you make a living from the land, you are tied intimately to the rhythms of the seasons, because they dictate everything you do.
The seasons dictate when the soil is warm or dry enough to plant in. They dictate which plants will grow, and how quickly they’ll grow. They dictate what your main tasks as a farmer will be (will it be seeding, weeding, harvest or planning?). They dictate when you will be flat out busy, and when you will have more time for rest and repose. When you will be working long days or able to snooze your alarm a few more times in the morning – or better yet (luxury of luxuries!), not set one.
Anyway, you get the idea. In farming the seasons are Queen, overseeing and dictating your days a lot more than you yourself do.
And while I love them all – spring, the season of anticipation, seeds, and seedlings, of life, lengthening days, and warming soils; summer, the hustle season – where it is all rush here and hurry there, when the crops and the weeds grow inches, seemingly overnight, when the sun is hot and the days are long, when you are starting to taste the fruits of your labors; or fall, the season of harvest and heavy morning dews, frosts, shortening days, carrots, potatoes, and beets, of sore, tired muscles, of mud, rot, and decay.
Then there is winter. The season of snow or rain, depending on your region, and quiet. Short days, cold, the mental wind down from the hectic rush of what came before. Time for soup, tea indoors, fires in the woodstove, seed orders, and planning, dreaming, and planning some more for the growing season to come.
Don’t get me wrong. I love winter as much as I love the rest of the seasons. It’s a necessary and welcome season on any farm. I’m always full of anticipation for winter by the end of September, even as I’m enjoying the October harvest and the first winter squash. There are always times in winter where I panic, thinking it’s all going by too fast and spring will come too soon.
But – I also struggle with winter, still, after so many years as a farmer. Because there is something very challenging about slowing down after moving so fast, the challenge of taking pause after living inside a whirlwind for the previous seven, eight, or nine months.
And there’s another reason why I find winter challenging. An admission of sorts: it’s because I like being flat out busy. I don’t always mind being too busy to have to fully make all of my own decisions (if the work is never done, it’s easy to just keep working and opt out of the dinner party); too busy to focus wholly on the world outside my own life (if the farm is all-consuming, it’s easier to dismiss, or not be as worried by the concerning things I see going on in the world around me).
I started out as an activist at a young age, and the cause for activism has not lessened since those earlier days. Small scale, organic farming is a way for me to live my activism in a positive way where I see the tangible results of what I’ve done. But it is also a distraction from that which I can’t always bear to be a witness to.
But in the winter, with the return of time and space to think, to breathe – sometimes that’s when the weight of the world comes crashing back in. Sometimes that space and free time I have longed for all spring, summer, and fall hits me like a ton of bricks to the chest as that space fills up with anxiety and fears, instead of the novels and baking of pies that I had been dreaming of while I washed root crops with frozen fingers.
Not that I want to paint a horribly bleak picture. I just want to explain that, despite the joys I truly find in the slower season of winter, it is also that internal time, where, farmer or not, I descend into my own depths, as well as take stock of the world around me. And in both cases, sometimes there is a reckoning, things that need to be faced. Whether those are areas in my own life where personal growth is needed, or whether it’s something happening in the world that I need to address, or take action on. In the winter, I don’t have the convenient option to instead focus my attention on easier things – such as the carrots that need weeding, the employees that need direction, or the farmers market that needs attending. Instead I’m left to face what was there under the surface all along and through the busier seasons – problems, worries, insecurities and all.
But after winter, as always, comes spring. And so matter how challenging a winter – and this current COVID winter is definitely one for the books – there comes growth and new life, green things bursting valiantly and jubilantly from the earth. No matter how dark or bleak the winter days, after a winter of rest, reflection and inner work, the spring soil offers us sustenance, hope, and abundance once again.
And this is why I love the cyclical nature of seasons on a farm.