Stewardship and the Presence of Silence

What a crazy week?!! Last week (on May 5th) the Spring semester ended for UTK students which means this has been the official first week of working full time on the farm for the interns. Um yeah… crazy. So in this week we have had 1 farmer’s market, 3 CSA drop-off days, harvested over 60 pounds of kale, sun burned approximately 3 zig-zag shapes on my back, planted around 900 feet of corn, 4 varieties of tomatoes, 200 feet of okra, and that doesn’t even begin to cover it! And as much as has happened this week there is still that moment each day when I look up and realize how lucky I am. Don’t get me wrong, farming is hard. I am burned, sore, and exhausted with a deadline of planting dates constantly in the back of my mind and  a hopeful eye searching for a rain cloud (19 days since the last rain). This isn’t easy, but there is nothing more beautiful then looking up and realizing that the wind is blowing the rye in the field, the sun is moving the leaves as the morning dew evaporates, and the silence. Oh the blessed silence. This is something beautiful to behold. There is still noise on the farm, but its different. Not the beeps of emails and text messages rolling into your inbox or car horns alerting you to your impending doom or anything that NEEDS you. Instead it is the sounds of bees searching for new flowers, cows on distant farms, trains rumbling past, the drip of irrigation. I think the beauty in these noises is that they don’t require me or my attention. For crops to be grown and harvested, my presence (and my fellow interns) are very much needed, but bees will still find pollen, cows will still be mooing, and the trains will still roll past whether or not I am there and with out ever noticing when I am there. Maybe our lesson this Summer isn’t what I expected. Yes, I will learn to grow and sell produce, but maybe it goes beyond the scripted curriculum to something only the land itself can teach. I haven’t completely grasped what the lesson is yet, but I think it is partially the lesson of stewardship.

Organic farming is different from conventional in many ways. We can’t spray round-up to kill the weeds or a general, non-specialized pesticide to kill all the bugs that do or do not threaten our crop. We have to watch, wait, and learn. This means scouting the insects that are present in our field, keeping records of past problems, planning the crops to compliment each other, using cover crops, mulches, etc. This takes time, knowledge, and experience. It doesn’t feel as invasive to me, but is instead guiding and nurturing. Stewardship. I think the farm is showing me that we do not own it, but instead we are responsible for caring for it. I think I am grasping in the dark a little here and I’m sure as more time passes the lesson will become clearer.

Note: As this entry was being prepared, it did rain. Huzzah.


Industrial Hemp Making a Comeback in TN? Let’s Hope So!

There is currently a lot of talk and even some promising action surrounding the issue of re-legalizing the cultivation of industrial cannabis hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill was approved in the Federal House of Representatives finally last month with a crucial amendment that focuses on the rescheduling of industrial cannabis hemp. More specifically, the US Senate’s “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013” would appropriately differentiate the non-psychoactive cannabis hemp from another variety of the plant currently placed under schedule I drug prohibition. The amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill “allows institutions of higher education to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research.” The volition of the State’s will decide whether or not to allow hemp to be cultivated.


This is an incredible advance in the outmoded, if ever valid, prohibition of a vital crop which has been predicted to offer to meet and exceed the nations fiber and nutritional needs. Perhaps the US can once again become a major exporter–or at least begin to provide more for itself without ravaging the land. Cannabis hemp may be a superior feedstock for bio-fuels, plastics, building materials, insulation, and a host of other products that currently are derived from unsustainable fossil fuel consumption. The impressive scale of this reality may hold promise to an end in the need to cut down one more single tree for paper. Hemp is a crop that can offer a profitable and sustainable mode of agriculture to the landscape in Tennessee.


 Proponents of forestry and agriculture alike will surely recognize this as an epic turning point in our history—one which will likely be venerated by future generations. It is likely that the prohibition of the plant was tied to political and industrial interests which sought to remove competition from the vital and versatile agricultural crop to make way for other products in the capitalistic pursuit of profits. The controversy surrounding genetically modified crops, the need for bioremediation, the plague of petrochemical pollution, and the viability of agriculture and manufacturing for Americans are all benefits for our failing economy.


One does not have to do too much digging to research on the Web to read about the history, many uses, and benefits of this crop that has been a part of humankind at least since agriculture itself was developed.

Legislature pertinent to the new Farm Bill is currently awaiting approval in Tennessee. There are many avenues from which to show your support for this groundbreaking step toward better health and economic stability for Tennesseans:

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Please click the links below to explore a viable crop with exciting economic and environmental benefits for the land, people, families, and communities of our nation:

(All photos sourced from the Web--not property of the author.) -Fiber strain different than drug -Hemp as a pesticide [nematicide]

Concepts and Themes in Design – Permaculture Course

Originator of the Permaculture Concept, literally denoting permanent agriculture, is Australian agriculturalist, educator, and permaculture pioneer, Bill Mollison. His contributions in the area of agricultural design and processes have given rise to many concepts that focus on developing a sustainable agriculture in all varieties of setting and climate. Permaculture not only encompasses the culture of soils and plant life, but it pays attention to all aspects of human interaction with the natural environment, such as housing, transport, community design, etc, which all spring from the idea that resources should be conserved within intentionally designed systems; much like the traditional concepts involved in organic agriculture.

In this video of one of his classes taught at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Mollison draws from his experiences with aboriginal people among other things to express major concepts and major themes in design that one should think of when implementing an intentionally sustainable system of agriculture. Mollison notes the importance of experimentation and continuous attention to natural rhythms, geometry, and other mathematical concepts that allow the designer to create something better than what is conventionally accepted. The video is set in the classroom with Mollison using a chalkboard to aid in his lecture. His ideas and stories are fascinating and intriguing in my opinion!