In the year and a half since moving to Canada, much has changed for Andy and me and our lives look drastically different than they did in India. Yet I continue to be amazed by the threads of continuity woven into our story; the dreams planted in that season of life that continue to grow and bear fruit in unexpected ways even now. In India, our neighbors were village migrants who had reluctantly left their land to eke out a precarious existence in a polluted city with dropping water tables, and living alongside them sparked Andy’s interest in learning about sustainable agriculture to address poverty at the roots. Last month, that dream began to germinate when Andy got a job working for a small-scale farm just outside Vancouver!
I never pictured myself married to a farmer–though my first literary crush was Almanzo, the brave, resourceful protagonist of Farmer Boy from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books my mom used to read to my sister and me at bedtime. Years later, my farmer husband is pursuing his dream of sustainable agriculture to address poverty at the roots. Andy has committed himself to learning the intricacies of nature and the wonder of humbly working alongside God to cultivate what we cannot manufacture. I could not be more proud of that [often rain-soaked] man in muddy boots who comes home exuberant after each day outside on the farm. Here he is, in his own words, explaining this new season of life:
One month ago, I quit my job in the city and became a farmer.
How did that happen?
It all began one sweltering afternoon two years ago, I was riding the public bus in India with my colleague, Govind. Reflecting on the challenges of doing community development in our city, Govind remarked that people in the villages were much more invested in their community and land than people in the slums. Living as squatters in the city, there was little incentive to invest long term in their communities or the land on which they lived. Our neighbors were further disempowered through the loss of family networks in the village, and they couldn’t use their agrarian expertise in the city—which meant they were usually left doing tedious, dangerous, and low-paying jobs to make ends meet.
Govind’s comments reinforced the many conversations Trudy and I had with our neighbors in the slum, the vast majority of whom had recently migrated to the city due to lack of land security, land holdings that were too small for conventional agriculture, and declining soil productivity–all of which made it hard to earn a living as farmers, as their ancestors had done. Especially after visiting some of our friends’ home villages, I began to dream about doing community development work “further up stream” in an agrarian context, enabling farmers to make a meaningful choice about whether or not to move to the city.
A new season and a new community
While we were still in India, I was introduced to a Christian conservation organization called A Rocha, which seeks to show God’s love for all creation through hands-on conservation projects, environmental education programs, and sustainable agriculture initiatives. This includes restoring salmon habitat, training young scientists, inspiring school children, and providing fresh vegetables to low-income families. Love for people, place, and our planet are the threads that tie together and motivate A Rocha. A Rocha’s work is done in the context of community and with the aim of building bridges between people of diverse backgrounds as we all strive to care for—and be cared for by—the places we call home.
In February, I was hired as an Assistant Farm Manager with A Rocha’s Sustainable Agriculture program at the Brooksdale Environmental Centre in Surrey, BC. While getting my hands dirty (literally) with planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting, I’ll also be putting my business skills to use by selling our produce to restaurants and supporting A Rocha’s Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) Program, in which CSA members commit to the farm by paying in advance for a weekly harvest box. Throughout the growing season, they then enjoy produce that is healthy and fresh while getting to connect with the farmers who grow the food that they eat. Our CSA program currently supplies about 100 shares, which fund the bulk of the program costs. The rest our budget comes from small grants, sales at market stands, and fundraising.
Many people have expressed surprise when I tell them that I am working as a farmer. I have never farmed, have always lived in cities (some of the largest and most crowded on earth!), and spent my university years studying international business. And yet… I have a deep desire to work with my hands, to grow real food, to learn about how to care for a piece of land (and it’s non-human inhabitants). I’m also excited to do all of this in the context of community, working alongside volunteers and interns who are also learning. A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre is just such a place: a living laboratory where people come together to learn about and experience the goodness of God’s creation. This is an opportunity to gather skills that I can use to help small-scale farmers steward their land well and avoid the trap of urban poverty that our neighbors experienced in India.