Sunday, April 7, 2019

New Beginnings

Freshly collected organic eggs.

This week I started my new job at Agnès and Renaud's organic farm here in the Southern French Alps. We buy our veggies and eggs from them every week at the artisanal store right by our house called Montagnes Paysannes (Mountain Peasants). We also sell our honey at the same shop. We’ve known them for a few years now and they are a kind couple with strong organic farm ethics, so when I spoke to Agnes about looking for a job maybe working at the store, she said to me that they were looking for some farm hands for help this season, and my eyes lit up. 

I’m so happy for spring’s arrival. The many blossoms and flowers add some color to an otherwise green and gray canvas of hillside and mountain. I feel like these are gifts from nature for making it through winter, a token of appreciation. I can feel a shift in the energy of my surroundings. I see bees buzzing around the blossoms, hear the birds more loudly, and all of our farm friends are up over their heads with work. It’s the beginning of a new season indeed, and I am hopeful and excited. 

Purple Irises add globs of color to the side of the farm house. 

Mysterious cone flowers the bees go crazy for!

We started off the week with a large egg delivery. I was in charge of collecting and preparing hundreds of eggs in their cartons for delivery to CSA (community supported agriculture) members and up-end restaurants and hotels in Nice. It’s no surprise that some top restaurants on the French Riviera want local, organic and quality eggs. We are lucky to have them each week too. Working at another CSA farm, where the consumers and farmer share a risk in the struggles and benefits of farming, reminded of my early days years ago farming in Montana. 

I greet the hens and say thank you for each egg I harvest in the end house. It’s been a bit of a dilemma for me because a part of me feels bad for stealing their eggs. Perhaps it’s part of my woman’s instinct, though I have not experienced motherhood, taking away the babies of another feels wrong. Jorris made the point that they are not fertilized eggs so there is no baby yet, but I still feel that it is a potential baby the way I see then hens sit on them, keeping them warm and protected. Most move out of the way but some are more aggressive and don’t want to leave their eggs. Their pecks and the way they fluff up their bodies tell me so. When I do get the eggs, they are warm in my fingers. I say thank you, sorry, and leave. 

Every morning I say bonjour to the girls et merci.

Gifts I pull from their little nesting houses. 

"Bio" (organic) eggs I packaged into cartons for the stores.

I suppose it’s the same with honey. We are technically stealing honey from the bees who make them. Of course, we don’t take all of their honey like some do. But maybe it doesn’t affect my moral judgement as much because I don’t see a bee sitting on its honey and protecting it? I feel the sting though, occasionally. 

Perhaps the silver-lining of working with the hens, gathering their eggs, stepping in their poop, giving gratitude to them each day, allows me to be closer to where my food comes from. To me it’s a special feeling, perhaps even rare in this day and age, to know so intimately where our food comes from. It is something our modern-day society lacks, and I believe this disconnect between where our food comes from and ourselves is making us sick. The low-quality, processed commercial “food items” produced on massive monocultures, mostly of genetically-modified corn and soy, making Mother Earth sick and us in return. 

The taoist see the inner body as a landscape. This metaphor resonates with this notion of our relation to Mother Earth’s landscape. If her rivers and oceans are polluted, so is the blood that flows in our veins. If we poison her soil with chemicals, we poison ourselves. 

I’ve been enjoying my work outdoors in the fresh air of the French Alps, chemical free. We drink pure water, which comes directly from the local spring. Our hands hold living, clean earth saturated with microorganisms, which I’m sure are making me healthier, along with the chicken poop. So much of our earth’s soil is dead from over-farming. So much of the food most people eat from the supermarkets are pasteurised or overly clean. How can we expect to live harmoniously with the many other microscopic organisms if we kill them all off? How can we expect not to get sick or have allergies when we sterilize everything and our bodies are not exposed to any bacteria?

I love all the freckles and imperfects of these beauties, not to mention taste! 

Heavy cases of eggs ready for delivery. 

Anyway, I digress. Farming is hard work, no doubt. But, I am learning how to work smarter and not harder. This doesn’t mean cutting corners or faking it because in farming, you can’t “fake it till you make it”. Farming is something else. It requires patience, honesty and you literally reap what you sow.  

I feel like I am developing a different part of my brain. For one, the language part, since while I am learning to farm I am also learning a lot of new French vocabulary. Secondly, I am getting better at understanding economics, making predictions, and calculating time. For example, with the eggs, I was placing the finished cartons in the big box for delivery and that big box was to my left on the table. After I filled that box with 21 egg cartons, I had to lift it down to the ground where it should have been. thought to myself, why didn’t I predict that it would need to be on the ground and just leave the box on the ground, adding the egg cartons into it, eliminating the steps of lifting the box onto the table and then later lifting the heavy box loaded with fragile eggs to set it onto the ground? These seemingly little innocuous things add up and I want to preserve my physical capabilities for the long haul. 

With tasks like these, I look to do things more efficiently and find that I naturally apply these little improvements to other parts of my life. Saving a little time here and there through efficient work saves a lot of time at the end of the day, week, month, year. And time is precious. 

"French Breakfast" radishes freshly harvested and washed for artisanal store.

As simple as packaging eggs may sound, which it is, I’m learning so much, finding beauty in the mundane. After all, farming is really just a combination of monotonous tasks, I’m learning. Sure, the end results of big leafy rainbow chard or crunchy “French Breakfast” radish (which I got to taste yesterday straight from the ground) and happy customers are all beautiful and romantic pictures of what it means to farm, but it’s not what we see nor do everyday. What we see everyday is a puzzle piece of irrigation lines and parts. What we do everyday is walk back and forth, to and from the same fields, looking for pieces of irrigation parts or moving things around. And the most seemingly simple tasks such as putting up the plastic of the hoop house takes hours. But through the small little moments of waiting for Indira to throw me the line from across the house so I can secure it on the pole, I take in the fresh air, admire the white cherry blossoms and birds chirping.  

The serre where we added the plastic onto and the cherry blossoms.

I am a romantic at heart, can’t change it even if I tried, and believe me I have tried. I’ve learned to accept my nature though, even appreciate it. Because, I have seen around me, even from the very hard-working farmers who probably started out as romantics, that life can harden you and you can loose perspective so easily in the mundane. As Indira, my colleague, whom I work with said yesterday while we were in the chicken coop in French something like, “Life will swallow you up, if you’re not tough,” I thought to myself that is very true and I am getting tougher, but I also I wish to safeguard the appreciation for beauty and curiosity of life because if we lose touch with those, what is left or worth living for? This is not to say that she has lost touch per se, just that her quote makes me think that it is dangerous to be soft and vulnerable in life. And it is, but I think only when we take that risk of vulnerability can we experience true beauty and joy.

*photos by Tiffanie Ma.

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