Strategy and Potatoes

Posted on behalf of Kelly Chen, Media Coordinator for the North Shore Team

Some things I’ve done this summer don’t seem “strategic,” whatever that word means. And as green heads nipped at my skin, and mosquitos left itchy red spots, and soil found new homes under my nails, I questioned what I was doing at New Harmony farm in Newburyport, or in other words, how “strategic” the visit was.

Even though this summer is the first time  I’ve been involved in the movement, I’ve still constructed my own distinctions between what I think I should and shouldn’t be doing, between what seems relevant and not so relevant-digging out little red potatoes in the ground, clearing out weeds, and bundling up carrots to be sold didn’t seem particularly related to what I thought Climate Summer should be. A large part of the success of this program rests on our freedom to essentially craft our own summers. If we get to organize ourselves, shouldn’t we try to do everything that we can and be strategic and wise with our time?

The station where we washed carrots.

The station where we washed carrots.

This thought process evolved as I moved down the rows of potatoes and chard and at the carrot cleaning station inside the barn. My frustration and confusion built, but then Erin, founder of the farm, asked for our reflections about the morning on the fields. I would never go off on a negative tangent to a stranger, and more so, to a host, so I tried to find something positive. I shared how I felt finding potatoes in the ground: happy, at ease, grateful. That it made me think of who was going to be eating the food, the work that had to go into growing these plants, and the connections between the land, people at this farm, and consumers. While reflecting, I realized that the calmness and joy the afternoon imparted were true and it was harder to associate my morning with irritating bugs and confusion about being at the farm.

Sophie and Shreya help Erin sort out the farm stand.

Sophie and Shreya help Erin sort out the farm stand.

Erin had her own reasons besides those in creating this farm: hoping that New Harmony become a paradigm for permaculture and sustainability, to offer and create a place of healing, and for herself to become more in tune with the physical world and more “hearty,” – which, side note, is a word that’s too rarely used in our language these days (Question: What does that reflect about our society?). A lightbulb didn’t suddenly click; I didn’t form an instant, direct connection from those words to the Salem gas plant fight, but I did start thinking all the good vibes I discovered once moving past the initial irritation about the bugs and skepticism about the relevance of the trip. I was reminded of the importance I’ve placed on being hearty and challenging myself physically throughout my own life. I reeled through moments of calm from repetitive, mundane activities – biking tens of miles with a heavy trailer, dicing mounds of garlic, spending six hours climbing out of the Grand Canyon, doing trail work, rowing, running. For some reason that made me really proud of myself and happy with what I’ve done.  I had a moment where I accepted that we weren’t out canvassing or planning for a public forum, but just doing something that made me smile and reminded me of all the things I’ve done before Climate Summer.
When I’ve felt directionless and frustrated and useless this summer, I think those feelings in retrospect have been rooted in trying too hard to justify fun activities that left me smiley inside against the desire to do only “strategic” events. Erin’s farm plays a huge role in a sustainable future, but what I gained the most from that afternoon was examining myself and finding the happiness of finding a little red potato that other feelings had overshadowed, which changed my attitude about what “strategic” can mean. Of course, it still means doing all that we can to spread awareness about what’s happening in Salem and all these communities we have encountered, but it’s also balancing work with play.

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