I didn’t get into this thing consciously; there was no decision made, no career-test administered, or no plan of any sort, not at first anyway. It just sort of grew in me, starting perhaps when I was a boy passing off Comfrey leaves as payment for an invisible meal at a ‘restaurant’ in a game we used to play in the woods. My mother ran a daycare which meant there was always an endless supply of friends to grow the economy of the imaginary town we created in the woods. Everywhere there were paths through the woods, lady slippers and log bridges, and my old house beneath the giant maples in the front yard. The Comfrey plants by the barn were the bank, guarded by Tristan or Ryan with sword in hand; that community meant everything to me, to all of us who played.
Fast forward to a college dropout journalist me, together with sweet Marina, disillusioned by the annoying Bush years and the crawl of a generational unrest, the first pangs of a staid life of loan payments and general drudgery just beginning to ache. We were in the kitchen, I recall, just staring at each other with this anger, this sleepless feeling of want and unhad adventures. Nothing was how we wanted it to look, as if we both were part of a group project and somewhere along the line we had ceded control to other people in the group and now the whole thing was wholly wrong and unsatisfying and we were ashamed to present it to anyone else.
In a sentence or two we hatched a plan to get out, the way you would hatch a plan to hit the eject button on your starfighter pre midair-death-collision, a knee-jerk. Our first notion was something like “Let’s go be ski bums in California,” and it seemed good, rolled off the tongue well and left our mouths with this electric taste, the zing of movement and of action; we had crossed a line.
After some internetting and advice from my brother at Warren Wilson College we stumbled upon the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program. It seemed like an inexpensive way to travel – we could rig up a sleeping situation in the back of Marina’s truck and just go from farm to farm, live to work and eat farm meals, be outside, be together. It felt perfect.
So I was never interested in farming as an occupation, it just popped up in my life. It exploded, actually, into my life, and brought with it this warp-speed rush of all things important and romantic, radical and right. Goats that gave milk that you could drink right out of the pail, long days in the field that reworked the epidermal integrity of my hands, crock pots of bees wax, a cupboard of glass jars filled with every dried herb imaginable, food alive, boots and tools, farm libraries, and everywhere across the country people involved in discourse and work, action and drive, the very nuts and bolts I was missing. Importance thrived on these farms.
Now I work at Rippling Waters Organic Farm in Standish, Maine as a Journeyperson through an educational program with Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). This is my second year on the farm and from here I intend to start my own small operation in nearby Limington – the land I grew up on. My experiences through WWOOFing took hold on something deep within me and fused this lifestyle to my own.
Rippling Waters is a five-acre operation on the Saco River; we actually pump our irrigation water right out of the river. We farm for markets in Portland, Bridgeton, and Gorham and do our best to practice farming methods we view as sustainable and beyond the realm of just conventional organic. Sheet mulching, layered beds, no-till practices, permaculture, companion planting, funky beds, and perennial food – all of these things have helped us increase productivity on the farm and open our fields up for education and experimentation while helping to actually increase produce yields.
The farm is technically an educational, non-profit operation with gardens in nearby elementary schools and a solar-passive greenhouse (that uses water barrels as a solar heat sink) at the middle school. Farm to school education is the main goal of Rippling Waters, and every week it is part of my job to teach others how to grow food as I work with various social service groups and volunteers. We have a field staff of four, run a 100+ member CSA and work six days a week.
It is a beautiful place and I have gained a deep admiration for those who are working to bridge the gap between real food and the void left by financial constraints in our public schools. It is good work, but for the most part my job focuses on the running of the farm, which in itself encompasses a wonderful one-million things. Contending with the ever-multiplying stack of mysteries woven into things like greenhouse construction, plant health, pests, water management, companion planting, polycultures, fundraisers, irrigation systems and electric fences. The farmer has to be the everyman; able to transplant delicate flowers, build shelves and stairs and tables, find and snare woodchucks, design posters, talk to customers and take care of the soil all within the confines of a day. There is never want for a challenge and each day requires a full and healthy mind and body; each day requires full attention, creativity and responsibility.
It is everything to me, this life. To live by the potential of my own hands and mind. I think if you are still reading this then maybe these things mean something to you too. So I invite you to read along with me this year, so I can tell you about all the wild insane awesome stuff I find.
-Thanks again, Stowell P. Watters