Say I Love You in Seeds

I started farming 10 years ago, never meaning for it to become my career.  I just wanted a summer job after college to figure out what I was really going to do with my life.  

At the end of the summer, I’d be traveling with my boyfriend to New Zealand and assumed we’d move in together after spending 2 years long-distance.  That was the plan, at least.

But it didn’t go that way.

That summer blight struck the Northeast, infecting tomatoes across New England.  I read one account that claimed there were no tomatoes left in Connecticut.

Before it reached us, I ate Sungold cherry tomatoes in the hoop house, unable to stop myself even after the acidity stung my stomach, as my taste buds convinced me to harvest another, then another, saying “just one more” while my stomach groaned in protest.  

By the time my boyfriend, Matt, came to visit, blight had started to set in in Vermont, too. It was in the hoop house, as he helped me prune the tomatoes, that I said, “I don’t know if I want to be together anymore.”

We stood at opposite ends of the house, our faces hidden behind tangles of vines as we worked to cut away diseased leaves.  

Half of me ached as I said the words out loud, while a spark lit in the other half, a light just bright enough to remind me of something I’d lost in myself.

Mouth and stomach.  Heart and gut.

Did it hurt the tomatoes as we cut limbs off?  Did they feel the slice each time we pruned? Did they know we were just trying to save them from blight taking over completely?

Matt and I didn’t last through August.  

On the farm, my bosses and I harvested every last tomato, setting them in crates on the kitchen floor to ripen off the vines.  They’d be processed into salsa, soup, and sauce. Something to last the winter, despite the disease that led us to pull each plant up by its roots months earlier than planned.

The tomatoes didn’t cry, but I did.  

All the while, the land held me.  It showed me how to heave and settle. Its swales cradled me as I sobbed.

And somehow, those tears turned to seeds; seeds sprouted in new soil; I made my way to New Zealand, Tasmania, back to Vermont, and eventually to Alaska.  

That one summer job set me on a path I’d never imagined.  

Through loss and growth, farming taught me a steady rhythm as rooted as soil and strong as wind.  Everywhere I traveled, this steadiness revealed itself.

Maybe that’s why I fell in love with a farmer the next year, with a man who seemed to hold that steadiness within him already—who’d also heaved and broke and reworked his own heart, finding himself, too, drawn to and reshaped by the land.  

At its root, farming is love.

It’s new love and steady love, exciting and familiar all at once:

The seed and the root.  The annual and perennial.  Co-existing, intertwining, balancing.  

I don’t know much about St. Valentine, and honestly, my husband isn’t interested in the holiday.  

But I find it fitting that we celebrate love in February, when seed orders arrive and we begin sowing the first successions of the year.  When we’re still in the grips of winter, but improbably close to spring. When seeds remind us of new life and the possibility of growth.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

“There’s something miraculous that happens in a garden.  It’s a place where, if you can’t say ‘I love you’ out loud, you can say it in seeds.  And the earth will reciprocate, in beans.”

My first summer farming, I couldn’t say “I love you” out loud anymore.  

But I planted and hoed and harvested, and the earth reciprocated a thousand times over.

So today, whether you’re in love or out of love or being pulled apart in different directions, know the land is here to steady you.  

Plant a seed.  

What grows may change your life.

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