The Summer I Didn’t Farm: what happens when we take a step in the opposite direction

“There are some things one can only achieve by taking a deliberate step in the opposite direction.” - Franz Kafka


I didn’t farm this summer. 

Sure, I kept the office side of the farm going — sending out CSA newsletters, managing new sign-ups and bookkeeping — but for all intents and purposes, I didn’t farm.  

Instead, I wrote.  I planned. I took my dog for walks in the woods while a new vision took form in my mind.  I went back to the seed stage and did work that no one saw — working the proverbial soil in which to root into, unfurl and grow.  

Ever since I started farming, I’ve wanted to be a writer and a farmer.  And yet my experience has been the opposite: a farmer and a writer. 

It’s a subtle difference, but one I’ve pushed against for nearly a decade.  As someone who gets strength from a clear vision and understanding of my purpose, last summer that clarity turned foggy.

Pressure welled up inside my body for weeks – my chest like a flooded basement with water inching up the stairs to the kitchen door.  Instead of getting a pump and clearing it out, I sat scared against the door, willing it to stay locked.  

Willfully ignoring the fact that water will inevitably win.  That it will burst open and reshape the landscape, wash out roads you once traveled with ease, rip up roots and tumble boulders.  

It was a sunny day in September when the flood crashed through me.

When I went from broadforking to sobbing.  When the bed I was working on was left half-done, and suddenly it didn’t matter if I knew why I felt like this or not, because it was here and demanding, unwilling to be locked in the basement anymore.  

Days later, when the storm had calmed from sobs to a steady trickle, I called my cousin to help make sense of it.  

“You’re out of alignment,” Amy said.  “You’ve forgotten why it is you’re doing what you’re doing — and you’re someone who’s always needed to know that.  The choices you made 5 years ago aren’t necessarily the choices that will serve you now.”

Once the flood dried up, I was left with a choice: to reconstruct the road that had gotten me here, or to clear a new path that would take where I wanted to go.

Taking a step in the opposite direction happens all the time on the farm:

From pruning tomatoes, when we cut off healthy limbs so the plants put energy into the main stalk and into making fruit.  To clearing during transition seasons, when we pull healthy crops to make space for the next succession.  

Lettuce that could regrow one more time is turned under to make way for carrots.  Zucchini that’s taken up its whole bed plus two pathways is pulled because we don’t know what to do with any more of its prolific fruit.

Then there are the big steps:

We began Good Heart with a vision to create a full-diet farm.  Intensive grazing was going to be a main aspect of our farm.  From meat to grains to maple syrup and honey, we planned to offer everything one would need to satisfy the body.  

Now we grow vegetables and flowers.  We brush hog the field.  

It took taking a leap and going all in for us to realize what we’re best at and what we can offer without draining ourselves to empty.  It took trying to do it all to realize we didn’t want to be self-sufficient, but community-sufficient.

And this summer, the biggest step in the opposite direction I’ve taken:

I stopped weeding, stopped harvesting, didn’t transplant or seed, because the journey to our goals isn’t straight.  

There are times when what we’re defined by doesn’t allow us to grow into what we can become.  

I wonder what it’s like for a plant, going from seed to seedling, the cotyledon dropping away as true leaves appear, the stem thickening, the leaves growing, the flower eventually blooming.

Everywhere in nature plants are in community as they shift through each stage.  How is it that we humans can feel so alone in the transition? Is it the expectation to be predictable, to stay on a certain path, that can make growth painful?

I think of the times I’ve grown with ease: in childhood, in college, when exploration was encouraged, when I didn’t yet have to answer the question, “What do you do?” which really means, “Who are you?  How can I understand you?”

Instead of what do you do, this summer I asked myself: How do I show up as I want to be seen?  

As I set out to answer it, another question arose: will people leave, unfollow, and judge me for pivoting?  The fear beneath this is that I’ll be alone — because my greatest strength is connection, and my greatest fear is being rejected, cut off from the people I love and the people I serve.

But if growth is to happen, if any of us are to bloom in the way we yearn to, we must ask:

What limbs need to be pruned in order to grow the biggest fruit?  

What direction must I swerve in order to step into who I’ve longed to be? 

What came of taking a step in the opposite direction?

Fear and doubt that this was the right choice — overridden by the focused aliveness and joy I felt when I was doing my work, building the foundation and map for my business, and the constant encouragement and assurance from Edge.

A new website with a bigger focus on creativity and writing. 

A pruning of my sprawling goals down to three.  

Two books — whose forms have been amorphous and just out of reach — come into focus so that I am finally setting them into motion, writing their outlines and the first sketches of chapters onto the page.

And a realization that I need the farm, too.  That my step in the opposite direction was too far away from the soil, and it’s time to recalibrate the balance between words and soil, because for me, each helps the other grow.

Have you ever swerved?  Taken a step in the opposite direction?  

Or do you feel the deep desire to question, clear a new path, step into a vision that others may not yet know about or understand?

If so, welcome.  I’m so glad you’re here.  You don’t have to grow alone.

While I’m still clearing my own path, here are a few things that I hope will help you as you clear yours:

Feel it all.  Don’t keep the door locked as the flood rises.  The sooner you start looking and asking questions, the sooner you’ll start finding answers.

Write.  Writing your questions and your goals down help create movement and momentum.  You don’t have to be poetic or perfect — my journals are far from both — but writing can help you find clarity on the foggy days.

Get support.  We all grow better in community.  Whether you enlist your closest friends, family, a therapist, or coach, find the people who will root you on and support you as you grow.  Even plants are supported by mycelium, organic matter, and sometimes literal trellises. We’re not so different from plants. Let yourself be supported.

Whatever you’re growing toward, know I’m cheering you on.

11 thoughts on “The Summer I Didn’t Farm: what happens when we take a step in the opposite direction”

  1. So appreciate what you wrote. One, for the peek into your heart and the work that’s happening there, and two, to reflect on my own shifting season. I very much related to the metaphor of the flooding basement. Wow! It was a real treat to meet you at Tribe and I have really enjoyed reading your post on Instagram. Very much looking forward to those two books!

  2. Hello Kate, I love this story. I have a lot of admiration for your courage to honor your need to create. Whishing you the best, Claudia

  3. Hi Kate!

    Thanks for your vulnerability and straight-to-the-heart words. I follow you and your blog not because you’re a farmer or a writer, but because you’re you. And as days and weeks and months pass, people change. It’s necessary for growth, death, and rebirth.

    I’ve changed myself. I thought I would move to Vermont and be an herbalist. Oh, I’m still an herbalist in my own way. It just never crossed my mind that I would also be a photographer, writer, stepmother to four children, a partner to an amazing man, and a Connecticut resident. I was going against the river current, so I finally let myself go. Annie actually taught me to do so. And it’s the best thing I could’ve done for myself.

    So keep being you. There are so many facets to you. And there’s beauty in that.

    Much love,
    Nika

    1. Thank you, Nika. You put it perfectly: where’s the river current naturally pulling us? I’m so happy to hear about all you’re creating now, and I love seeing your photos. Sending you so much love,
      Kate

  4. Sabrinajoy Milbury

    Dear Kate,
    Thank you for your honest, from the heart writing. For allowing us to see your vulnerability, your process. I have read this piece three times. It has touched me deeply. And encouraged me to pick up my pen again and get back to writing.
    Sabrinajoy

  5. Kate,

    Our goals in life change, especially when the world around us is changing. That doesn’t necessarily mean our purpose is changing, we just chose different paths to get there.

    You need to do what makes your soul sing or you will not feel happy or fulfilled. It’s clear from your writing that you are very passionate about writing and farming (and writing about farming) . You have been an inspiration to me ever since I read your article in Taproot Magazine. Through your posts and articles you’ve encouraged and motivated me to change course in my own life and do what truly makes me happy. It’s been a long journey, but in less than a year we’ll be moving from Connecticut to live and farm in Vermont! Our original plan for the farm has changed quite a bit, but the main purpose for wanting to do it hasn’t changed.

    You continue to be an inspiration!

    1. Thank you, Rob! Yes, I love writing about farming, and farming too. It makes me so happy to hear you’re making the move to VT! Hooray! I can’t wait to hear more – keep me posted.

  6. Pingback: The Year of True Connection - The Good Heart Life

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