Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Looking back, looking forward

Ken King, founder of Frog Holler Farm, passed away last year. A deeply thoughtful man, Ken left essays, fragments, poems behind - most unpublished - and many inspirational. Here is the introduction to what was apparently the start of a book. As Cathy and Ken & Cathy's sons - Billy, Kenny and Edwin - contemplate this new season without Ken's physical presence, these words provide a reminder of the basic ideals that always informed Ken's vision and actions; they also provide guidance for the choices that lie ahead.

Untitled, by Ken King

It is the last day of 2003. The seed catalogs have arrived, and tomorrow morning I will begin to look them over. As the process begins of contemplating the upcoming gardening year, the basic question always arises: Apart from the relative successes and failures of past years - good crops, poor crops, good or bad soil management, right or wrong seed selections, smart or not-so-smart marketing of plants and produce - apart from the purely technical assessment of the Frog Holler operation, how are we really doing?

This question is more often than not brought up by one or another of my boys, who are quite naturally looking at our lives and work at Frog Holler in terms of a sustainability that goes beyond the common notion. Is this work - are these rhythms and routines - is this state of mind - is the life of an organic market gardener as we have created and experienced it, something that we want to continue and to pass on to other generations? If so, how can we do this; if not, how must we change and adapt?

We were talking about the upcoming season and the matter of extra help. Apart from some of the neighbors who comprise a loosely knit but dependable and efficient part-time crew, should we advertise for extra help?

Oldest son Billy's take was this: What is it exactly that we might need more of, that we would be looking for with more help? What defines the size and shape of our operation? Money? Responsibility to customers? Personal challenge? Or is it, as Billy often tries to express, mostly a sense of balance and even ease that can so easily elude someone in the typically most demanding and least rewarding occupation of market gardening.

I could put it another way: On one hand, we have the ideal of living close to the land, growing organic food with love and care for the earth and the people; and on the other hand we have the demands and stresses and imbalances of modern-day life. Without the ideal we are lost spiritually; without concern for material realities, we could well be lost financially. These two considerations have to spell compromise.

The purpose of this book is to lead you through a typical organic market gardening season at Frog Holler Farm - but in doing so, not to mislead you into thinking that all the answers and solutions have been found. From the very beginning there have been dilemmas to face and compromises to make. Success is sustainability and this sustainability must be in terms of the physical environment, the demands of modern life, and also emotional balance. If the fertility of the soil runs out or is dependent upon non-renewable resources, then the farming cannot be considered sustainable. If the money runs out, the situation is obvious; and if the "good life" does not in fact feel good, it will in one way or another be unsustainable too.


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