“So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth? “
~Wendell Berry, from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
Interestingly enough, I heard Wendell Berry quoted nearly as much as Rudolf Steiner at the biennial North American Biodynamic Conference last weekend. That made me happy. Of course, I love chewing on some Steiner material too, but it was wonderful to hear Wendell Berry honored as a translator of wisdom, earthly, human and spiritual, in our time.
In short, we did it. We, the Radical Farmwives, gave our first public appearance at a national conference. And we did just fine. The room was small, but the crowd was comfortable and appreciative. Just as we had hoped, there was room around the edges of mothers of small children to sit with us and not feel uncomfortable with the movements of their babes.
We spoke about our farms, our families, our business models, and all the joys and pitfalls of the lifestyle we’ve chosen. A reoccurring theme was the potential (maybe tendency is a better word) for farmers, and mothers, to be isolated in our society, and the need to build community and connection and break through that isolation in creative ways. We talked about de-compartmentalizing our lives, choosing to live in full contact with our families, mates and children, and the challenges, richness and reward of that choice. In the end, we called upon our audience to engage their noblest impulses, to be courageous in their lives, to nourish themselves and their families/communities and befriend those around them fearlessly, for the well being of the world at large.
Our presentation was well met and the attendees peppered us with wonderful comments and questions for the last few minutes of our time together. It was clear that we were in sympathetic and empathetic company, and it was an enormous joy to speak with those women and men (2) who shared that time with us. One of the gentlemen in attendance approached us afterward and commented that there should have been 100 men in the room to hear us. We emerged from the experience exalted and exhausted, both.
Much relieved, and happy now to go on and share time with our biodynamic compatriots from around the continent, we set off to gather our children from the child care room (which we were extremely grateful for) and get on with the evening. The plan was the grab the kids and their box dinners and eat together in the large dining room. The sweet girls even dressed up (each of them in classy black skirts and dresses) for the exciting occasion. You can imagine our surprise when we were stopped at the door and told that children were not allowed to dine in the common dining area.
Our choices were: 1) for our children to eat with the other children in the children’s room while we ate with the adults in the adult room, or 2) for us to eat together as families in the privacy of our own rooms. In other words, we could isolate our children from the larger group, or isolate our entire family. To say that we were flabbergasted would be the most mildly appropriate way to put it. (It seems that this was policy of the Hyatt conference center, not the Biodynamic Association.)
But we adapted, of course, and went on with the evening, juggling children and adults through three hotel rooms, glass elevators and FUN escalators. The next day, the chaos resumed course. The Smith kids woke up with full blown colds, and none of the rest of the children had any interest in returning to the on-site child care. They had some nice toys and activities, and wonderful volunteers, but it was just a little too crowded for these farm kids to manage a second day of it for any length of time.
I think it’s fair to speak for all three of us in saying that the weekend was a financial and logistical challenge. It’s a slow time of year, economically, for CSA farmers, and the polar blast made it hard to leave home, even overnight, with a clean conscience. Our family had been fighting off sickness all week long. Making the effort, then finding that our children were not welcome in common social spaces with us, was hard to take. Even though our talk went well, and it was wonderful to connect with so many like-minded people, it would be easy to complain that the weekend wasn’t very family friendly.
Complaining, in and of itself, isn’t very helpful and doesn’t feel good, so I was grateful for Robert Karp’s opening remarks before the Saturday morning keynote address. Robert is the executive director of the Biodynamic Association and a gifted speaker in his own right. I wish I had a direct quote to share, but here’s the gist of it:
Just as we turn the water, from a beautiful harmonious vortex to jumbled chaos in the course of mixing biodynamic preparations, so too will we experience challenges and tumult within ourselves in the course of gathering together in a large group. It is up to us to see that those challenging times help us grow, and don’t just send us reeling away from each other.
Amen, Robert, and thank you. That gave me enough courage to make it through the morning. I couldn’t help noticing that any presenting farmer who had children talked about them and had pictures of their farm kids in their slide show. I also noticed that the children were popular in the crowd. People smiled and spoke kindly to them wherever we were. I cannot thank Cynthia Hoven enough for letting me partake in most of her Eurythmy movement class with Levon riding on my back. By the time dinner rolled around I was tired. I hadn’t been able to sit through an entire presentation all day and was in serious need of mental and spiritual refreshment. And so it came, again from Robert, as he opened up the ceremony in honor of Hugh Courtney, a man who has truly maintained a foothold for biodynamic practitioners of all levels on this continent. Again, I paraphrase Robert:
In the making of a movement, there are individuals who give themselves. They sacrifice. They give their lives to the making of the movement. The work of their lives inspires those around them to carry on, and so the stream of that work, of that movement, grows stronger.
And that cinched it for me. I will not sacrifice my family, my children, for the sake of a movement. But I will sacrifice my own good times, because I believe that this world should be a safe place to have children and to be a family. I want my children to see and meet these people who work in this movement, and I want the people of this movement, and the world at large, to see and meet my children with me. I believe that our lives, our working and learning, can be enriched by sharing space and time with those much older and much younger than ourselves. In our elders is the world as it has been, and in our youngsters, “such is the kingdom of heaven”. And, not least, I believe my children are good people, and frankly, it never really occurred to me (in the whole year that I spent in its’ anticipation) to go to this conference without them.
I believe in families. I am willing to go against the stream and bear some of that discomfort, and sacrifice some of my personal experiences, in the hopes that eventually, there will be more places and events that open themselves more gracefully to the presence of whole families.
We came to the North American Biodynamic Conference to present our Woman’s Eye View of the Farm. We learned a lot. We have created safe and healthy places for our children to grow and learn and BE, on our own farms. Here, at home, it’s a piece of cake. When we turn our gaze to the rest of the world, it’s clear that there’s plenty more work to do. I guess that’s where we need you to work with us.
Up for it?