By Madeleine Preiss
I collect the eggshells left over from breakfast and walk to the compost bin. There is no room in the bin for the shells so I take it all outside to our larger compost receptacle. Broad, green leaves cascading out of the bin greet me: pumpkins are growing from seeds placed in the compost long ago. What varietal will they be? We assume it will be some strange hybrid pumpkin, not great for eating but a fun surprise to track nonetheless. The seeds are not bothered by such questions; they decided it was time to grow, so they did just that.
This spring, I began working on a farm, exposing myself to revealing, intimate moments with the natural world that I had not anticipated. Every morning, I feed and collect eggs from the chickens, and every evening I stroll through the greenhouse, watering seedlings and listening to the quiet hiss of the drip-tape. I’m in awe of the magic that occurs daily, regular reminders of wondrous natural phenomena that operate to their own rhythm, well outside human invention. Nature constantly signals, sending out messages. It tells a chicken it is warm enough to lay more eggs and encourages a seedling to burst through the soil.
Years ago, previous farmers planted Chadwick Cherry tomatoes, a bright red variety of cherry tomato, in our greenhouse. The tomato plants produced fruit that was harvested for the farm store that season. The next couple of seasons, however, the farmers did not use the greenhouse at all, leaving the beds without a water source. In February of this year, seeds again were sown in the greenhouse and the irrigation system was set up. As the lettuce, arugula, onions, bok choy, and kohlrabi grew in their beds, I kept coming across what I thought was a weed- a distinct sprout, with two long leaves and a purple fuzzy stem. I would pull them, thinking they were taking nutrients away from our crops. At some point, my coworker told me the “weeds” were in fact tomato seedlings. And not just any tomatoes. They were Chadwick Cherries. The seeds leftover from several growing seasons ago patiently stayed in the ground, biding their time during the years without access to water. But this season, with a reliable water source re-established, they had everything they needed to grow. There were hundreds of them growing among the leafy greens, persistent and robust. I pulled the heartiest ones, transplanting some into pots to be planted later, and others in their own bed. I spent the day in wonder of the seedlings’ resolve to grow.
Examples of nature’s resilience and self-sufficiency abound on the farm. There is a stubborn, prickly weed, called Pigweed, which flowers and spreads its seeds, making it almost impossible to eradicate. As they mature, the tendrils of pea plants form tiny coils and grab a hold of whatever is sturdy enough to climb, reaching towards the sun. My coworker uses worms to process our organic waste, using it to nourish the soil after everything’s broken down. And before giving birth, mother rabbits pull out tufts of their own fur to create warm nests for their babies.
Nature is determined. Nature finds a way. It is awe-inspiring and humbling to know how small we are in nature’s vast and complex world. At the same time, it is upsetting to know the damage we have inflicted on nature, despite our minute contribution to its biodiversity.
My ever-growing reverence for nature has shifted the way I understand our relationship to it. We have placed ourselves in the center of the natural world, putting our needs above other species and taking far more from it than we give back. In fact, we play a minor, not entirely necessary, role in our ecosystems. Nature has a schedule and it will stick to it to the best of its abilities, regardless of humans. Animals will forage for food; plants will cleverly wait for enough resources to grow. I am grateful for these constant reminders that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. And I am inspired and motivated to do my best to appreciate and protect the natural world.