Dig In! Out of the Darkness and into the Garden

The glorious season of fresh farm food hit the ground running in early May and I was excited to help my friend’s mother, Adrienne Metcalf, at Peace Haven Farm in Becket, MA. I couldn't wait to get ‘up there’ and away from it all for three days.  I arrived and spilled out of my car and into Mother Nature’s lap. 

Adrienne and I had never met before and as she came over to greet me, I anxiously explained, ”I…I had to bring my dog…she’s…she’s not doing too well…” In an instant, I was in floods of tears.  Over the past months, I have been watching my much beloved dog journey between Last Rights and miraculous bounce backs. At the same time, I am witnessing my mother recede into the mist of Alzheimer’s. Both form a complex, painful juxtaposition.  

It’s no wonder then that when I set eyes on Adrienne, I saw the physical embodiment of Mother Earth – tall, statuesque, sagacious and kind - and who better to cry to than a goddess?

Adrienne expertly settled my nerves. She, too, had been through this before with her dogs and for precisely the same reason I was crying in her garden would no longer be falling in love with a dog. Tears over, we both agreed that there’s nothing better to mend a broken heart than gardening and with that, we set to work.

Consistently warm weather had finally arrived. We opened up the greenhouse slats, raised the plastic side walls and switched out the winter hose for the summer one. All the while, Adrienne walked and talked me through the farm, explaining the tasks for the day. She is an excellent teacher. For every action there is a reaction and there is no better place to see this at work than in her garden.

Adrienne is a proficient autodidact who devoured Eliot Coleman’s teachings and applied them throughout the farm. She and I are both humbled and awed by Coleman but for slightly different reasons.  As a self-sustaining organic farmer, Adrienne has learned valuable methods from him. As for me, I did not learn about Coleman until I was an adult, a by-product of generations that had overlooked Eliot and had cast him as a hippy demon and denounced his prescient vision and practices as those of a renegade “Pinko.” I am sad for the time lost, that we are only just waking up as a nation to his profound contribution.

Our big project over the course of three days would be a slight departure from the teachings of Eliot Coleman as we prepared Hugel beds.  Pronounced “HOO-gul,” Hugelkultur is a permaculture practice that uses woody debris including branches, twigs, and hard wood logs as a resource, rather than burning them or removing them. When you see the beds for the first time, they resemble ancient burial mounds, complete with ‘sacrificial’ hard wood logs and slash in a ditch below that feed the plants above; act as sponges to conserve water; and make room for air as they decompose.  As we weeded the beds, we replanted clover along the sides of the Hugel beds. Clover roots are topped with nodules of bacteria that work with nitrogen and hydrogen to form ammonia and nitrates. What is not used by the plant remains to enrich the soil. 

We then carted aged horse manure and dumped it on to a Push-me-Pull-me. There was a whole lot of shaking going on as we ‘sifted shit,’ a metaphor that was not lost on me as I reflected on my own life and the shaking required to work through it to find what is most nourishing.  Shit happens to all of us. What is surprising to me now at nearly 50 is the force at which the sadder memories – the shitty years - have resurfaced. Oddly enough, they've come at time when I've been feeling pretty darned good, having made tremendous progress working through challenging health issues. I had not invited those dark memories back into my life, yet there they were banging on the door to my psyche at a most inconvenient time, demanding to be heard. Had they not seen the GO AWAY mat on my doorstep, the one woven in threads of Denial and Hope?   

Until recently I truly believed that I had processed "dark matters" years ago and that I had put them to rest. Newsflash: I had processed them as best I could years ago. As a teenager and young adult, my best coping skill was to accept what I cannot change and move on with my life. Simply put, I buried things and with that, the darkness covered the light, layer upon layer for many, many years. 

Like plants in the garden, dormant emotions inevitably burst from deep within us all. It is at this point where I find myself a teenager again - frightened, overwhelmed and alone. The force of the flood of returning emotions has left me breathless for emotional resolution.

Beauties. My friend Rebecca with her Mum Adrienne c. 1984

Beauties. My friend Rebecca with her Mum Adrienne c. 1984

There is a reason I landed in Adrienne’s garden and unfolded with a broken heart the week before Mother’s Day. I needed some mother-love and the universe delivered. I love how that works. Ask and ye shall receive.

Adrienne has a special way about her. She is an old soul with a young heart, an adventurer, and one who has lived life fully. Adrienne is as grounded as she is part of the ethereal beauty that becomes her. She’s switched-on, plugged-in to the earth, and tuned-in to a higher being. If Compassion could be detected on a Geiger counter, then she’d be off the charts.  

Adrienne inherited the property that has become Peace Haven Farm from her father Paul C. Metcalf, a “Yankee” writer who had very close ties to Black Mountain College near Ashville, North Carolina during the 1950's and 60's. The college emphasized that learning and living are intimately connected. Both faculty and students participated in work on the college farm, constructed buildings, did maintenance work, and served meals. All classes focused on fine arts, music and drama and were scheduled at night to allow time for work on the campus during the day.

With an early childhood in a setting like that, it doesn't surprise me that Adrienne is now farming and baking beautiful and healthy things and that the house she shares with her husband Josh is brightly painted on the inside and a modest brown on the outside.  Like book ends to Adrienne's life, there are similarities between her father's choice of work and what Elliot Coleman was trying to accomplish through Homesteading in Maine. 

Adrienne’s mother, a southern belle, and her father eventually settled in Becket, MA, not far from where Adrienne's father's great-grandfather, Herman Melville, called home - Arrowhead in Pittsfield. It was Adrienne’s grandmother who discovered the Billy Budd manuscript in a bread box in the attic.  From there on, the self-deprecating family joke was always “you’re never fully appreciated until you’re dead”.   Like books, gardens live on for future generations to discover and to steward.

I am not a gardener and what I am about to write probably comes across as old news to those readers who are gardeners … it quickly dawned on me that the garden is about the best place to think, and reflect upon life. There is a physical and metaphysical flow that gives purpose to the work as each labor emulsifies the proverbial darkness. As we tend the garden with our hands deep in rich soil, our pain, loss, and sorrow break down and allow for light to come in and fill the cracks, like water sinking through soil, harvesting Gratitude instead of Fear. I am reminded of the quote:

Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers. ~ May Sarton

Peace, Love and Adrienne in her garden

Peace, Love and Adrienne in her garden

There is an unspoken rhythm to the garden as words flow and spirits are fed by a conversation that transcends Time and our Life to-do’s. Adrienne and I wore no watches and as our days together ticked by, the “real-world” slipped away, leaving us closer to our senses and freeing us from the noise of every day. This is a sacred time with Nature, a time when real magic happens, a time when we are able to lose ourselves to the rhythm of planting, dropping a seed, visualizing its root - a shared meditation as the warmth and sunlight find their place in the earth, and in our hearts and in our minds.

We are all broken in parts and could choose to spend hours on a therapist’s sofa; or pop pills to make us happy; or bury things so deeply that we no longer care to feel. Or we could choose to do something very uncomfortable: confront our fears, dash them, and then let them go.  It is one thing to allow our pain to break through, but it is quite another to recognize that as adults we are fortified with more tools in a tool box borne of life experiences. We can choose to look the dragon in the eye. We can find the courage to venture deep into the belly of the whale and in the end, the beast that is our own darkness can be felled, but not without a painful journey. It is not unlike the tremendous strength required for a bulb to push up from the darkness to reveal its tender bud.  

Adrienne's outlook aligns personal spiritual growth with advancing global awareness and a shift that is bridging the individual with the global community.  "In this world of deep polarities isn't that what we're all being asked to do - to take a second look, to make a better choice, to use all the false and bad starts, the pain and the mistakes as manure to grow a better garden? Yes, I'm onto the global social situation because what is the difference between the macro and our personal micro?"

I've added her words to my tool box and know that when unwanted feelings come rushing from out of the darkness and are banging at the door, I can take great comfort and look upon it as a second chance, a glorious opportunity to free myself from the past, and I can let go of the weight of its darkness. “Go on, open the door,” I say to myself as I invite Pain in and put the kettle on. “It’s time for a long overdue chat.”    

As the first hummingbird flies inside the greenhouse at Peace Haven Farm and Adrienne cries “Joy!”, a new light enters after a long winter. I feel it tickle my dendrites, like roots to a plant and I know that I am in the right place, for the right reason and bang on time.   


Sometimes you just have to invite the darkness in to let the light shine. Go, Good Girl Go!

Peace Haven Farm Stand is open year round – 509 Quarry Road Becket MA 01223. Call for shop hours or to sign up for their weekly emails: [413] 623.5208

For more information on Elliot Coleman, I highly recommend reading This Life is in Your Hands written by his daughter, Melissa Coleman

For more information on Hugelkultur here is a good link: http://allthingsplants.com/ideas/view/dave/41/Building-a-Hugelkultur-Raised-Bed/

Dirty Filthy Farmgirls: Grounded and Digging Deeper

By Carolann Patterson

I haven't always eaten kale. In fact, I rarely ate my greens. Admitting that sounds like a confession. It wasn't until I was so desperate to feel better that I was willing to try anything new, but I still had my doubts...I wasn't yet convinced that changing my diet really could change my life. [How ridiculously unenlightened could I be?]

CA and Trub 5.jpg

Before being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia, I had already changed to a gluten-free diet just to see if it would help... and it did, but it wasn't enough. I was only scratching the surface and needed to dig deeper and learn more.  I began reading more books and articles and listening to good advice from knowledgeable friends. I then transitioned from a merely gluten-free diet to a full-on organic, anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic diet. 

No amount of reading prepared me for the life-changing results I received... the ability to move without pain; to wake with optimism; to fall asleep in a daze of gratitude for a day well spent; and to sleep unburdened... all these were precious gifts restored to me. I embraced them all and wrapped them in the newfound joy of being able to move my body again and to live for days without constant, debilitating pain.

Profoundly grateful for the nourishment that enabled my body to repair and recover, I didn't just want to buy organic, I wanted to learn what it meant to be organic...and so I asked my friend Kyra Hart if she could indulge my quest.  Kyra alongside her husband, Matty, farm at Overmeade Farm, the Hart family farm in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Their crops are Authentically Grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides and are grown with cover crops and green manures, through crop rotation and soil management.

What I learned from 2 days farming with Kyra and Matty surprised and awakened me beyond my expectations.  At the outset my approach was straightforward: I was going to perform an act of physical labor and to learn some really useful things along the way. Nothing signaled to me in advance that I would receive a spiritual wake up call, a veritable "lightening bolt" not from Heaven Above but from the ground beneath my feet.

The beauty of farming with Kyra is that a day follows its natural rhythm. Mother Nature is in the driver's seat and what could be more natural than starting the day off with a Fire Cider shot and bringing my son AND my dog to work with me!? No make up. No high heals and no internal-maternal struggle. As my son, Allott, headed off for riding camp in the Overmeade barn, I met up with Kyra and her 3 year old daughter, Zofia, and together with my dog Trouble, we made our way to the lower fields.

We emerged from the track into the wide-open glory of the fields and an uninterrupted blue sky above. Kyra parked the car and set up the big red sun umbrella, while I did a 360 turn to take it all in, noting the red umbrella as the only flash of color amongst the deep earth tones and greens.  In an instant, I could feel myself exhale and release. 

The first thing to strike me was how incredibly neat and tidy all the rows of vegetables were. Added to which, there was no fence in sight. I asked Kyra how she kept the fields so beautifully maintained without a fence and her answer was profoundly simple: "we replant. and some times we replant again. and some times we replant again."

Replant. Replant. Replant: a profound take-away from the day. I have thought about this ever since - that no matter what kind of life we lead, the ground can always shift beneath our feet, and quite literally for Kyra, who needs to go to bed each night with a working knowledge of which way the wind is blowing in order to prepare for the next day.  There's a reason they call it a Farmers' Almanac, and not a Bankers' Almanac...but the truth is, whether you are a farmer or a Wall Street banker, we all need to learn at times how to adapt and redefine how we go about doing things in order to yield a crop and put food on the table.

Zoe is an amazing little girl and held her own in the heat.  The sweetest assignment was picking snap peas and eating them with Zoe, all of us talking as we moved down the tangled line of greens. I was equally charmed by the Coleman hoes we used to carve weeds gently out from under and around the baby lettuce heads.  Kyra told me how Eliot Coleman, the now famous Maine homesteader, had developed sharp, narrow tips to insert on long or short handles.  Kyra cleans and sharpens her blades each night.  It is interesting to see how Mr. Coleman's definition of "organic" has shifted over the years to "authentic."

As I researched Mr. Coleman, I was easily side-tracked when I discovered that his daughter, Melissa Coleman, had written a book on her family's life homesteading in the yet untamed environs of Maine. This Life is in your Hands is one of the best books I have read in a very, very long time. Ms. Coleman is a gifted writer whose prose are both lyrical and level


While I have no desire to romanticize farming, I can say with confidence that there is nothing so grounding [actually] as getting dirty and "feeling green" all around you. Yes, of course it is Romantic [just read Thoreau] but Farming is about so much more than what we choose to put in our mouth; or what we choose to plant; and how we choose to plant it. It is bloody hard work but it's also one of THE most natural things we could ever do - growing our own food with our own hands and actually connecting with the earth.

I've never been one for the gym, and after a back-breaking day pulling garlic, the concept of going to the gym seems even more absurd: all that energy leaving our bodies and not going anywhere, and not making anything. There is no better place to find strength and to make ourselves strong than when we are closer to Nature. But Farming is no easy or convenient thing - if it were, we would all be doing it... Farming is a temperamental beast ....an elusive practice that is part beauty, part pain; part  bounty, part loss; part planned, part unpredictable; part sorrow, part joy. 

But in less than one week, farming [with a little 'f'] showed me that I could find so much happiness just by taking time to do a whole lot more with my hands and seeing a whole lot more with my eyes. If I could re-jig my life and make time for this hands-on approach to life, I could live more fully and breathe more deeply. I took this lesson with me, from the Overmeade fields and into my home and witnessed how magical and transformative it is to apply this approach to practically every thing I do...Like many people out there, I am Slow Living

And that means: no more rushing around for me. Now that I am healthy again, I plan to stay healthy and that means taking time to read labels on food; learning how to make good choices about the food I buy [i.e, just because it's gluten free doesn't automatically mean that the level of sugar is healthy for me]; and learning how best to prepare certain foods. 

But it also means no more multi-tasking. My to-do list is now an Un-Do list and it will take years to work through it. My phone is always turned off from the time I help my son with his homework after school until the next morning when we are making breakfast and packing lunches for my husband and my son. It's also turned off when I am walking our dogs, "hanging" with friends, and visiting with my elderly mother. I need that quiet to be present and engaged with what ever I am doing...I don't want one thing more to get in the way or pull me away from what I am doing and experiencing "right here.right now." 

Whatever I am doing, l needed to learn how to slow things down and to make time to be in touch with my life. The more nurturing and nourishing things I do for myself and for my loved ones, the deeper my life will be and the stronger, more able I will be when the ground shifts beneath my feet. And the ground always shifts, no matter where you are standing.  From now on, it's Hands-On!

Some times, you just gotta' slow down and live slow...

Source: /farmgirls