When I first traveled to Senegal in 2012 for a farmer to farmer volunteer project, it was during the heart of the rainy season in August. The smell of ocean, fish, palm oil and traffic permeated the air as I arrived in a foot of water at the airport in Dakar.
Since then, Senegal has continued to flow into my farm life and professional journey—and the suddenness of the Saloum's riverine current combined with the predictability of tides gives me pause in considering what is in greater demand now than our attention? What during our brief time on this planet do we need to attend to most? I carried this question with me as I washed ashore in Senegal this past November, supporting a Farmer to Farmer project working with the women farmers who are just getting started with organic vegetable production in Thiangalahene Village southeast of Kaolack. Starting anything new is overwhelming. Their are myriad tasks you need to tend to, let alone the possibilities to explore for your markets. What has helped in my own farm journey is having opportunities to learn and share knowledge, resources with other farmers and eaters for perspectives and advice as well as engaging expert knowledge. This is why I am so attracted to the F2F program model and so appreciative of the opportunity to volunteer—supporting my farmer peers with insights I have learned about what to tend to when getting started.
I was out walking 'Up and Down the Hill' with my mother and a friend as part of the La Valle celebration this past summer and we were talking of relationships with our mothers and all the gratitude, headaches, tensions, and celebrations that come with it. My friend shared that in coming to terms with her mother's aging, she and her sister were putting together the ABC's of appreciation –a reflection of what they have learned and learned to appreciate about their mother over the years.
As I tuck in the farm for the winter months, exhaling from the frost-nipped fields, I thought I'd share in the ABC's of all the things that I have learned and appreciated from Mother Earth at the farm community this season beginning with:
Autonomy - and interdependence. Our food forests continue to subtley and not so subtely teach us about how to best design perennial polycultures of multi-purpose plants so we might share resources, create networks of mutual support in growing our own food, fodder, fertility, fuel, 'farm-a-cueticals' and fun. And like our orchard guilds, personally, I farm in part because I enjoy the autonomy in decision making, running a small business, and finding my niche. At the same time I reminded of how much as farmers, we rely on others to grow food in partnership with the land and our community.