“Culture follows food”. My boss, Ken, said this while we hoed a row of lettuce on a sunny day. His words occupy my headspace often while I am working, unearthing questions of food and its ability to foster community, and my own place in support of a movement towards accessible, nutritious, and morally just food. Understanding the connection between the work I am performing with my hands and the cultural context in which this work takes place represents a recent emphasis in my thought process: connecting the individual to the whole.
I spend 32 hours a week on Horse Drawn Farms, an 80-acre market vegetable and livestock operation that acts under principles of stewardship, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. The farm runs on the shoulders of Ken Akopiantz and Kathryn Thomas. I spend most of my time with Kathryn. She focuses on the livestock at Horse Drawn, and I help herd sheep, milk cows, and take care of the pigs (I am the designated “Pig Guy” of the farm). When we join Ken, we plant. Ken works with the fields, tilling and disking them from behind the horses that pull the equipment. Between transplanting starts, planting transplants, hoeing weeds, laying down protective cloth, moving sheep, milking cows, and feeding pigs, I pepper my bosses with questions. I am forever a student. I follow instructions, and then ask “why?” for my own learning. I recognize the importance of this role, the role of the student, in growth. Learning requires me to check my ego, acknowledge my ignorance, and use the skills I already have to maximize what I learn. My ability to dissect language has served me well in forming a communication method with my bosses that we both understand (this took time– my having no experience against their couple decades of experience created a large communication gap that made the first few weeks a serious period of adjustment on both of our ends). Through thought, definition, and practice, I have formed a closer relationship to how I communicate. I like communicating concisely, warmly, and empathetically. Understanding this part of my brain and heart helps relieve a lot of stress that I create for myself.
Immersing myself in both a lifestyle that requires practicality for success (farming) and a geographic place that necessitates the use of everything to its full potential (a small island) also has provided me a space in which to better the way I approach tasks. After spending eight weeks thinking about this, I am much more focused on completing tasks with sensibility and pragmatism. Approaching my learning with practicality in mind has added depth to my learning. I think this is because I am now more process-driven. When I approach a task, whether it is homework or farm chores, I create an efficient process through which to do the job. This mindset of intentionality enhances the learning, the flow, and the depth of the task at hand. Analyzing my process grounds me and strengthens the part of myself that performs.
Relating the work I tangibly do to the questions I have about this community stretches my conceptual thinking. Much of the work I do relates readily to scientific concepts in biology, chemistry, and soil science, but in what ways does my work relate to the movement of local food? In what ways do I aid the community with my work? How can I win victories for humanity as an inexperienced boy from the suburbs on a farm in the San Juan Islands?
I can’t draw any definite conclusions right now. I am still here on Lopez Island. I am still in the thick of it all. I am learning that my role, in the local food movement in the San Juans, is to support. I intend to work hard on Horse Drawn Farms so that the food we organically produce is abundant and delicious. I aim to form connections to other producers and consumers of food, to tell them about what we do, and to also learn about what they know. I also find responsibility in asking difficult questions to those involved in the movement with me. The local food movement on Lopez Island aims to provide good, clean food to its people. The driving forces in the movement are made of a majority of white people who came from wealthy families, and I have experienced a lot of unchecked privilege that blinds people from being open to the narratives of marginalized people. I am one person, still learning. Forever a student.
–Tyler Clapsaddle , June of 2016