I spent time Monday with Stacey Roussel, organic farmer/owner of All We Need Farms in Needville, Texas. I am a part of her CSA program, short for Community Supported Agriculture. A little different from a co-op, a CSA is, as Stacey calls it, “a relationship between people and their food.” We pay Stacey in advance of the harvest, taking the risks inherent with farming with her, and in turn receive food that we know is local, seasonal, and most importantly, honest. I will be writing a few different articles from Monday’s interview, but below is a blog entry I wrote for Stacey’s website:
For my 40th birthday this year, I made the pledge to begin writing in earnest, and this time for money. I had written earnestly all my life, but had written for pay only once. I had always thought that I would raise babies, and then I would start my writing career. I couldn’t imagine drumming up the strength to write late at night, knowing that I’d be awakened again in a few hours by a crying baby. My “baby” had just turned three, so my excuses were over.
One of the first people I thought to write about was Stacey. If you are reading this blog, you already love her, and probably love good food, too, so you can see the attraction. Stacey graciously agreed to have me follow her around the farm from sun-up to noon, followed up by more detailed questioning. She told me to dress ready for labor…hat, sunscreen, gloves, closed-toe shoes…this was going to be a real, dig-in, get your hands dirty kind of interview. Frankly, I was nervous. I’m the sort of air-conditioned, soft, urban housewife that sweats only at the sideline of soccer games. Could I hack five hours in the heat? I didn’t know, but I knew the experience would be worth risking possible embarrassment.
Clumsily dressed for the part in my husband’s oversized fishing shirt (Stacey always wears long-sleeves, so it must be cooler, right?), explorer hat cinched on, work gloves ready, I followed, and I watched, and I asked questions. The hazy, cool, morning flirted with rain, but the clouds drifted away into a typical bright July Texas day. It was hot, and I followed Stacey some more, planting a few seeds here, weeding a little bit there, and, um, accidentally pulling out two lovely celery plants in the process. (Sorry Stacey!) I mostly watched and took notes, but did enough work to witness the abundance of life teeming on the farm. Yes, she does have chickens and goats, not to mention the growing plants, but I am talking about the tiny life that is only discovered by turning over soil. Little bugs darting here and there, crawling for cover, smaller creatures so tiny you can’t see but you can smell…a rich, earthy smell only created when the ground is nurtured enough to be kept in a beautiful balance. I was learning firsthand the difficult, but satisfying work that is needed to grow the nutritionally dense, taste-bud pleasing clean food that led me to Stacey in the first place. By the end of the morning, I was gratefully in awe of her diligence and commitment to organic farming. I hadn’t passed out from heat stroke either, but I was ready for rest under the shade tree.
Stacey handed me a cool coconut water drink and assured me that as her farm had grown, so had her body’s endurance. As her story unfolded, I heard a tale of conviction; small steps counterpointed by big leaps, mistakes, and overcoming fear in order to move forward with turning a dream into reality.
Far from my idea of an experienced farm girl turned farmer, I instead heard of a believing husband encouraging a disillusioned accountant, together buying a farm with a four-year-old and newborn in tow, reading and learning on-the-job. A story of clearing four-plus acres with a weed whacker, losing chickens to a predator, hand planting squash seeds with a baby in a car seat nestled in the grass beside her. The more I listened, the more I realized that Stacey was helping to weed the fear in my own heart. I am in the middle of transitioning from writing to calling myself a writer, putting my words out there for people to judge and see my mistakes. Ahead of me are long hours of (air-conditioned) work, research, queries, and rejections. I was reminded that Stacey’s current physical strength wasn’t forged overnight, but was built one day at a time, over years.
Fear of Texas heat might have kept me from getting my hands dirty, but it is only by getting dirty, be it from soil or ink, that we ever really accomplish anything. I had to get my hands dirty that day by pulling farm weeds, weeds that represented far more for me than garden nuisances, weeds with names like fear and procrastination. The image of Stacey bending over her garden, entertaining her young daughter with the watering hose, inspired me to write this blog entry in the day hours, in between stories, bike rides, and laundry, not waiting until later. I giggle now, at the thought of Stacey waiting to farm by moonlight, after her girls were asleep. You can’t see many weeds then.