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Lessons from the Soil

By Kaila Topping, Phase I Fellow

There is little time on this mountain when I am not surrounded by community. Whether it is the silent companionship of my fellow weed-pickers or the lilting voices drifting between mouthfuls of dinner that can never quite be eaten fast enough- I am in community. And as I learn more of the intricacies of farming, I am beginning to realize how deep and diverse the natural communities are that surround me as well. The trees whisper, the creeks babble, and now I am starting to listen.

The ground underneath my feet teems with life. It shifts and writhes- constantly proving to me that I do not know it at all. It is complex, diverse, living. But just as the earth behaves in ways I cannot understand, I too, have a role in its well-being. The soil gives me a home and nourishes my body, but as it cares for me, I must care for it, too.

As the daily talks of regenerative agriculture from Dylan, our farm manger, begin to sink in, I am starting to learn how we as farmers can leave the soil better than we once found it. It is a simple concept, really- regenerate means to regrow or replace lost or damaged tissue. Just as the process of digging up soil for our plants disturbs the natural ecosystem, each Fellow has a few raw edges that need tending to. It is never a clean break to move into a new life, so we must take time to heal and grow together in new directions. It takes patience, persistence, and a whole lot of compost to feed the soil that feeds us. Every few inches of soil contains a new ecosystem, a new community. And just as it takes time to build soil, it also takes time to build community. The new faces that surround me form a budding and unfamiliar group, but oh how we will grow.

This community makes me smile and encourages me when I need it- and I try to give more than I take. Just as building soil takes time, forming new relationships and learning to coexist with new people does not happen overnight. We are forging bonds and testing our boundaries, but we are doing it together. Each of our unique personalities and the interrelationships amongst us form microbiomes and complexities that are only known to us. It will sustain us, but we, too, must give back.

So the next time I wheel a load of compost over to our vegetable beds, I will think of my new-found community. It will be a reminder of the effort needed to build community, but also the complex life and nourishment that one finds when an ecosystem is thriving. We are young, but we are growing, and together we will flourish.

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