After a week of seasonal temperatures, life has rebounded out here. The sounds and smells of spring abound, reminding me that there is a diverse web to which I belong. While raking the soil in our peas tonight, I caught the aroma of fresh soil. A common and soothing smell, it is a way for us to detect some of the smallest living organisms, the bacteria that live in the soil. On land, soil is the basis for all life. From it, plants bridge the world beneath us, the living ecosystem that we walk upon, with the world of the animals that walk on or fly above its surface. All life above the ground, depends upon the miracle performed by plants that turns sunlight into carbohydrates.
During the winter, the candle of life fades, conserving itself for when the sun returns. Its flame flickers on the edge of peril, and for some, the flame is extinguished. The system, however, remains, and patiently awaits the warming caress of the springtime sun. Once the sun warms the earth, a frenzy of activity begins. Soil microbes awaken from slumber. Insects, buried in the soil and other organic matter emerge to reproduce and provide food for others. Hibernating snakes and frogs, awaken and climb out of their protective burrows beneath the surface of the soil. Migrating birds return, slowly at first, but as more food is available, the skies and fields fill up with red-winged blackbirds, robins, and cranes.
Today the bees were busy finding the scarce food available to feed their queen. The hives of a few hundred to a thousand bees will soon swell to hundreds of thousands. The animals are beginning to build nests above and below the ground. While visiting my son the other day, he pointed out the nests of a squirrel, a crow, and coopers hawk, all within a few trees of each other. Each was engaged in a purposeful endeavor related to their own survival and the survival of their species. It was beautiful. We humans may think that we are different, but in all the beautiful ways that count, we are not.
It’s not just the other animals that come alive with activity in spring. Modern life often separates our species from the true work of spring, but fundamentally, our species begins a frenzy of activity this time of year all across the northern hemisphere that ultimately produces the food that we eat. Industrial plant-based food production begins in April in the northern hemisphere. Tractors and other agricultural equipment, staffed by tireless farmers, prepare the fields and begin planting the staple crops of the modern world, corn, soy and wheat. On our farm, not a week goes by all year, including winter, that we are not planting some crop. Starting in April, however, we begin a frenzy of planting for about 90 days. During that period, we will fill up our fields with vegetables that will feed us and many others throughout the year. Both industrial and small-scale farmers, are very active right now. A simple drive to the country will reveal the work being performed to feed our species.
While our species divides its labor more discretely than others, the activity required in spring to sustain us resembles the rest of the animal kingdom. Globally, farmers work behind the scenes, often remaining anonymous. For better or worse, we have grown into a large global urbanized species. Our species could not survive in its current urbanized state without the efforts of farmers. I realize that it can seem self-serving of me to recognize farmers, but my shout-out, so to speak, is to all farmers globally whose efforts feed the world. In our world, nearly all labor is important to our species, but none of the other endeavors that our species engages in can exist without food produced by farms. It is the fuel that runs our world.
I am fortunate to have a front row seat to the activities of nature and farming. Having an intimate view of these processes affords me the opportunity to recognize that humans are interconnected to all life on this planet. One can experience humility when one realizes that we are as dependent upon the global success of our farmers for our collective survival as the beehives in our field are dependent upon the early foraging of the worker bees gathering pollen or the coopers hawk chicks near my son’s house who are wholly dependent upon their parents to supply them with food while they grow. All life is beautiful, and today, I am grateful to be a part of the web of life, playing a small role for our species by feeding bodies and minds with food and education.