When I was in elementary school I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. A ‘Bridge Angel’ I said. No I didn’t really say that. But I thought it. I had this idea of being someone that could take two extremes and find a way to bridge the gap. I wrote a poem about it with my 10-year-old mind, but even then I did not fully understand what it meant. Now I see it as a process of reaching back to a way I once thought the world worked and linking that to the things I see now. I might not be right, but I do know that I see things differently and that gives me hope. Hope that I will keep changing my views until they sit right and hope that we can all learn to be more flexible in our thinking.
Being an organic farmer in a traditional agricultural community (whatever that means), we get a lot of curious looks when we talk about what we do. On the flip side, when we are surrounded by folks who have immersed themselves in local-organic-food speak, we are superheroes. Both sides probably need their story tweaked a bit. Many people understand something about what ‘organic’ means, but are afraid to ask questions because they think they should already know. Others go ahead and falsely assume what it means without consulting the right sources.
The most common perception of organic food seems to begin and end with ‘expensive’. My husband used to travel to the United States to do farm inspections for an organic certification company, which he once explained to a border patrol upon questioning. ‘Oh, those organic farmers are so smart, they basically just slap on a label and charge more’, the border guard mused. Um, not really. One thing I can say is that the 'conventional' food is not always a whole lot cheaper. Further, the return on organic is not always as high as folks believe. It takes a lot more time, labour and often space to produce organic food and most organic farmers I know are not driving fancy cars. There are other factors worth weighing as well. Like getting a certain amount of nutrition for your dollar - these days it is so easy to spend on empty foods that have little or no health value.
In Canada, there is a national standard document that outlines what is expected of an organic farmer in terms of practices. A farmer can only be certified organic if they have gone through an inspection process with a certification body that ensures that they have followed the standard. Organic standards vary from country to country though they are based on the same principles. Canada holds a reputation for a robust and comprehensive system.
The standard includes the expected prohibitions of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, there are several animal welfare concerns worked in, including the requirement to treat sick animals with all necessary measures, even if it means they cannot be organic anymore. Any animal treated with antibiotics in their lifetime cannot be sold as organic meat. Milking cows must be 30 days from antibiotic treatment before milk can be sold as organic again. Animals must have access to the outdoors and a certain percentage of the cattle diet needs to be from pasture during the grazing season.
We were described once as ‘people who recycle’ by a neighbour. This was in 2003 when I believe recycling programs had been well in place for 20 years. Yet, here we were, defending our desire to protect the planet on this one little bit of green ground, one soup can at a time. All of this because we want to grow vegetables in a manner that is compatible with the way the earth does her business. I made it my work to build a bridge from the perception people have of us as ‘those people that recycle’ to conscientious farmers. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
The very same application could be true when trying to leap from Feminist to Farmer’s Wife. Isn’t a feminist she who does not shave her armpits or legs, but shaves her head? I’ve known all three states for reasons other than my social beliefs, but I don’t identify with any one of them. Isn’t a Farmer’s Wife a dowdy, fuddy-duddy with an apron that doesn’t own a tube of mascara? I use mascara, and I can even sometimes find my lipstick for the right occasion.
I recently wrote a post about Alternatives and recited off a number of ways of being in the world that are often considered extreme. I have dabbled, and often taken up permanent residence in many of these ways. The purpose of the post was to illustrate how what may seem radical to some (like recycling) might just be a sensible way of approaching something. The trick is to find the bridge from one person’s truth to another’s.
When it comes to religion, there seems to be great distaste for picking and choosing the bits and pieces that you like best. I understand this now. Not because I think that each religion does not have its own blind spots, but because a belief system can be imperfect and still be effective. It seems to me that the truth is a fixed thing whether or not I believe it or have a label for it. What holds real power is sharing ideas with other people. And belonging to a faith gives one this opportunity for good or for bad. The ideas that pass the test for me are the ones that stand the hair up on my arms. And they hold true no matter what label I give them. That is the stuff that bridges are made of.
I once thought myself a Pagan. I have also called myself a Buddhist. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about Muslim women, Jewish women and Christian women and I see myself in all of them.
Dear 10-year-old self. I don’t know if you’re an angel. But you’ve become very good at building things. And this bridge idea seems to be a good one. We could use a lot more of those in this world.