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The Hard Days

(and why they were the best)

By Pat Banks, Phase II Fellow

I suppose every day can feel difficult when farming. I can’t recall a time this summer when everything was “going right.” However, I can recall the many times I spent cursing, and wondering if anything would ever JUST go right. From the irrigation consistently leaking and not working, to a new pest showing its face, or the constant battle with weather and weeds, there was never an easy day.

However, one particular day of frustration really stands out: it was a long, hot Tuesday at AMI’s Farm at Augusta Health and we had just finished a lengthy day of harvesting, planting, and completing all our farm tasks. And I was not having it. I was tired, drained, overwhelmed and, more than likely, SUPER dehydrated. I had just finished organizing our volunteer squad and sat down with my head between my hands in what I’m sure looked like a look of utter defeat. At that moment, Norm Shafer pulled into the driveway.

If you don’t know Norm, he’s one of the easiest-going, kindest, and most caring individuals you’ll ever meet. He’s also a fellow farmer and owner of Geezer Farm, outside of Staunton. He’s a good friend and an even better mentor.

Norm pulled on to the farm on that day of frustration with two ice cream cones in his hand and a big smile on his face. We sat on buckets, eating our ice cream, and talking about the difficulties we were both having on our farms - like two old friends. Like two old farmers. That moment was a defining moment of community for me - a moment where I didn’t feel alone in the day-to-day life of farming, and a moment where I knew I wouldn’t feel alone. Everyone needs a friend and mentor like Norm. I’m lucky enough to have one.

It’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day tasks on the farm - or the day-to-day tasks in life. I often joked about being a harvesting, planting and veggie washing machine this year. And to be honest, I felt like that at times. On another particular day, I was most definitely stuck in my routine. It was another hot day (see the trend here?), in early August, and Maya and I were having a conversation about something or other. Again, I was not feeling it. Dehydrated, annoyed, frustrated and overwhelmed are a few things that come to mind when I think back to my state at the time. Once more, at the moment of peak frustration, another car pulled into our farm.

A lady and her husband emerged out of the car. They introduced themselves to us and shared that they were recipients of some of the free produce we had been donating to the Augusta Health Free Clinic. They just wanted to stop by the farm to say thank you.

It wasn’t uncommon for folks to stop by and say hi, but this is time it was different. After introducing herself, the woman launched into a five-minute speech about how we haven’t been just changing her and her husband’s life with the produce we have been donating, but we’ve been changing the lives of the folks she had been meeting at the free clinic as well.

While she was talking, my eyes began to well up and it was all I could do to fight back the tears that were forming. After they left, I took a walk around the farm and I lost it. Tears dripped down my cheeks uncontrollably. Now, I am an emotional dude, but this was rare. Why did I feel this way? What was it about what this woman, in particular, had shared with us?

I still am asking myself this question, and the only thing I can point to is that in that moment I was so frustrated with the day-to-day aspects of farming that I had momentarily lost sight of the big picture of what AMAZING things we were doing at our farm. We were donating produce to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. We were supplying food for the kitchen and patients in the hospital. We were providing food for 20 families through our Food Farmacy program. That day, I had momentarily lost sight of that vision, and the woman who stopped by to share her story taught me to keep patience and remain humble on those days that feel the hardest. Thinking of her and the story she shared taught me importance of keeping things in perspective, not to get stuck in the minutia of day-to-day life.

Throughout the season, I’ve had plenty of days like the ones I described: days when life lessons were learned, especially when times were tough on the farm or in my personal life. It’s been days like these those that help me grow as a man, as a farmer and as a friend. I look forward next year’s farming season and all the lessons to be learned.

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