The grass is always greener on the other side; that which we lack is exalted and that what we have is often taken for granted. As I am writing these words in a dense urban environment, the grass is much greener, over that fence, in the fields and in the greenhouses. Nature-based jobs, though physically taxing, seem like a grand retreat compared to the over-stimulation of New York City. While working with plants one is literally hands deep in soil, the culture in which plants grow. Here there are parallels to teaching, for the end goal is to help healthy growth. But in the fields it is less about growing healthy humans and more about growing healthy garlic bulbs, raising strong bee hives, trimming trees to allow for optimal fruit production. It is grounding being on farms, where there is an intimacy with nature, with creation, where there are many hours spent learning how soil and plants thrive.
Working in greenhouses, raising tens of thousands of newborn tomato and pepper plants from seed, is akin to teaching, to mentoring, but so much less chaotic, so wonderfully quiet. Probably too quiet for most, but once you become acclimated to the rhythms, one finds a calming camaraderie with the birds that pass by each day. Afternoon breezes are a daily event. How will tonight’s sunset be? When will the next rain come through? The weather is the ultimate authority, dictating when certain activities occur. There is a peace in the time spent with soil, trees, plants, animals, and insects.
Beekeeping is something I wish everyone could do at some point in their lives, because beehives are their own little communities with different bees having different roles. The hive is a social system and there are distinct relationships between various parts of the hive. There are worker bees that never fly far from the hive and then there are the foraging bees that fly off for up to three miles in any direction, engaging in the entire ecosystem. The foraging bees fly any day above fifty degrees to pursue nectar, the sweet sugar of flowers that has evolved to attract pollinators. They also gather pollen, the protein and vitamin-rich male seeds of the plants. Beekeeping encourages one to think like the bees, to observe the weather and to always be on the lookout: is the clover blooming yet? How has the rain been during this flow of locust nectar? Are there any bees in that cluster of wildflowers?
Then once a week you take the goods to market. I would work the stand for my beekeeping mentor, Duane. He taught me how to serve the bees and then serve the people who love to buy honey. On any given Saturday, I would sell hundreds of pounds of honey, beeswax candles and bee pollen, all the while answering questions about how bees work. At the market stand, all three of my spheres of work came together – agriculture, education and food service.