Alright Michigan, I get it. I was feeling a little too excited about my first sunburn of the season last week. That muggy 80 degree day last Sunday was over the top, it’s true. We were getting ahead of ourselves, looking past Spring right towards Summer, and it’s only natural you’d want to put us in our places. With 4 inches of snow… in mid-April. As that picture up above shows though, it melted as quickly as it fell – a thick white blanket turning to muddy sludge in no time.
So what’s a farmer to do (besides gnash her teeth a little bit) when the snow makes fields untillable, spinach unharvestable, and weeds unhoeable? Well the good thing (and sometimes the bad thing) about being on a farm is there is always work to do: spring cleaning, building the trusses that will support our greenhouses, weeding hoophouses (and enjoying the diversity the weeds – lambs quarters and mustards – will offer our spinach salads), turning frozen tomatoes and berries into canned sauce and jam, sharpening tools, making cheese and yogurt, transplanting peppers and tomatoes into larger pots and flats, willing those seeds that have already found their homes in the soil to bide their time, and hoping that Spring – when it decides to show itself – will be generous.
In a couple of months, I’m conducting an experiment. I’m hopping into my truck and, leaving a 5 year relationship with my friends, partner and the state of Washington behind me (literally, not figuratively), I’m moving back near my home town of Chelsea, Michigan to work at a farm. While my apprehension about the move comes far more from what and who I’m leaving behind than what and who I’m heading towards, I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about being back in Michigan – particularly so close to where I grew up.
For one thing, I don’t really know many people in the area anymore; the fact is that most people I went to highschool and college with left the immediate area, if not the state. I certainly did. And despite legislative efforts to encourage college graduates to stay around, Michigan is losing people right and left. There’s certainly an economic element to this exodus; Michigan has long held the notorious honor of being at the top of state unemployment rates. But that wasn’t as much of an issue 5+ years ago when I left the state – and the issue of young people leaving is not isolated to Michigan. While I can’t completely channel my 20 year old mind at the time I moved west, I’m sure it was thinking something along the lines of ‘I’ve gotta get out of here – I’ve gotta see something new’ And so I went – and in doing that, I put about 2000 miles of distance between myself and my old home – and most importantly, my family. This is a gap we’ve narrowed with phone calls, e-mails and train rides, but one that has been nagging me since I moved to Washington.
Ok, so this isn’t meant to be as much a “dear diary” entry as a chance to take a look at 1) why so many young people, myself included, choose to leave their home towns/states (is it about better opportunities, a change of scenery, a shift in perspective, the stigma of being someone who never left home?) 2) is there any way to reverse the trend (if it seems worth reversing)? is it a matter of waiting for an economic upheaval – or a grassroots return home to create something new ourselves? which came first – the return of young people or the return of jobs, entertainment, opportunities that appeal to them? And 3) when- if at all – is the right time to return home? Though we’re not a culture that sees multiple generations living under one roof much anymore, as we watch our parents age from a distance while beginning to start families ourselves, this question seems more and more relevant.
As for me, my mom turns 60 this year, and my siblings, still in the area now, could likely be on the move soon. The time felt ripe for a move home (one that I’m looking at initially as lasting for the farming season, but it will be as temporary or as permanent as I make it). I’ve been farming in Washington now too for a few years now, and I’m excited to see what the organic farming movement looks like in Michigan. Admittedly, moving back to southeast Michigan at a time that just so happens to coincide with my 10 year high school reunion in order to make about 2 bucks an hour working a job that draws blank stares from most people I try to explain it to – well, it’s hard to make that look good on paper. But I’m a girl who has Dollywood buried in her resumé – when did I get so concerned about looking good on paper? I don’t know where those insecurities come from – the fact is I take a lot of pride in the work that I do and the state where I grew up. This year should give me the opportunity to deepen my understanding of both while actually getting to see my family on a regular basis.
That 2000 mile gap is still going to nag me in the opposite direction now – a lot – but this is what happens when you fling open pandora’s box and create a bunch of homes for yourself. It has never been more obvious to me that home is moreso a collection of shared experiences feelings and ideas that connect us to the people around us than any physical space. One day I hope to give it walls, a roof and a woodstove – a barn and a chicken coop too; for now, my experiment in mobile homes continues.
To the mitten!
** Where is home for you? How have you gone about defining and creating it for yourself?
** Are you living far from where you grew up? If so, why did you choose to leave? Do you think you’ll ever move back?
Last weekend Neil, Chris and I crossed over the mountains and over the Columbia to spend time at our old farm and home, Cloudview. This was Chris’ first time there, and, for Neil and I, it had been nearly a year since we last visited. I say I don’t know how I let that much time pass; and in ways I don’t. But a closer look reveals: Life. Work and play and the busyness they add up to. What I take heart in is that no matter how long it has been since I last visited, I am always greeted with a spirit of inclusiveness and an abundance of good people and good food. On top of that, it is inspiring and fulfilling to know that a project I have put so much work and love into continues on – and grows. And thrives.