There’s a mystical version of the story of how I came to live at this farm, and there’s a practical version. No matter how much I have enjoyed living the mystical experiment version, it is now time to tend to the practical.
This experiment is over. I’m calling it a success, but it’s over.
The practical version of how I came to live at this farm is that it is equidistant between where my Mom and Dad lived, and where my daughters lived with their mom – an hour from each. Mom and Dad have both died, and my youngest daughter is about to graduate from college and go find some other place in the world that she will make hers. Neither of my daughters is likely to ever return to the town where they grew up. The oldest is about to finish a masters and will be making a similar leap into the world with an as-of-yet unknown destination. I’m eager to see where they both land.
It won’t be here though. None of the practical reasons I came here will exist any longer. The mystical alone is not enough.
The Mystical Experiment
For about a decade up until 2010 I had a cushy denominational job that paid six figures. I walked away from that to take comfort in a patchwork quilt of sporadic part-time self-employment so I could have enough time to tend a project here growing food to give away. It’s not the most radical thing to do, but it’s what I could do.
For twenty years I had worked with very generous donors who funded all sorts of amazing work. Over that time, I got to participate in raising somewhere between $60-70 million for various charitable work of one kind or another. Surrounding all of the memorable donors who stand out for their singularly extreme capacity for making large, generous gifts were seas of groups and individuals with more modest capacities for giving, but with no less persistent capacity for deep generosity.
A consistent refrain I heard in all of that time was, “I wish I had more so I could give more.” After a while I reached the conclusion that was, well, bullshit. I never said that to any individual directly. That would’ve been unnecessarily rude.
I did call the bluff though.
For a decade now, I’ve gotten by with less than I could’ve ever imagined, without anything you could call a safety net, on one single minded determination – to put seeds in the ground in the spring and give away what comes up. While not being able to afford regular car repairs or medical care I’ve managed to give away an average of 6-8,000 lbs of food for eight of the ten years I’ve been here.
I’m not proclaiming that everyone could, or should, do something like I’ve done for the last decade. It isn’t sustainable for me to keep doing it forever. It wouldn’t be suitable for everyone else either. I am proclaiming though that no one needs to have more to be able to give more. The only question is about where one’s focus lands between getting, having, and giving. Your call.
The experiment proved its point. Next.
A New Season
I’m in the first of six generations of Durhams in our line not born as sharecroppers on someone else’s land. My father and his siblings were the last. I’ve now spent one fifth of my life living on and farming someone else’s land. This time by mystical choice, not a poverty of options. Still, it’s time for a new season.
This experiment was never the reason I was here. I was here to be as close as I could be to the people I needed to be closer to. The experiment was just what I could do with what I had where I was. That’s going to change now.
I don’t yet know what this new season will hold, or where it will bloom. As I said when I started, I was starting a farm, not a blog about a farm. This conversation has stayed relatively small. The audience has often worked as hard to stay in touch as I have. Still, you’ve stuck around – and I’m grateful.
While I’m entering a new life season, I’ll still be here at least another crop season. I want to finish the transition to wheat. I’d like to get at least one or two good crops of that out before packing it in altogether. I’ll still need some help making that happen – but I won’t be buying a grain mill. That would be a frivolous investment when I already have a generous solution at hand for a few crops.
Wheat will also be one of the gentlest, easiest, most replaceable crops to leave the place under.
Stories Worth Telling
When the Welcome to the Table podcast started, before the pandemic made face to face interviews a bad idea, I was just leaning into starting larger conversations. When conditions allow, the podcast will resume. I have every reason to suspect that this next season will continue to grow in the direction of larger conversations.
Another of the most exciting story telling projects I’ve joined within the last year has been accepting my friend Liam‘s invitation to be his co-host of the Bible Bash podcast since March of 2021. There are a couple of other stories worth telling that are brewing with other friends. Some will be podcasts. Others will be written. Some of the stories will be theirs and I will only help tell them. Some of the stories will be mine.
Common advice is not to make any major decisions for a year after a major loss. I’m mindful of that advice as I’ve just lost my Mom. Even though giving advice is generally a bad idea, I’ve given similar advice several times myself. I plan on taking it.
I probably won’t know fully what my next season will look like for at least a year anyway. However, I know enough to say that all the practical reasons I happened to be here no longer exist.
A New Neighborhood
Other than the stories about ending this experiment, most of the rest of the stories I tell won’t be told here. They’ll live in a new Neighborhood I’ve created for all the things that don’t live anywhere else. Feel free to visit. It will evolve over time – and MAY even develop a regular publishing schedule. No promises, but that’s the best place to keep up with anything I’m up to personally or professionally.
I’m looking forward to the next season and I hope you’ll visit the new Neighborhood often as the conversation here winds down over the next year. Here, I never was intending to start a regular blog, just an occasional way to stay in touch.
There, at www.dondurham.com, I AM starting a blog. As it takes shape, I hope you’ll add it to whatever lists of such things you might have. I like being in conversation with you- and would like to do it more regularly. Here, the conversation has been pretty narrowly focused. Over at the new Neighborhood, pretty much anything goes – and there’s a way for you to participate in the conversation. Just look at the side bar on this page.
Consider it like taking requests at an open mic night. You suggest topics, and I’ll write stuff down – or find someone who knows more than me to write stuff down. It’ll be fun!