On watering lettuce and letting go

There is nothing I find more soothing than to observe someone do work chores. The type of task that someone can do in their sleep, because they have done it for a long time, because they are good at it, or because it is a rather monotone type of work. When I am sick and I go to the doctors office I start feeling better as soon as the receptionist is typing in my information. The clicking of the keyboard, the routine questions…I don’t know exactly what it is – probably ASMR – that gives me a sense of calm and sometimes even sends shivers of wellbeing down my spine.

The work on my farm entails a lot of tasks that fall in that category: seeding 300 pots of onions, sowing oats on a field by hand, watering 200 meters of lettuce, planting long rows of pak choi, harvesting, weeding and packaging, flattening a field with a tractor, feeding animals. Many of those tasks require you to focus only gradually and give you time to think or daydream or have a conversation (I am talking about the executive side of farm work, like watering lettuce). I am both watching people perform these tasks and doing them myself. While the first – observing someone do their job – often gives me this wonderful soothing feeling, the latter is different.

Learning heaps of new things that you don’t know anything about can be quite intimidating, and here I don’t mean watering plants. I come from a family of bookworms and garden enthusiasts. I have read “The One-Straw-Revolution” and have always wanted to learn and understand. But when it comes to farming I don’t know anything. This feeling is especially intimidating now, that I have left other stabilizers behind at the same time. Like coming to a foreign country, neither speaking the language nor knowing people, and stopping to work in my old profession. Leaving a place also means leaving a part of yourself. It is the part that needs no explanations, that knows what it is. I used to identify in a certain way, and I had people around me, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, who backed me up on this self-identification. This person had a lot of dreams and ambitions, ways of life, of seeing the world and seeing others. Some things were settled, like me voting left, being a feminist, trying to live as sustainable as possible, protesting against racism, and so forth. Others were more in fluctuation. Now, almost everything is in a state of flux. What holds a sense of self together then?

I can confidently say I have never eaten better than on Bergsmyrene farm.

I am not shy when it comes to admiration towards other people and have always been curious, wanting to learn and understand and gain new perspectives. So, these days my sense of self is held together through these familiar traits: sympathy, enthusiasm and curiosity. The enthusiasm and sympathy I feel for the people around me and the place I ended up in. And the special combination of being nervous about not knowing shit (or dritt, as Norwegians say) about so many things, but also really wanting to learn and understand, and do a good job.

Honestly, how much do you know about life if you have no idea how your food is grown and being produced? The people who live on Bergsmyrene bring together a huge body of knowledge, all hidden from me until now. It makes me humble.

I realize that praising the people on Bergsmyrene and not putting any pictures of them in this post is not ideal. I will come to that, while for now you just have to put up with me driving a tractor the first time. Ah, chills…

How wonderful it is to know all these facts about how to build healthy soil, like Severin, the young farmer does. To be experimenting with different sorts of manure and compost, to be dreaming of a vegan farm, one without using animals in any conventional way. How impressive to be just as much focused on making your farm as sustainable and profitable as possible. To be maneuvering taking over more and more responsibilities from your parents, while improving old ways or finding your own ones. And on top of it, to be slaying it on slack lines and trampolines – flick-flacking, saltoing, backflipping – as if gravity was just a mental construct.

How amazing to be knowing so much already, like Doro does, my young co-worker from Germany. She is only 22 years old, warm-hearted and funny, and hops on the tractor as if it was nothing. She is in a 3-year training program in biodynamic farming, knits beautiful sweaters, speaks Norwegian, is handy with a lot of things and can lose herself in books about plants.

Edona used to work at Maaemo, the three-star big shot restaurant in Oslo. She is a machine, getting things done and being kind, funny and always helpful at the same time. Her experience with working in restaurants, whether in service or managing the place, has given her the most impressive organizational talent. She knows tons of stuff about farming, about making restaurants more sustainable, and about cooking and baking. She is equally gifted at fixing a roof as at cracking numbers or drawing beautiful signs for our farm shop. And she has endless patience for me and my many questions.

Toon from the Netherlands is staying one year at Bergsmyrene and knows heaps about permaculture design and alternative agriculture. Just like Doro he is in a 3 year long apprenticeship program for biodynamic agriculture called Bingn.

Then there is Finn, Severins father, who turned 70 but is still very much involved in everything that is happening on the farm. There is nothing he doesn’t know about germination, about the right condition for every plant to thrive, about any kind of seed type and how to cultivate it. Finn even has his own chilly plant named after him, because he cultivated the variety.

Also part of the Bergsmyrene family: Her name is Virus, ’cause, well…

Severins mom is a strong and beautiful farmer, originally from Switzerland. She is amazing with horses and all animals, can pull off bell-bottoms like no other, and knows everything about medicinal plants and herbs.

All together, Bergsmyrene farm is an ocean of knowledge, and the people who swim and dive in it teach me to be 32 years old and, in a fundamental way, to know nothing. I mean this in a positive sense. To be nothing, to me, means to be empty and open, a vessel, something yet to be filled.

And if observing someone perform work tasks and then learning them myself sends some ASMR chills down my spine – even better. Learning means equally creating space and therefore letting go of some parts of your self-identification, if only temporary. The last newspaper I read was three days old. I browsed through it with pleasure, but it had already collected some farm dirt and was helplessly outdated. Letting go, in a nutshell.

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