I moved here with the mission of becoming part of the Slow Food movement: encouraging people to eat food that’s good for them, good for the earth, and good for growers. And after a couple of weeks immersing myself in this community and my plan to be a part of it, I am so thrilled with much of what I have found.
Moving to Virginia just a few months after the atrocities that happened in Charlottesville seemed ironic to me as a person of mixed race and in an interracial relationship. And the irony wasn’t lost on many of my friends, who raised eyebrows and asked a lot of questions that started with “why”. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the people I’ve dealt with here so far. The norm here seems to be that people treat one another courteously and with kindness; not particularly different from anywhere else I’ve ever visited. The professional relationships I’ve started to cultivate have been so well received. It’s kind of remarkable, considering my status as an outsider with nothing to offer (that is, my crops haven’t even been planted yet).
The culture of farmers markets runs very deep in this part of the country. The city of Roanoke has a downtown square that’s been hosting markets for over 130 years. And by my count, there are another seven markets operating within 10 miles of our home. I’m still in the process of evaluating which bazaars make the most sense for Garden Variety Harvests, but it’s mighty encouraging as a new farmer to have so many options seemingly on the table. People appreciate good, fresh food here and it shows. The farm-to-table restaurant model is still getting its legs here, but I have hope that this trend sweeping the country will be taking hold here very soon.
The pace of everyday life just feels so much more appropriate. I had no way to wrap my mind around how much living in the middle of the big city had affected me. It hardened my spirit in ways I didn’t even see. When we were traveling in rural Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia this summer, it still didn’t quite register because I knew exactly where I was going back to. Denver was home, it represented normal, and even two months away from that place didn’t do a whole lot to soften me up. I think when we live in cities, people start to take one another for granted because we’re stacked so tightly on top of one another. We push our way through the stagnant seas of people in our vehicles for hours at a time en route to our daily jobs. By the time we get to the office, it’s quite possible we’ve yelled obscenities at a half dozen other drivers on the way. That sets the stage for some very loaded, volatile interactions with our co-workers and peers.
Going from Denver to southwest Virginia has taken some adjustment. For instance: I have to keep reminding myself that when somebody is wearing orange, it’s likely not because they are a Broncos fan, but a Hokie instead. Another dynamic worth noting, especially as I’m trying to start a new business on a minimal budget, is the scant number of listings I have found on Craigslist. A metropolis of 2.8 million people simply generates more traffic, some categories more than others. I haven’t tried to hail a Lyft or an Uber yet, but I imagine that could be a challenge at times. And there’s no way this region will match the plethora of craft breweries of my previous city, but we have a few and while I love good beer, I’m not picky.
A big part of what has drawn me to this career shift is a strong belief in the localization of societies. I think it’s an important part of any successful plan to reduce our use of fossil fuels. And let me be clear: I see climate change as the most consequential problem on Earth in my lifetime. But more humanely, I think human beings function better as members of smaller groups. Research I’ve been exploring by evolutionary psychologists makes a compelling argument for this concept.
Lately my attention has been drawn to the musings of people like Steven Pinker and Christopher Ryan, who are looking at the modern civilization through skeptical eyes. I gravitate to the ideas of Dunbar’s number and egalitarianism and I think there’s a lot that those ancient societies can teach us about ourselves if we’re willing to pay attention. I think the 21st century hunter-gatherer, equipped with a responsible use of the internet and technology, may be the apex of the human condition if we get it right.
I understand that it’s weird that I, as a new farmer, am praising the hunter-gatherer societies of the past, as by definition those people did not use agriculture. I’m not suggesting that caveman Tuk had it all right in that regard, and he sure would have had a hell of a time feeding 7 billion+ global citizens on a scavenged diet. Agriculture is a necessary part of 21st century society, but I suggest that we ought to use methods that are more respectful to Mother Earth and more sensible to our diets than the current state of affairs. And I moved here to Virginia hoping to explore what I can do in my little corner of the world to set that sort of example.
And I’m glad I’m here. This place is beautiful in ways the Colorado high country is not, with tall deciduous trees in thick forests and smooth rolling hills. I’m equally excited to recreate in this environment as I am to work here. National Forest camping opportunities are less than an hour away from home, and the camping season is much longer here. And the guy who rented me the sod cutter last weekend gave me a brown trout fishing tip I need to follow up on ASAP.