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10 December 2016 08:54AM
Mark Scherzer

turkanafarms.com

Pictured: Our Beloved, all dressed up

For Peter’s birthday this week (I won’t say which one), we celebrated in part by going to see Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which we left, sadly, at intermission. It is a play Peter had loved years ago when he saw it in the UK. He was dismayed that the play, the theme of which, he explained to me, is the redemptive power of love, was unfortunately directed in such a way that it did not manage for the whole first half to establish the crucial fact that a love was at its core. The event was a disappointing way to begin the Christmas season, which is in substantial part about reminding us of the role of love in the world.

Peter’s response naturally led me to think about not only what love is but also how we know it when we see it, and what, after all, it is that I love.

I think each of us feels pretty secure in the idea that we know love by instinct. I know, without any doubt, that I love Peter, and members of my family and close friends. And while love may come in different forms (romantic vs. platonic), by different means (families of birth vs. families of choice) and in different concatenations (reciprocal vs. unrequited), we know its essential unifying elements. Love includes a willingness to provide the loved one with one’s time, attention, and affection, a desire to make the loved one happy, and perhaps above all a concern for the loved one’s welfare, to such a degree that his or her welfare takes priority over one’s own. To know you are loved is to feel a certain sense of security, because in a world full of threatening forces you know that there are those who are concerned enough for you to come to your assistance and defense.

Understood in these terms, I think it’s safe to say I love not only a number of individuals. I love my farm as well. I think both Peter and I do. Turkana Farms, like any beloved, occupies massive amounts of our time and consciousness that we give willingly, not out of any expectation of pecuniary gain. Perhaps more important, the farm is a beloved in the sense that we have affection for it, almost as a being with a life and identity of its own, such that we try to make decisions for it based on its welfare and continued existence as a farm.

We do not tend to treat the farm as a random assemblage of unrelated objects but rather virtually as a living organism. It has a name, Turkana Farms. It presents a face to the public, via the house, gardens and pastures, that we find to be beautiful, as befits an object of love. We’ve surrounded it with a protective shield (fencing), which defines its body as our skin does ours. Its internal elements, like the barn, which is its beating heart, the chicken coop and greenhouse, function as its organs, each serving a unique role contributing to the overall life of the place.

The farm even has bodily functions, at least metaphorically. It requires nourishment, both by water and biological nutrients. The nourishment fosters the production of innumerable living elements. The grass of the pastures, much like the cells emanating from human bone marrow, is constantly and profusely produced. The farm also produces waste, as reflected in our compost pile. And it in a sense has offspring, like the flocks of sheep, which are loved and nurtured in their turn as children of a beloved would be.

This almost living being, the farm, is something we nurture and protect so that it will continue to exist as an entity, with integrity. In fact, when a bit more than a year ago we decided to cut back the scale of our own production, our commitment to keeping the farm in its present form is precisely why we did not even think about selling off part of the land, which would be like a dismemberment. Instead, we enrolled it in the Columbia Land Conservancy’s farmer-landowner match program, which brings together landholders wanting to use their land agriculturally with mostly young or beginning landless farmers trying to establish agricultural operations. We were pleased to find a lessee last year, Leanna, whose agricultural pursuits were compatible with ours, but then disappointed more recently when she terminated her five year lease with us after just one year, having decided that her business model was not sustainable. She instead will be a salaried livestock manager at a larger farm. Hers is a rational economic choice, whereas our choice to continue an operation that perpetually loses money is an irrational one. The irrationality of love, no doubt, for the land and its progeny, like the sheep. After all, we have bred and raised them from generation to generation, not simply bought them to raise for a season.

But ours is not entirely a selfless love. The farm was conceptualized by Peter on the model of the Palladian villa: that is, a place for quiet repose in touch with the natural, world, a bucolic escape from urban life, that nevertheless also functions to provide sustenance and income for the owners. It turns out that Turkana Farms is a place that is easy to love because, in a sense, it loves us back. It nurtures us, through the food it supplies. It permits us the pleasure of contemplating its beauty in intimate detail. It provides us with the feeling of security by serving as a refuge from an outside world that seems increasingly, especially given recent events, full of threat. In that sense, our bond with the farm is very much like a marriage. Or perhaps, in our case, it would be better described as an awkward but happy menage a trois.

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