“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” - Cormac McCarthy
We craft our own maps, often forging them from simple dreams at our left or empirical confirmation to our right. Either way the map seems simply a speculation of a premonition for the future that only in hindsight can be truly confirmed. I have been traveling the east coast with a colleague speaking to high schools, which have an active agriculture program of one shape or another in place. Each day we rise early for the short lectures and round tables. By three or four we slip away and chart our next course. My iPhone acts as our 21st century map. The legs of our journey have ranged from a few hours to a full days drive. I have humbly taken on the persona of a blinking blue dot and have been religiously following the blue line set before me.
However, no matter my focus I find myself getting off course. 295 takes me around a city faster than 95 and I lazily add 5 minutes to my journey by not sticking to my blue line and missing the bypass. At the beginning of the day it’s so clear. We have a plan, we have a destination, some basic goals and off we charge. By lunch we hit a little traffic, we dodge poorly marked exits and we stop for gas. No matter our effort we have added a few miles and time to our plan before it’s all over. This clean map that in the morning spells out three options, the exact millage and time expected - in hind site looks quite different and much more clear.
Arthur and the garden team spent countless hours this winter drafting a map for the season. We have added components that were only hopes that now are coming to reality, like our Mobile Farmers Market delivering food to USDA identified food deserts. We have debated systems from our last few years that can be made better so that we produce the best produce with the assets we have and incessantly argued sustainable practices that need constant dialogue so that we make the smallest mark with our carbon footprint. The Student Gardens has a map in place. It comes in the form of a business plan, succession-planting spreadsheets, labor training systems and more. We have numbers that paint the picture of our business topography and a blue line to guide us. Yet, not a week into the season after the peaches have been thoughtfully pruned do we realize the winter was just too cold for them. And, for the second time in my short tenure that crop has failed.
But, we will survive because part of our mapping as a program is to not isolate our efforts into one single crop but to diversify our assets so that students gain a broader learning of plants and to build room for environmental struggles such as these. This is why we map. Reif Larsen wrote. “A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected”. Our garden is formulating the meaning of education and health and bridging that knowledge to students and community. It understood the meaning and benefits for crop diversity long before I arrived and set that plan in action.
From time to time our gardens blinking blue dot may not follow the clear line we set before it. We will hit some bumps in the road and need to stop for gas. We may miss an exit here and there. Every time we are ready to get back on the road we will check our map. We glance from time to time at our plan while traveling and although we may finish the season not quite how we expected, we will still have accomplished our goals. We will bridge the “here” in starting our Mobile Farmers Market to the “there” with accomplishing our Mobile Farmers Market. We will go from wanting to serve our community good produce to having done so, and from wanting to satisfy to satisfaction. This will all be possible because we mapped it from the start then put the plan to action. Amelia Earhart said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”.
Over a hundred varieties have been started in the greenhouse. Many are in the fields. Our greenhouses have tomatoes already in flower and growing up a string. The maps of January and February are plans for today. Here we are CSA members. Please put your seat backs up, your food trays away and stow all extra baggage. Because the season is taxing for take off…and we will do it.