Commentary
September 18, 2015

Learning simplicity and sustainability WWOOFing

By Matt McCarthy

Editor’s note: Matthew McCarthy, from Connecticut, took a gap year between high school and college and participated in a program called Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF) at Kiss the Cow farm, in Barnard, Vt.

At the top of a curving, steep hill, in a red house with four cats, two farmers and five WWOOFers, the mudroom is hushed and unlit. My orange Puma running shoes are the brightest things around. It’s nearly 5:30 a.m. as I leave the house to start jogging down Walker Hill, a rocky, meandering road without any center line — like most Vermont roads. The sun rises on my right, slowly soaring over the green foothills of Barnard. It’s brisk, hazy, but rewardingly peaceful. Checking his mail at the bottom of the hill is Floyd, a 94-year-old neighbor. Two months ago, he renewed his tractor license. He gives me a friendly wave for a good morning, luring me in. Floyd never lets the opportunity of a conversation slip by, and he mainly enjoys to talk about the history of things. More specifically, the importance of the Constitution (he can talk about whatever he wishes and I’ll eagerly listen). Like many others, he shares the belief that this document is being unjustly bent to the right, to the left, and in all directions physically possible. And subsequently, that its impact on our lives is shrinking. Behind this is another, more ominous belief: he doesn’t put much faith in the upcoming generations.

Crises often occur. They’re a natural part of history and progress, to struggle through and to overcome. Now, I think, we are in a crisis of prudence: guzzling up inglorious amounts of gas, becoming too dependent on technology, agitating the natural order of things. It doesn’t say anything about these wrongdoings in the Constitution, so it is somehow eerily viewed as permissible. Why? Bill Mckibben, a fellow Vermonter, crystallizes the two sides of the coin in “Oil and Honey,” his new book. He writes about two stories: one of honey, one of oil — one of maturity, one of immaturity. Which one will we choose? Heads or tails, oil or honey?

The important thing to realize is that it’s not up to the flip of a coin: we have the power to choose. Before going off to college, I decided to take a gap year to take these things into consideration. My goal in doing this is to develop simpler habits and to gain insight on how to live a more fruitful life, leave a smaller carbon footprint, and persuade people of my generation — and others, too — to do the same. Along with many other right-minded and centered Vermonters, I am living for honey.

Two weeks after graduating high school, I ended up in Barnard, at Kiss the Cow farm, a local dairy farm known for its small town agreeableness and inventive ice cream flavors. Farm life is tough, but also simpler and more rewarding; working hard is a physical sustenance. It is widely thought that values of hard work and locality are being abandoned. It is not widely understood, however, how beneficial and important simple lifestyles are. What prudence comes down to is a matter of habit. Lacing up my neon Puma running shoes at dawn is one of many small steps towards healthier, simpler living.

Many benefits of farming are unmissable: sustainability, strengthening the local economy, and healthier, more natural, food. In the trenches of day in and day out work, I’ve also come to realize that it’s an incredibly fulfilling experience. The friendships formed at Kiss the Cow farm and its benefits are invaluable: they leave no carbon footprint, they are good for the natural order of things, and they are joyous and diverse. Friendship and hard work are both fulfilling and sustainable; farm life is wholly beneficial.

The greatest reward, I think, is getting to know the people I’m working with — their diversity, ambitions and interests. Having all intersected at Kiss the Cow, despite coming from such a range of life stages and experience, makes working here all the more colorful and captivating.

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