Health in our workplace, a small farm, abounds with contradictions. Webster’s dictionary ambiguously defines health as physical and mental well-being. With its many meanings, ironies and interconnections, this influential concept pervades society as an elusive goal, from corporate misnomers such as “health care” to my own bewildering biodynamic impulses. A healthy animal or plant is never the same, but in continual fluctuation, as a trip around the farm finds my understanding of health to be also.
In the Agriculture Course, Steiner introduces us to “compost, which is sometimes even despised,” before extolling its health-giving virtues. Compost is the key to healthy farming, but the word has different connotations for me, too. My family kept a “compost” bucket in the kitchen, an unhealthy-looking putrefying place for food scraps. Taking the compost out was a stinky chore, made even worse by procrastination. On the other end, though, after rotting with leaves, manure and soil, I knew compost to be the building block of healthy humus and gorgeous gardens.
I’m a manure connoisseur. When out standing in my field, countless cow pies and a trampled pasture please me. Although it may not look well now, it’ll be healthier than ever after a few weeks rest without animals.
A healthy vegetable plant goes down hill soon after fruiting, and its quick assimilation into the soil is a sign of healthy microbial activity. The garden is deemed healthy when full of healthy bugs and diseases, along with even healthier insect predators and disease-suppressing organisms.
Colds and fevers which run a short course through the children build immunity and are naturally healthy, as is my own runny nose if I’m splitting firewood in freezing weather. That nose gets stuck up high in the air, sniffing fresh farm fragrances and feeling proud of our produce, but I try to keep it below the tractor’s exhaust pipe. Respiratory systems also don’t appreciate the foul fumes while refueling, nor the dusty job of spreading wood ashes and lime to bring health to acid soils.
Diversity is another sign of health, and the five acres of mixed up vegetables certainly has a wide variety of weeds. The farm’s livestock is not so diverse. It’s just cattle, unless you count as replacements for our lack of chickens and goats the wild turkeys and deer, who got healthy this summer decimating our sweet corn path. A healthy diversity of plant species appears in the meadows as an unplanned consequence of my erratic mowing schedule.
I wonder how healthy soils deal with the inevitable leaky carburetor, or the excess of grease which healthy farm equipment requires. My hands are often well greased, too, along with everything I touch on the way to the sink and soap, whose strength is probably inverse to the grease’s biodegradability.
Those hands ache after tedious transplanting, and a healthy day’s work can temporarily hurt. Stretching backwards occasionally helps offset lower lumbar tightness, but I’m often reminded of the saying “What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge on it.”
Laying my not-so-well body down at night, my overly busy mind finally rests. Insomnia is not a farmer’s problem. By morning the body is well, but the mind soon swells with 64,000 thoughts, feelings and things to do, many regarding the inherently enigmatic concept of health in the workplace, the well-being of the farm.