The Farm and the Family

Hello! This week is a bit of a shift from media review to a personal essay on my family and the farm that we cultivate.

As a small child, my family and I made the four-hour journey every other holiday to the white two-story farmhouse. Thirty people would find a way to cram into six bedrooms, there would be endless pancakes, and lots of competition about who got to ride next on the four-wheeler. I remember endless circles around the pig barn, going at breakneck speed, my arms wound tightly around my mother or whichever “adult” was ensuring my survival. My grandmother in particular doted on me endlessly, with all the presents and snuggles a little girl could want,

But my grandparents aged and moved down to the Twin Cities when they were no longer afforded the dignity of autonomy. My grandmother had beaten pancreatic cancer, but the effects were corrosive and she gradually died over many years and tears. She died in June of 2015 and my grandfather followed only four months later. After they died, their daughters (my mother and her sisters) decided to put the inherited organic 110 acres to use, planting garlic.

The first season of planting was rough for me. The farm is beautiful, but the real charm had always been my doting grandparents. Now that they were gone, the land felt empty and hollow, and I resented my family for making me return. For a long while, I went so far as to call it “the Garlic Farm of Death,” and I referred to Bemidji as “Hicksville.” I was definitely angry and contemptuous. but beneath that I was just hollow. I felt a loss of purpose and connection with the land

It took me a full year and the perspective of my cousin to regain my appreciation for the land. My cousin was away for a year and had missed the initial planting season. She hadn’t been on the farm since the funeral of my grandfather and since the year had passed, the family had reclaimed and repurposed. She was just happy to reconnect with family and spend time together, and her comments definitely reshaped my perspective on the whole endeavor. My family wasn’t going to let go of the land they loved, so I had to make a sort of truce with it and appreciate it from a new perspective.

My family has long known that food is not a quick product, but a loving process. This idea was ingrained into my mother and aunts from a young age, and my mother has taken great care to teach me the joys of gardening. Although I may protest on occasion, there is a certain serenity to be found between sunshine and dirt.

The idea of a landscape providing grace is all the sweeter in the twin contexts of family and faith. During one large family weekend on the fam, my aunt led a prayer and concluded with the gem “this isn’t about garlic, it’s about family.” At that moment, looking around a table of 30 people, ages ranging from 65 to months old, I knew I had made my peace with the land. It was no longer the magical haven of my childhood, but it was something more real now, and I had a hand in shaping the future of this land.

The land of the farm holds a million memories of family and faith. Only a handful of these memories are mine, but I have inherited stories from my cousins about adventures before I was born. The land is the story is the family is the story is the land. It’s all combined, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Although it’s been a long journey, the farm has come full circle-from innocent childhood paradise to haunting reminder of loss, to something new and beautiful, more connected and physical and real. I will always love the two-story farmhouse, and the stories of family and faith that live in each blade of grass.


4 thoughts on “The Farm and the Family

  1. You so eloquently reveal the process of transforming grief into something more grounding and enduring. Beautiful. Thank you for this, Elena.❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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