"Why Do You Farm?" Spoon Story: Sean Sluys
I farm in order to bring my reality ever so slightly closer to the world in which I would prefer to live, while at the same time committing my energy to the type of work that gives me the purest gratification.
Philosophically, I’m often prone to cynicism. I find it hard to have faith in the economic, political, and religious systems in place. My fundamental disagreement with these social systems leads me to strive toward as great a degree of self-sufficiency as will still allow me to not seem like a total weirdo. Farming gives me a feeling of providing for myself and my community directly, regardless of the interest rate, or who gets elected. Farming also keeps me close to the basic, physical facts of existence. I find joy in building structures and fixing machines. I am fascinated and inspired by the exquisite functions of anatomy and physiology, and the absolute wonder of reproduction. No work has allowed me to be more conscious of my physical presence and its connection to the world than producing food in a regenerative manner.
Through agriculture, I gain a sense of stewardship to the land and animals, and am more aware of my role in the countless miracles that connect the local ecosystem of which I am a part.
The initial reason I decided to try farming happened, like with any good adventure, because of a girl. Our fates were not to be happily ever after together, but she taught me a great deal about how to think critically, how to love, and most importantly (at least for the purpose of this story), how to eat well. We met one summer during college, on my first weekend back from a year abroad in Cairo.
Some background on me at the time: I was an International Relations major, studying Arabic language intensively because I wanted to become James Bond. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to devote my energy to making the world a better place. Peace in the Middle East seemed a fine place to start, and Hollywood made intelligence work look sexy! All of that changed in Egypt, when I went on a big camping trip in the desert with some friends.
One of the Bedouin guides that drove us out was impressed with my colloquial Arabic, and that evening after dinner, he invited me for a smoke and a chat. Our conversation under the uncountable Saharan stars turned deep quickly. He asked me what I was doing in his country in the first place. I answered that I just wanted to make it a better place to live. His response shaped my life forever: “The last thing we need is another foreigner telling us what to do.” By the time I returned home, I was much less certain of what I wanted to do for a career, and then proceeded to meet this remarkable young woman, the first big love of my life.
When we met, she had been a raw food vegan for some time, and was passionate about good food. Meanwhile, I had never thought twice about the things I was eating. I knew too much sugar could make you fat, but besides that, it was no holds barred, as far as I was concerned. Not for long. She brought to light for me the realization that, on a molecular and spiritual level, you are what you eat.
Throughout my senior year of college, we did the long distance thing--her school was in New York, mine in South Carolina--but even remotely, her influence held sway. It started with more salads. Most evenings, my dinner was just a heaping, jam-packed salad or two from the dormitory all-you-can-eat salad bar. After graduation, we got an apartment together in Yonkers, NY. She refused to have factory-farmed meat in the fridge, so we would drive up to this little family farm in Westchester County and buy whole chickens, eggs, raw milk, etc. To be honest, at that point I was doing it more to keep her happy. Then she gave me a copy of everyone’s favorite introductory work to sustainable awareness: Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivores Dilemma.” Within a month, I had also seen Food, Inc., read my first Joel Salatin book, and had become just as passionate as she was about the foulness of our industrialized food system, and so it was only a matter of time before I decided to try farming.
I knew I loved physical labor from working for my dad’s construction company every summer growing up, and the various jobs I held that year in NYC and Yonkers left me desiring a change of pace from city life. So I landed an apprenticeship on a non-profit CSA veggie farm in New Paltz, NY, and fell in love with farming.
The long days outside, cherishing every ray of sun or every drop of rain; the smells of all the ripe produce through a long summer morning’s harvest; the sense of stewardship and unique ecology of a small-scale farm. It’s something that sticks with you the rest of your life, even if you only spend a few months weeding and hoeing and picking and pruning and herding and mucking. There’s no tired like farm tired: it’s the most gratifying form of exhaustion. And there’s no dirty like farm dirty. It’s the kind of dirty that makes you feel like a kid again. You feel connected to the life in the soil smeared on your hands and clothes, to the plants feeding from that soil, and the animals eating the plants. It’s the most soul-enriching dirty I know.
Sean Sluys has taken care of all the happy, healthy livestock at Spoon Full Farm, through 2018. In 2019, he will be moving with his fiancé down to Oregon, for a new phase that will surely involve growing food and working with the earth.