One of my closest childhood friends gave me a copy of Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking for Christmas this year, and it’s pulling down all these interesting walls in my brain I hadn’t realized were there.
I’m notoriously bad at asking for help. Is everyone? Are you? Even when people offer to help, I backpedal from it (EVEN WHEN I, LIKE, REALLY NEED IT). Amanda writes about her life as a performer, from statueing as a street artist to touring with the Dresden Dolls and Tweeting fans for support, places to sleep, meals after gigs and, later, a financial hand to launch an album without a label.
She also talks about Impostor Syndrome, or what she calls the Fraud Police, which are the voices in your head and, perhaps, within your peripherals that are telling you to get a real job; to not ask others for things; that you are not good at what you are doing and that what you are doing is silly and pointless and certainly not worth another person’s time or support.
One of my farmer friends used the term Impostor Syndrome last year to describe a feeling of inadequacy. I’d never heard that term before but immediately felt it was spot on, nailing down this panicky, insecure feeling inside me that fills me with trepidation instead of elation whenever a CSA share check comes in.
What do you think you’re doing, asking for money for food you haven’t grown yet? that frustrating, internal voice says. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t have the chops. You were an ENGLISH major!
I imagine a fair amount of humans experience this inside and outside noise. I felt that way about writing, when I was writing a lot more, and especially when I was thinking that I would pursue writing professionally. I felt like a hack when I edited the college paper. I felt like a phony the summer I was posted up at the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering bike crimes and murders and municipal meetings. Hell, I would feel like a fraud writing an album review, regardless of my prior experience with the band or with music in general. I didn’t feel that I knew enough, was savvy enough, was critical enough to have opinions that mattered.
Side note – reading Amanda’s book has me excited about music for the first time in years. As in, I want to make time for young music and new music again. I wish I could explain to you how thrilling this is for me. Hop Along and the New Pornographers used to wreck me in college. I once locked myself in a room at the farm house in New York and listened to the Mountain Goats’ “This Year” for something like three hours straight. When I moved into Little House and was sleeping in a sleeping bag in the living room at night and trying not to be terrified about being alone in this house out in the woods, I would stay up all night painting my walls to Side A of Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City and a rapid succession of everything by The Killers. But it’s been years since I’ve really let the sound in – I think, at least in part, because I didn’t feel like I was a loyal enough fan to be a part of a music scene. And maybe because I’ve let other humans in my peripherals cast judgements on the sounds that make me happy.
I started the farm in 2013. It was, hands down, the most challenging year of my life. Also, the worst, for a whole pile of reasons I’ll tell you about over a beer or three sometime. Also, in moments, the most beautiful. I was living in my childhood bedroom, trying to start a business with minimum experience, trying to grow food and hoping people would want to eat this food and holding down two other jobs because there was no way this food thing was going to be a sure bet.
And then, in all that chaos, something started to happen. For every woody radish I was tossing into my compost pile and for every beet that didn’t germinate, someone would approach me at market to thank me for the tastiest romaine they’ve had since they were a kid. I spent a whole season without irrigation, but a restaurant bought a trunk load of my heirloom tomatoes. Friends in my life suddenly got excited about broccoli raab. People I’d known for my whole life and people I’d just met were sending me photos of the food they were cooking. They were thanking me for doing what I do.
Something else happened over the last few years, something I didn’t realize was happening at the time: I stopped hearing people when they said these things.
Because I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I can name a dozen growers off the top of my head who grow really amazing, beautiful food that I’ve yet to feel I can measure up to. They are older, more established and, at least in my head, more professional. Their arugula never has flea beetle damage. They are holding down families and lives that don’t consist of making a giant pan of curry with leftover frozen stand veggies to eat for the next seven days. I spent the better part of a week this winter coming home to hit the restart button on my furnace while I simultaneously held my fire extinguisher and my breath because I don’t understand machines or combustion. I feel like adults with their fingers on the pulse of their careers maybe aren’t doing this.
What The Art of Asking is teaching me, one emotionally-volatile page at a time, is that maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe Crooked Row works because it’s a bit slapstick and messy. Because sometimes carrots decide they don’t want to grow in one field but the strawberries are the best you’ve had in years. Because sometimes you find me on the verge of tears over a tub of red beets because I really don’t know anything about running a store, and WHY CAN’T I GET MY BEETS TO GROW LIKE THESE?! Because somehow I got your kids to like chard. And, most importantly, because each year gets a little better for you and for me. A little tastier, a little more organized, a little more like the farm life that I want. And, once you’re in the door (by which I mean the receiving end of the vegetable bag), we are that much closer.
So here’s me passing the hat, on behalf of myself and for all the other growers here. We all do it differently. We are from every walk of life. We are your classmates, neighbors, employees, market friends. Some of us have been doing this for years, and some of us are still figuring it out. But we are here, and we want to stay here, and we want to grow for you. For every farm sunrise, chicken video, delicious dinner, farmers’ market date, farmland preservation vote, CSA bag you love and remember, support us this season. Please.
We are asking you to trust us. We want to feed you. Let us feed you?
Lehigh Valley, let’s keep growing this food family.
All My Green Love,