Monday, June 22, 2009

When farming gets in the way of life (and vice versa)

Photo by Jenny Ellison

June is my busiest month. I would have thought March or April were, when we have a barn full of babies and we’re making maple syrup. But I schedule only a few outside activities during those months for that very reason.

Our farm work for June includes planting and weeding the gardens, killing thistles, and haying. We never know when the alfalfa will be ready to cut and bale. On a year with and early spring and rain at just the right times, we could cut in late May and be done baling by the middle of June. On a year with a cold spring and rain at precisely the wrong time, we could still be baling come July.

June is also the month when the Pelican Rapids Multicultural Committee puts on its major event of the year, the Pelican Rapids International Friendship Festival. The Festival only lasts two days, but planning and set up take months. This year, during the month of June, I wrote seven newspaper articles for the Friendship Festival and four for library events. In the last week, I ran two programs at the library and worked as a full time volunteer at the Festival on Saturday.

Saturday was the real conflict. I can write newspaper articles after dark and before the hay is ready to bale in the morning. But I can’t demonstrate Australian locker hooking, set up a tent and photo documentary exhibit, mind the public bathrooms at the park during the Festival, help craft demonstrators set up and take down their exhibits, and bale hay.

Saturday, the hay was ready to bale. We had a 20 to 30 hour window when there was no rain predicted and the humidity might be low enough for the hay to dry.

I felt horribly guilty when Aubrey, her Mom, Jenny, and our nephew Tyler helped Dave bale hay while I sat at the Friendship Festival. Of course, I would have felt even worse if I was out in the hayfield while other people with jobs of their own struggled to do my jobs at the Festival too.

I think that the Friendship Festival is one of the most important things that happens in our little town. We have an amazingly diverse population. Out of 2300 people, about one third are Hispanic. We have almost 200 Somlai refugees in town as well as Iraqi, Bosnian, Cambodian and Vietnamese. These people immigrated to our community because of the turkey processing facility in our town. They stayed because Pelican is a good place to raise children, the schools are good and the people are friendly.

The Pelican Rapids Multicultural Committee is one of the reasons that diverse peoples feel good in Pelican Rapids. The committee is a small group of volunteers that brings together lots of other volunteers to celebrate the diverse cultures which make up this community. Hundreds of residents volunteer for the Festival. Some bake Scandinavian cookies, others fry Somali sambusa. Some demonstrate Belgian lace making, while others play in the community band. People gather to eat, listen to musical groups from all over the world, watch local dancers and dancers from far away, and learn new crafts. But the best thing about the Friendship Festival is the friendships that are built by working together, by sitting beside each other, sharing new sounds, new foods, new ideas. The Festival means more to me than baling hay.

Working with the Multicultural Committee connects me to the community. Farming connects me to the land. Both connections are good, and are, in fact, necessary. But it is hard when they both demand the same space in time - when farming gets in the way of life, and life gets in the way of farming.

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