I recently read an interview with Richard Sennett in American Craft (October/November 2009) magazine. The subject is craftwork, which, if you are interested, he explores at length in his book The Craftsman (2008). At one point in the interview, he says the following:
“Our modern economy privileges pure profit, momentary transactions and rapid fluidity. Part of craft’s anchoring role is that it helps to objectify experience and also to slow down labor. It is not about quick transactions or easy victories. The slow tempo of craftwork, of taking the time you need to do something well, is profoundly stabilizing to individuals.”
I don’t know if he would count farming as craftwork, but what he writes puts me in mind of the work of farming, of the repetitive tasks that you need to do well in order to produce the quality that you want. You can’t successfully rush a harvest or rush weeding. Of course on some level when you are in the field, or have workers in the field, you want things to get done as quickly as possible — be it to get the flowers out of the sun, or to spend the minimum possible on labor. But in truth, the work can only go so fast, and, BEST of all, you can’t do anything else while you are doing it. You can’t send email, you can’t read a report, you can’t (at least not very easily) talk on the phone. You are forced to focus on the task at hand and, hopefully, you have the ethic to do it well. I write this all in part to remind myself that there is value in spending ten straight hours harvesting and weeding, what can sometimes feel like menial work. But even though I sometimes worry in the field that it might be trivial — cutting one stem after another, the truch is that doing this work really does open up space inside you to think and create, or at least it does for me.
I am including photos from a post-harvest repetitive task. These are dried poppy pods, that my brother cut, and I emptied out the seeds onto a plate, and then moved them into a glass jar, to save the seed for later use. Again, a seemingly mundane task, but this in the end is what it takes to make — and to grow — something. And I do, as Sennett suggests, find it profoundly stabilizing.