As I write this, I’m finishing up my last day working on Possum Tail Farm with the Kahly’s. Looking out the window, I can see the skies today are clear and the sun is shining brilliantly on the hills, and I can already tell today will be a typical hot summers day, a departure from some of the cooler, milder weather I’ve experienced in this highlands area. Breakfast has been served and eaten, and there are fresh apple slices remaining on the table for a snack. The four resident pigs have been fed their morning meal, the cows have been brought to pasture, and my bags are packed and waiting downstairs.
This is a typical morning on Possum Tail Farms, relatively unchanged in its rhythm and structure despite the fact that another volunteer is leaving today and another one will soon take her place. But for all its structure and permanence - and there is certainly a need for repeated consistency to the same task for any successful and smooth-running farm - Possum Tail Farm does not run away from change, but is constantly re-evaluating the work they do, and from what I’ve witnessed in my short three weeks here, they are constantly seeking new ways to best utilize the resources available to them in their beautiful Alpine region of West Virginia.
This openness to ingenuity and experimentation has been a theme of my time working here. In my short stay, I’ve been enlisted to help collect herbs around the farm and surrounding areas, create a makeshift dehydrator out of a spare room to harvest these herbs for medicinal use, strategize the best way to lead 28 cows to a corral and then sort them, herd one of said cows back into the fencing area when it escaped the fence, and perhaps most interesting of all, build a tiny house which the Kahly’s are considering renting out to campers on their property.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it best showcases the theme of my educational time here. For context, I was living and working in New York City for the better part of 2019 before arriving here. Less than two months ago I was spending most of my time either indoors or underground in a sedentary office job. I had to go out of my way to see a tree, and I was certainly miles away from any cattle.
Suffice it to say that when I d I was pretty “green” when it came to a lot of tasks that go on here. But in this short time I feel a subtle yet enormous growth in confidence when it comes to not just farm tasks, but any challenge. Instead of facing a challenge and responding “I hope I can do this, but probably not” - what I might’ve been inclined to say my first day on the job - I feel that now on this last day at the farm, that someone could walk up to me right now and ask me to swim the English Channel and I would be able to say “I can do this. I can figure out a way”.
This is the effect the Kahly’s have on you. They don’t question or contemplate whether or not you are up to a task, they look at you with a quiet, strong trust and simply ask you to do it. And you do. You might stumble, trip, or tangle up a fence or two along the way, but always, you do it and the task gets done.
I could say a lot about what my volunteer experience here has provided me, be it a huge increase in knowledge about what it takes to run a Certified Naturally Grown farm, a respite from city life, or a greater awareness about how our food is made, but I know the best is how it has reshaped my mind when it is faced with a challenge. Living in a large city might have made my mind tough, but it was a different toughness, a superficial kind of grit that gets you through some of life’s disturbances, but in the end, ultimately harden your heart and closes you off from the beauty of nature and others.
The quality of strength I’ve developed as a volunteer is different. It is less like strength and more like flexibility, a resilience that is unwavering despite the kind of challenge it faces. It does not flee the new or foreign, rather it adapts to it, and it never shies away. It can move in any direction, and thus it cannot break. This strength I have seen on Possum Tail Farm, and it is this strength that I take with me into wherever I find myself next. --Katie