So there I was, on some country road to nowhere, wondering how the hell I was going to get home. I had spent a couple of hours at Big River Farms, run by the Minnesota Food Association, where I was doing some interviewing for a story TCDP published this week about immigrant farmers and sustainable agriculture.
My deadline for the story was long past. There was much back and forth between myself and the organizers at MFA about when a good time might be to come to do some interviews. I had started out pretty ambitious about the whole thing. The program serves immigrants from all over the world, as well as American-born minorities. I thought it would be great to speak with one farmer from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Latin America, but that was not so easy to accomplish. I started working on this story in September, which is late for farmers, so they weren’t necessarily going out to their plots of land everyday, besides which many of them have other jobs, families, etc., so nailing down a time was tricky. After several weeks of back and forth, we finally settled on last Saturday. For sure, Vince Xiong was going to be there at 1:00 p.m., and I was told that another farmer, Porfirio Diaz, was planning on getting there at 10 a.m. and would probably be there for a couple of hours.
Well, it took longer than I thought to get there — about an hour and a half, actually. After driving down a windy, dirt road, I arrived at the farm, and just about had a heart attack when I opened the car door to see a chicken staring at me. I got out of the car, creeping past the hen only to find several others just wandering about.
Wow. Yeah. Farms. They smell just like you’d think they smell. But it was beautiful, too.
After wandering around for a while, and not seeing any other human beings, I called my contact at MFA, Glen Hill, and luckily he answered. He gave me directions to where Porfirio’s plot of land was, and I walked down the center of the field and up a little hill to see if he was there. Unfortunately, I had missed him.
Damn, I thought. I had been told that Porfirio would be a great person to interview. I had questions written out in Spanish, and I had brought my video recorder to get translated later. Oh well, the best laid plans…
I did see two figures on the other side. Glen told me that it was probably Daniel Chen and Aspasia Maas, who were also planning on being there that day. At this point, it was 12:30, so Vince Xiong would be there soon. Glen also told me he would call the farm manager, Aaron Blyth, who could come over.
I introduced myself to Aspasia and she told me it would be better if I talked to her partner, Daniel. When he came back from the shed, I asked if I could interview him, and he said it would be better if I talked to his partner. I told him she had said the same thing, so he smiled and said that it was fine for me to talk to him.
My assignment was to write about immigrant farmers, so Daniel and Aspasia‘s experience wasn’t exactly right for the article, but I figured it would be useful to hear their experience, and perhaps there would be another story possibility. Daniel and Aspasia are a mixed-racial couple, with ancestry ranging from Native American to Scottish to Chinese. They both have a background in the service industry, and Daniel also has construction experience. He’s also worked quite a bit with Juxtaposition Arts. They had been interested in doing some urban farming, but found, after doing research, that it really wasn’t feasible. Then they found out about the MFA program, which they qualified for.
Aaron Blyth arrived, and told me a little bit more about the farm, and I told him that I was disappointed that I had missed Porfirio. Aaron suggested that he could call Porfirio on the phone. It would be difficult to speak with him in that way, because Porfirio’s English isn’t that great, but we decided to give it a try.
Somehow, between my terrible Spanish and Porfirio’s English, I was able to have a conversation with him, with some help from Aaron who was standing by.
After that, Vince arrived. I had a great conversation with him, and I knew that I had enough for an article, along with my other interviews. After that, Daniel and Aspasia were kind enough to give me some of their extra beets and kale, and I was on my way.
After being fearful for my life again as I passed the chickens by my car, I was off, but that’s just when it got interesting.
I’m not exactly sure what happened. I took a wrong turn somewhere, and then another wrong turn, assuming I knew where I was going. I had been driving for about a half hour before I realized that I had absolutely no idea where I was.
I stopped at a liquor store, first attempting to get reception on my phone so that I could use Google maps. No such luck. It wasn’t loading, and my power was draining quickly. I went into the store and asked the woman working there if she knew how to get to Minneapolis. “Oh, I have no idea. I’m from Virginia,” she said, and smiled. She went in the back, asking the manager if he know. “You’re a long way from Minneapolis!” he said.
His directions were fairly complicated, so when I left the store, I asked another person in his truck if he could tell me how he thought I should get home. He basically told me to go the opposite way from what my first helper said, but it seemed to make a little more sense to me, so I went with the second opinion.
Somehow, I managed to find my way back home, five and a half hours after I had left. I felt like the city mouse in the story. The country — yeah, it was nice for a visit, but I think I prefer city life, even if I don’t get to see as much blue sky, nature and animals.
I wrote in my article about how the folks at the Land Stewardship Project advocate for more people farming- because we need that. We need more family farmers, people making food in the “right way”. The people I spoke to that day were those kinds of people, whether they had spent their whole life farming, as Porfirio had, or spent most of their lives in the city, deciding as adults to embark on the noble profession of growing healthy food. They’re heroes, really.