I've mentioned the Youth Farm magic in the past. It shines when the plants we have for a bed fit exactly from end to end with no extras, or the right person drops in exactly when we need their help, or the rains hold off just long enough for us to till and prep the beds for need for the next planting. Friday felt full of that magic. There were a few moments of obvious serendipity: Ted appearing with the last bag of plant sale labels right as the small group that'd been labelling pots all morning had just run out and was about to move on to another project, and Kiya starting her shift, ready to lead, exactly as several volunteers needed a new project and I had to finish up our seeding for the week. There's clear moments like those, yes, but overall a magic-infused day just has a certain flow to it. And I'm coming to understand that I have the power to create the flow, whether or not everything seems to line up perfectly.
How does it happen? Where does it come from? Certainly all kinds of factors, but I think I've been honing in on the most important in many of my posts this spring: my attention. On any given day, there are a million things that can throw off the plan, and a million different paths to take to keep the farm moving forward. Do we start with weeding or seeding? Can these three brand new volunteers identify enough plants to weed effectively on their own? Should we be doing something else right now? That last question is the clincher. The more I think about that, the less of a flow I can find. And it's taken a ton of practice and mistakes to make good decisions from the beginning about how to structure the day, so I'm not constantly re-thinking my chosen path. Hone in on a project that lots of people can plug in to if there is a stream of drop-in volunteers (like weeding broad-leafed weeds out of our greenhouse beds of fine-leafed carrots), train small groups on other projects that need more skilled attention (like weeding tall grass out of our 75-foot bed of grass-like French shallots), and always have the next project in the back of my mind and ready to begin.
Amid all that movement and planning though, there's another part of the flow that becomes even more important. It's the opposite of what took over my brain on Tuesday, when I let my to-do list dominate my headspace and exhaust me to the brink of tears. Yesterday, as I was having so many conversations with so many people, even as I knew the multiple ongoing projects and small groups needed my attention elsewhere, I was reminded of working with groups of kids. Like all of us, really, kids are constantly finding random things to do and say that are often fully off-topic from what you're trying to do with them. In my previous job as a nutrition educator, I would teach regular classes of 30+ middle schoolers how to cook-- so there was a brief lesson with the whole group, and then we'd break into the chaos of small groups working simultaneously on cooking a recipe. There was inevitably a barrage of questions, comments, accidents, and feedback to give to the students, and I distinctly remember noticing during that job how my own mood directly affected how well the class seemed to behave. If I stayed calm and attentive to one kid at a time (while inevitably keeping that flinging spatula and slight burning smell in the back of my mind, ready to respond if needed), resisting the urge to answer the three kids that were interrupting or racing back and forth between groups to ensure they were following the recipe perfectly... Just making eye contact with one person, listening, responding, laughing at their jokes, letting our interaction be authentic amid this sea of swirling stories... That's where my magic is born.
We've had a steady trickle of UO Urban Farm volunteers coming to complete their required service hours for their class over the past few weeks. Their assignment is due Tuesday, so that trickle has turned into a stream-- bordering on a deluge-- but still manageable and certainly incredibly helpful and productive for this busy time of year. Today I expect that stream to continue, and I'll be working with a group of twenty environmental studies students that are scheduled to come for a class field trip. Here's hoping we can conjure up some more magic to keep all the thousand moving parts moving in harmony.