Chronicles of a Dirt Farmer: Farming is Life

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Farming is life.

It shelters me, clothes me, puts food on my table and wine in my glass. And, like a diminishing percentage of us in this country, it puts money in my bank account.
It connects me to the earth and grounds my spirituality. Growing the fruit of the vine roots my ancestry and shapes my future.

It is dirty, heartbreaking and real. After months of anticipation, I have come home at the end of the first day of harvest, sore, sticky, filthy and triumphant. I’ve watched a poorly timed, drizzly day destroy an entire year’s crop. I’ve breathed life back into an almost-stillborn lamb, cared for him, watched him grow and thrive, have the happiest life, and then taken him to slaughter when the time has come for him to feed me. There is no deeper truth nor more profound connection than closing that circle.

We used to all be farmers, with common, shared experiences. My stories would have been nothing more interesting than a neighborly farming exchange at a chance meet-up in town.
Tough year, isn’t it? Did you get your crop planted on time? How’s your lambing season?
Now our commonality involves Google, Internet memes, social media and gaming consoles. Did you see that YouTube video where that cat fell off the fan? I know, right? LOL!

Feeding the flock

credit Rob Sinskey

We have a great farming community in Napa; I still have those neighborly exchanges. But they are limited to particular individuals who work in the industry or to farmworkers who work with me in our vineyards. Going into town in my Carhartts and dusty Blunnies, I get sidelong glances from urban folk going about their day pressed and crisp, no dirt on their dress shoes, only sidewalks to walk upon. And I find myself telling farming stories to these very same folks, as they listen in fascination and wonder about how it all works. As if what I do for a living is something exotic and foreign. I suppose that, nowadays, it is. Amazing what has changed in only a generation or two, how we’ve gone from rural to almost completely urban.

I fell into farming like I fall into many things in life:  through a succession of happy coincidences, starting with an urban childhood, a freakish obsession with worms and a dirty attitude (more blah blah blah about that here. I followed that muddy path where it led me – through college, to the rainforests, to a degree in biology, to the art of growing things. And that path, with all its twists and turns (never mind muddy bottoms), led me to this:  farming is life.

Farming isn’t the easiest of lives, nor the cleanest, but it is an interesting and fulfilling one. So, like many of my farming brethren, I’ll lend my voice to the chorus of the Internet, that new frontier and great equalizer. Maybe, out here in the ’verse, my stories won’t be so uncommon after all.
Debby Zygielbaum is the Vineyard Manager (or, as she’s fond of saying, ‘Dirt Farmer’), at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa and a frequent contributor on Nopalize. She can be found @walkthevine on Twitter and Instagram.