A few months after my son was born – my second child – a friend stopped by to drop something off. It was the first time in a while I had seen him, and it was a pleasant reunion. He made a comment I have thought about over the past 25 years since that visit. He complimented me on getting back into shape after having that second child and said some women he knew bore children and then go to seed. I’ve laughed about that idiom ever since, understanding it through the eyes of the city girl I was then. But in my new life as a farmer, I now think about the significance of its double meaning in my life.
While “going to seed” to the average person means deterioration and decline, the phrase can be much less of a negative to a farmer. “Going to seed” means growing long enough to produce seed. It occurs when the bloom is gone. But only the bloom. Not everything. Metaphor noted. When the bloom is important as the cash crop, the last thing the farmer wants is for that plant to gone to seed. But eventually, it has to come to that in some way for the farmer who wants to invest in the future. A plant that has gone to seed becomes a beautiful thing.
In this fascinating life on a farm, still so full of new discoveries for me, I learn more every day about “where my food comes from.” Like so many who are finding their inner farmer, I love watching the remarkable journey from seed to plant to harvest to table. Watching is about all I sometimes do since my job on our farm is centered on the animal side. But occasionally, when the horses are fed, the alpaca field is picked, the eggs are gathered, I venture over to see the miracles going on in my husband’s garden. I’ve learned to quick “pick the lettuce before it bolts,” to water before 10 a.m. when the sun will scorch the leaves, and eat as many tomatoes as you can because the sun will surely cause them to split today.
But the most fascinating thing to me, for whatever reason, is that asparagus seeds are red. Our crop was intentionally left to seed in anticipation of another growing year. As I was allowed to pick those seeds and watch them, as I do my precious blackberries, accumulate in a bucket, I started to understand the miracle of life, the work of the farmer, the joy of producing, the hope of another trek around the sun.
“Going to seed” was definitely for the best in this case. But there is a negative to the concept, as a farmer who is trying to harvest his crop before this happens well knows. And herein lies the metaphor. Going to seed can happen quickly, in people and in plants. The energy, grace, and creativity of a farmer can be so focused on animals or plants that one can forget about the people side of the farm, particularly one’s self. In fact as one whose former profession in marketing required shiny shoes, shiny lipstick, and a shiny car, I contrast that life with my current routine of donning my dustiest jeans, my oldest shoes and my trustiest wheel barrow to feed, pick, and manage my little barn each morning. I am out before the sun, before I brush my hair and even sometimes my teeth, and at the end of a long farm work day, I have to remember to take off my boots before I fall asleep prematurely on the sofa. Have I gone to seed? Maybe.
I catch myself racing to our Tractor Supply for the minerals I ran out of or a hook I need to install before something blows away, or a screw to replace the one on the wheel barrow so I can keep working on my project. The reflection I see of myself in the store’s glass doors just before they whisk open is of a woman who went from bed to barn without much else in between. (Barn clothes can so be adopted as bed clothes, just in case!) And I can only do this because I gratefully run into others there who look just like me.
My proper mother would tell me to keep up appearances, clean up just a little before dashing into the world, dust my house and sweep out the more-than-occasional strands of hay on the kitchen floor – the ones that have fallen from my hair when I come in from feeding animals. And she is right. The negative side of going to seed means deterioration, not productivity. And that fine line is hard to detect. It can tip one way or another depending on a rainy day that draws plants out to bold or draws the farmer inside on the hardwoods with muddy boots. It’s one I plan to monitor more closely. It requires harvesting to keep the plant healthy and producing a bloom (taking care of one’s self to be ready for another day, another encounter with a person, another chance at the sun).
I will say this: when I mentally reflect on my life each morning, I am aware of someone who is sun kissed and unplugged (au natural), productive (the seed), and energized by the sun and the open field – far from being on the decline. My goal for this next year is to glance now and then at what others see. It doesn’t take much to quickly harvest that good and use it and keep the bloom. Reflecting on who I am, what I am doing, and what I plan to do is how I would like to “go to seed” and make my experiences productive, planting for the next season.