The Unbearable Lightness of Wyoming

Hello Big Team—

It’s been two weeks since you’ve heard from me, and I appreciate your patience as I get some on-the-ground research for book two taken care of. Before we get into missives from Wyoming though, some brief housekeeping.

There is about 40 of you who have yet to receive the hard copy of your book. For that I’m very, very sorry. After weeks of calling, emailing, and talking in-person with many levels of postal service managers and directors, the conclusion has been reached that, despite having been received by the post office in Arlington, VA on May 29th, they are now lost forever. I’m sending out replacement copies (from a different post office) today. You should receive them early next week. If you think there might be another reason you haven’t received your copy (like address has changed, etc.) please let me know ASAP. I have one returned-to-sender book on my desk waiting for an updated address, so if you’re still waiting, don’t hesitate to reach out.

I’ll also re-up my regular plea to please rate/review the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodReads, etc. if you have the time/inclination! It truly is helpful for me, and I really, really appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

Also, keep sending these fabulous pics of pets helping read the book. Nothing warms my heart more.

Book 2 Announcement

Hi. So if you’ve made it to the end of Farm (and Other F Words), you’ll have seen the brief message promising Book 2 by December of this year.

*sound of band aid ripping off*

Book 2 will be coming out in the Spring of 2022.

Listen. No one is more bummed than I that the second book won’t be done by the end of the year. There is nothing I want more than Part 2 to be off my brain. I’m much more of a “get it over with” person than a drag-it-out person.

But the reality is, a lot has happened since I turned in the draft of Book 2 last November; in my life, in agriculture, and in the world. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve realized jus how much I have still to learn. The last thing I want to do is rush to print a book that I can’t ask you to believe in. Plus, as we move into the late-pandemic, the opportunity to get out and visit farms/ranches/food businesses that I’ve only really communicated with virtually is too enticing to pass up. But colorful experiences and good writing both take time, and there isn’t enough of it between now and when Book 2 would need to be completed to publish late this year. For my failure to set a more realistic expectation, I am sorry.

As there are more updates to offer, I’ll be passing them directly on to you here and on social. Thanks for bearing with me. I really, really appreciate it.

What’s Next for the Big Team Farm

I’m excited to share some of the super interesting insights from the BTF survey that’s been circulating for the past few weeks.

First cool piece of info; about 2/3rds of the 60 or so people who responded to the survey are full or part-time wage or salary workers interested in working in a Big Team Farm, and 1/3rd are currently farming. Plus, more than 40% of you said that if you had the right opportunity and resources (summed up nicely by many as “Connection with folks, funds, land”), you would join or transition your farm to a Big Team Farm model today. In my mind, that means we’re one degree of Kevin Bacon away from bringing about 20 Big Team Farms into the world with at an average of three talented partners involved each. But I’ll try not to get ahead of myself

Next, more than 85% of you said that the a key priority for you is working with a team— even more than care to work outside or with animals, which seems like a good sign.

This was a particularly exciting one for me:

Y’all have so many skillz!

This next one surprised me, though about 21% of you said you’d prefer to be part of a fully worker-owned and -managed operation, more than 50% said you’re actually not picky about ownership/management structure, and are open to being in a fluid situation.

If these last two pieces of info have peaked your interest as a current farmer/farm owner I can tell you that the number one thing potential partners will be evaluating *you* on is the experiences and past treatment of employees, followed closely by your land stewardship practices and your farm’s financial health. The least important factor potential partners report, by far, is your social media/public presence.

If there was one survey question that gives me the most pause, it’s the answers to: “Do you have experience in entrepreneurship, equity ownership, partnership, or the legal rights and responsibilities of owning a business?” More than 60% of surveyed folx said no. I’m planning to do some more writing/reporting on these topics here, but if you think you might be interested in Big Team Farm work and want to know where to start digging around for what that might be like, gaining familiarity with partnerships and business ownership is a good place to start.

Here’s the question I was most excited about though:

As I’ve been thinking about what’s next for me post-Book 2, I’ve wondered whether this platform (and the wider platform I’ve helped build) might be a good place from which to help tackle one of the thorniest parts of the “folks, funds, land” gatekeepers of agriculture— the folx part. See, I can contact all of you, and perhaps facilitate some introductions, even locally. Right now it’s still the pandemic, but maybe people would be interested in geographically curated meetings with other Big Team Farm-curious people in this community?

If that sounds like it might be interesting to you, let me know. I hate to hit you with another form, but this one is way shorter. Tell me what area you’d like to attend a meetup in, and I’ll do all the leg work of getting something set up. Click here:

Your Ticket to Meeting Big Team Farm-Curious People Near You

Last thing, if you’re curious how I id’ed the regions in the form, it’s the closest thing we have to a Big Team Farm group picture. This map represents a little over 1,000 individual data points:

I Went Home

From November 21st, 2019 until June 22nd 2021 is the longest stretch of time I’ve ever gone without stepping foot in Cheyenne, WY, and without seeing my parents in the flesh.

One of the first conversations I had with my dad was whether he thought there might be a biological basis for homesickness. My theory was, assuming we develop our bacterial communities (skin and digestive track) in whatever geography we spent the greatest amount of time growing up, it’s possible that those bacteria actually suffer from being away from the conditions where they first flourished. I wondered if the sufferings of our resident bacteria might lead to physiological, mental, or emotional symptoms like fatigue or melancholy.

I wondered mostly because, in a way that’s hard to describe, I can really feel coming home. It’s always struck me how much of a physical reaction I have to it. Maybe it’s the elevation— Cheyenne is even higher than Denver, the Mile High City. Maybe what I’m feeling is quite literally 6,100 fewer feet of atmosphere resting atop my head and shoulders. There is certainly a lightness to going home. As I’ve gotten older and gone on my own mental health journey, I know that I also probably carry stress differently there. In part because it’s not just thousands of feet of sauna-air pressing down on me in Washington, D.C., it’s also a persistent feeling of not being from here, of vulnerability, isolation, and inadequacy.

I’ve been wondering since I got back whether other transplants feel that way or if I’m just a weirdo. Or worse, a weakling. I’d have thought ten years of living in the nation’s capitol might make me feel a little more at home among the manicured grass patches and the peeling crosswalks and the grand, soaring buildings. And sometimes, I genuinely feel like I’m doing it, like I’ve hit my stride— Country Mouse Takes DC.

But then I go home to Wyoming, and I realize that I haven’t really taken a deep break in 17 months. I realize that what felt like “hitting my stride” was really just finally straightening my back under the weight of insecurity I was carrying, not because I’d set down the load, but because I’d finally gritted my teeth hard enough to bear it.

Home is different. Even after a decade of being around for only a few weeks a year, I can still slide into the drivers seat of my dad’s silver minivan, zone out before I leave the driveway, and turn up exactly where I wanted to go 12 minutes later, with only the vaguest idea of the decisions I made to get there. In DC, I never get in the car without using Google Maps, either because I don’t know exactly where I’m going, or don’t want to get stuck in traffic or a road closure getting there. In Cheyenne, I am the Google Map.

When I’m in Cheyenne, I take a little breath before I walk into any public place, steeling myself for the giddy surprise of bumping into an old friend, teacher, coworker, or community member who remembers me. I once had a lovely ten minute conversation with an elderly man leaving my childhood church. He knew all about me and what I’d been up to, despite the fact that I hadn’t a clue who he was. My mom told me later he was a custodian at my elementary school, and he still asked her about me every few weeks. I’ll never forget how accepted, seen, and cared for I felt in that moment. In DC, I have to remember to look into peoples faces when I’m out walking Sagan or getting a latte at my favorite cuban coffee shop. I forget to, because what’s the point? They don’t know me, and I don’t know them. I go there three or four times a week, and I swear different people work there every day. It’s a popular place. Too crowded, I think, to ever be known. In Cheyenne, I’m known even when there’s no familiar faces around, because in the little breath I take before I walk in, I prepare myself to be known, and so I am.

When I was home, my mom and I talked quite a bit about growing up, like we always do. There were a lot of sad parts, and hard parts, and absolutely heartbreaking parts of growing up that we eventually got around to. She wondered this time, mid-conversation, why I even like coming home, when there’s so many painful memories there. I was surprised how quick the answer came to my lips. I come because of the memories. I come because when I’m at home; street signs, empty fields, parking lots, alley ways— each is an ordinary reminder of the sadness, hardships, and heartbreaks. But these small, pedestrian places also become secret memorials to what we’ve lost and private reminders that despite everything, I learned to make amends and keep going. There is meaning and value and sacredness everywhere. D.C. though is a city full of actual monuments, museums, and galleries; even the smallest of which honor some of the most incredible people who’ve ever lived. D.C. is a place finely calibrated to inspire humbleness even among giants. Most of us are less than giants.

In Washington, try as I might, I’ve struggled under the weight of things that might be possible to achieve. And in struggling I forget that there’s a place where I am surrounded by reminders that I have already grown beyond what I was once capable of imagining. Where I am seen by people who thought I was worth being proud of when I was six years old. And where I am safe in knowing that despite thirty years of change and transition, that place could never been unrecognizable to me.

And I’ll Go Home Again

In my family, there’s something of a running joke about forgetfulness. Mostly, it revolves around the fact that, in between seeing each other, we have a fantastical ability to forget how much we annoy one another. The joke is that if we could only keep it fresh in our minds how much we don’t get along between visits, maybe we’d stop getting together and save ourselves the fighting and bickering. This homecoming I felt the shock of realizing that the scale of things I forget when I leave Cheyenne each time is much greater than I remembered. It’s not just the complex ways I interact with my relations. I also forget the inimitable sense of safety, connectedness, and worthiness that I feel when I’m under the same roof as my parents, within a short drive of a community who has always known me, surrounded by soil, grasses, trees, and rocks that have seen me grow and change for three decades, and that I have watched and known in return. I remembered this trip that my first day home is always characterized by a snippy attitude and a big nap, because it’s exhausting to unclench your chest for the first time in months, take a gulp of thin air, and acknowledge that this is what it feels like to be at ease.

On my last night at home, my dad built a fire in the yard from plum logs and my parents sat around me, telling the stories of our home that I’m just now becoming old and wise and patient enough to hear. They told me about the trees they’ve planted and carefully tended over the graves of our family pets. They told me about the uneven roof line and where they first planted the Virginia Creeper and why it came it up way down the fence-line instead. And they told me where the cable line runs, and where the septic leech field lies, and how the house use to look, all those years ago.

Sitting there, warmed by wine and embers, with our neighbors at-home fireworks punctuating the narrative as stars winked into life overhead; we were part of something sacred. I was receiving my inheritance, laced with laughter and joy and the presence we’d waited so impatiently for for 17 months.

I left the next morning, packing my parents in for the 2 hour drive to the Denver Airport. But I think that might have been the first time since I was 18 that I left home without the quiet, gnawing anxiety that this could be the last time I ever see the place. Something about this departure was, in a new way, only temporary. Not only because the precious knowledge that had been shared with me is not useful anywhere else in the world, but for another reason too.

I think because, since the end of April, I’ve been trying to come to terms with a real problem I have. In the life I’ve made for myself in D.C., I’m really bad at being present. See I’ve lived, for a while now, perpetually in the future. And the problem is, it mostly works out for me. It’s helped me achieve a lot of things. It helped me write a book, for one. But the problem with living in the future, with eyes and heart locked on a future accomplishment such that its easier to ignore the pain in your feet and hands as they do the work to get you there, is that one day (if you’re lucky) the goal arrives in the present. The problem is, I don’t really know how to experience joy in the present. I’ve had too much practice in holding my breath, clenching all my muscles, and reaching into the future for one of those elusive accomplishments that might eventually make me feel worthy to walk the streets alongside the people who call D.C. home.

Maybe a strong, smarter, wiser person than I would figure out how to bring the way of being I know at home with me, through airport security, onto the plane, and through D.C.’s grid of streets to my anonymous 4th floor apartment. But I don’t know how to do that. And I also don’t want to live without it. So instead I left home knowing that I’ll go back to Cheyenne for good some day, and for the first time, it didn’t feel like thinking that was quitting. It felt like a decision I’d earned.

Last F(ew) Things

  • The book was featured in The Obligate Resprouter a few weeks ago and it’s phenomenal, I highly recommend subscribing over there.

  • Connie and I cover Carbon Markets on End of Ag.

  • My “Invites” tray remains open if you’d like me to say a few words at your summer wedding, tractor pull, or rodeo, shoot me an email.

  • If you’re new to Big Team Farms and want some explanation for what the F you just read, check out The Intro Newsletter and more recent additions by visiting Big Team Farms online.

  • Do you have announcements that would be relevant to the 1,400 or so members of the Big Team? Feel free to shoot me messages about projects, resources, job posting, etc. And to everyone who’s done that already, or who has asked questions that I haven’t yet responded to, look out for those in the next couple of newsletters.

  • First and foremost we’re obviously caught up on Loki (and all the Loki easter egg videos). We’ve started to become stressed about the end of MCU TV shows and the return to theatrical releases. We finished watching Marco Polo this past week, and I liked it! When I was home (where there is cable) I got to watch some 90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After and I showed my parents the new Jumanji movie with Kevin Hart and The Rock. I think they enjoyed it.

  • Don’t forget to share this email!

Stay safe out there friends. Don’t forget, if you have funny gifs, thoughts, comments, stories, questions, feedback, catchy song lyrics, good podcast recommendations, or anything else to tell me, I’m right on the other end of this email.

Rock on,

Sarah