We made a bonfire, even as the smoke from a dozen wildfires hung in and above the valley. Our meeting was in mid-November, and the stress of the election hung heavy as well. I looked forward to this night all week. One woman, Beth, newly arrived to Asheville from the Pacific Northwest, arrived in her pickup truck, knowing not a soul. Our circle waxed and waned throughout the evening, as women circled in and out, seeking the particular companionship and potluck dishes that only fellow farmers provide.
We played “hot seat” wherein a volunteer from the group received questions–innocuous, raunchy, hilarious–from the gathered crowd. She could choose to answer or not, to answer truthfully or not. One woman talked about recovering from a coma, one from which the doctor had advised her family that it was not possible to recover. She went back to him later with a masters degree and two children and said, “Maybe you should rethink possible.” A jar of store-bought moonshine made several revolutions around our fiery center. I was asked about how many partners I have had. My response, “Well, it depends how you count,” prompted a raucous laughter that surprised me into a grin.
Perhaps the only rule of this game is that when the asker says, “thank you,” the speaker stops talking. If only that rule applied more broadly to our social interactions. We might have a better sense of our neighbors’ boundaries and our own growing edges, of the shape of the social spaces we inhabit.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the concept and practice of holding space. What does it mean to push back the walls of time and place? To carve out a parcel for emotions, for discomfort, for disagreement and heartache and the emotions that are too wild and unruly to be parsed and named? Perhaps what I love about these events–besides the wonderful, wild women and the farmer’s feast–is the space held. Space for the joys and woes and jokes that fellow women in agriculture just get, instinctively understand and feel bone-broth deep.
Agatha Hannah holds a degree in Environmental Studies — Sustainable Agriculture from Warren Wilson College. She has more than twenty years of experience working with non-profits focused on farmer education and sustainable and regenerative agriculture at the local and national levels. As a farmer, mother, and community activist with an off-grid homestead in Floyd, Virginia, Agatha has a deep commitment to cultivating a vibrant agriculture system based on thriving family farms.