I’ve grown accustomed to a moment of awkward silence each time I call a new farmer about my project. I imagine him/her weighing the options: hightail it off the phone or take a few minutes to listen to the artist who wants to run around the edges of the farm. I try to get right to the point–both to let the farmers know I respect their time and in order to remain open to the shape and meaning of the experience to come. An abundance of description can limit the possibilities.
After getting permission to run Lakeside Orchards in an email conversation with Doug, I called the farm and spoke with Sarah, who works at the stand. She explained that the 50-acre farm is divided into organic and non-organic orchards, that the orchards are divided by a road, and that there are tractor trails that make the terrain easy to navigate. I packed for an short, easy run.
I arrived at Lakeside Orchards in the late morning and found it to be warm, welcoming, and buzzing with farmers, gardeners, bakers, and shoppers. After a few minutes of asking around, I found Doug, who, in addition to managing the retail store, oversees the farm’s web presence and communications. We speed-walked toward his van, chatting about the farm and my project. It turns out that Doug used to be a runner, and he currently organizes a 5k race as part of the Manchester Apple Festival. With the lure of apples and pies as awards, I’m heading back with a car full of friends to take part in the race and festivities on September 28th.
We hopped in Doug’s van for a speedy tour of the property. He pointed up rolling hills that culminate in the first orchard, and then we zipped through a small valley to the gate of the second. As we pulled around to head back to the barn, I asked whether it was hard to work the organic and non-organic fields on the same land, in terms of pollination. “Not at all!” Doug replied, “We just keep bees in each area and they do their thing!”
Bees have been persistently showing up on my farm runs and in my subsequent drawings. Our food supply depends heavily on insects like the bee, and these insect populations have been declining, most likely due to irresponsible use of pesticides. Elizabeth Grossman points out, in her article “Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture” that over the last 10 years, there’s been a 30% decline in the bee population. She goes on to make clear why this matters: “one of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.” I’ve become hyper-aware of bees as I run, realizing how essential they are to a healthy human future. We’re bound to the bee, and I find that to be humbling in a deeply satisfying way.
Back at the farm, as I prepared for my run, I was fortunate to meet Marilyn Meyerhans, who has owned the farm with her partner, Steve, for over 2 decades. I offered my thanks to Marilyn for being receptive to my odd project, and she replied, “Yup, I thought you’d be a wacko, but clearly you’re not.”
“Maybe not a wacko, but I am a Professor,” I countered.
Marilyn chuckled, offering, “Well, that’s the same thing.”
I laughed, knowing the truth in it and decided it was time to run. I’d left my Garmin charger in Canada, so I set up my Endomondo app for tracking and mapping the run on my iphone. Generating a map with each run is key to my project. It creates a shape based on my movement over the land, and that shape opens the door for each of my drawings.
I began the Lakeside run by heading up a dirt road to the organic orchard. At the peak, I was able to scan a landscape of ponds, lakes, and distant mountains stretching back to the horizon.
I ran the perimeter of the orchard and then back down into the valley and up the other side to the second orchard. I anticipated another small hilly rectangle, but the second orchard made for a much longer run around a series of connected orchards.
At the top of the first long, gradual climb, I noticed what appeared to be an older plot behind a row of trees. As I dipped down into the orchard to scoot around its border, I startled groundhog, clearly at home in this quiet corner of the farm.
As I re-entered the main orchard, I was surprised to hear voices. Looking through a deer fence, I discovered golfers and what looked to be a large golf course abutting the far end of the property.
I continued, bushwhacking through long grass around the farm’s perimeter and was momentarily disoriented when I came around a corner to discover abundant pear trees.
Other than spotting one farmer bent over a garden near the start of my run, the orchards were empty; however, when I’d almost traveled the circumference of the second plot, I saw evidence of work underway in the form of twin ladders.
I concluded my run with a small third orchard that sits near the main road. Doug had described it as, “more for public relations than for produce,” and it does offer just a hint at the majestic orchards that rise behind the farm.
I returned from the run hot, sweaty, and elated. I was also ready to do a little shopping at the stand. In addition to abundant apples, the store (more store than stand) sells organic meat, cheese, candle tapers, doughnuts, cakes, and a selection of Maine-made beer. I chatted with the staff while I poked around, filling my basket. One of the bakers, Paula, asked if I’d seen anyone picking during my run, explaining that they were training new staff. I asked if that was due to college kids heading back to school. “Nope,” she replied, “the Jamaicans are coming in and the Hondurans are leaving. We’re like the United Nations here!” After a few more minutes of chatting with other shoppers and staff, I left with a bag overflowing with apples, cheese, and beer, pleased to know I’d be back at the end of the month.
As I drove away, I smiled, teary with the realization that I was experiencing a rich kind of integration–that running and art-making had become symbiotic–each adding depth to the other without taking anything away. As an artist, I’d found a new way of working–a method that felt true and right.