It's Maybe Been The Best Year Ever
The title of this blog isn't written in jest. It's actually what I wrote to a dear friend yesterday in an email. To be exact, I wrote this: "This maybe has been the best year ever for me. I'm not sure why I say that, exactly, but I keep thinking it and being struck with this unexplainable and overwhelming "happy."'
I wrote that. In the very same year as being diagnosed with breast cancer. And I really believed it when I wrote it (and still do).
I might just really be crazy. But, first, let me explain.
1. We heard back about the mobile food truck grant application I sent in earlier this year. Actually, we heard back from the government folks in August. They wanted us to change the application to simply lease or rent a van, rather than restoring the truck we already had on our property. Their thoughts: I'd only applied for a one-year program, and they didn't want to restore a truck for just a one-year program. I asked if I could change the application to a three-year program, which I would have happily done. They said "No." We explained the many reasons why leasing or renting didn't make sense: We wanted a tangible asset so we could continue the program after year one, rather than having to start over again. The massive marketing push, unveiling party, wrap-up party, etc., that I'd written into the grant program didn't make sense with a van rental or lease situation. And this really cool, restored truck was what we hoped would draw people in so that we could better build relationships in the communities we hoped to serve. Restoring the truck once, we argued, was a better use of government funds than renting or leasing year in and year out and continually coming back to the government for requests for more funds. We talked. They listened. We emailed. They responded. This went on for two days. Then the conversation dropped. We waited another month assuming we wouldn't get the grant. And we didn't. What we did get was a response with overwhelmingly positive comments and an explanation that there was huge competition for these grants--only 11% of applications were funded this year. The letter also left us with encouraging words to apply again. That said, I know now to change the grant application to a three-year program, and I'm feeling 99% sure that the third time I apply will be the charm. So, that's sort of good news, in a roundabout, slightly delayed way.
2. The following day we heard back about another application we'd submitted: This time for a high tunnel (basically a large plastic greenhouse, approximately 30 by 50 feet in size) through Natural Resource Conservation Service's EQIP Program. We were approved to have a high tunnel installed on our farm and paid for through this program. This was great big, awesome news. A high tunnel will help us extend our growing season, get serious about vegetable production, build our farm offerings, boost our soil conservation efforts, and more. We're working with Nifty Hoops out of Michigan to finalize the quote and hope to have the high tunnel installed by the end of November. Big fun.
3. I'm so grateful for the work I've been able to do this year for the Indiana Farmers Union. Thanks to our membership in INFU, and the work I've done for the union, I've been able to meet a ton of great folks who inspire me. Randy and I also were accepted into the Beginning Farmer Institute through the National Farmers Union, which I've told anyone who will listen in Indiana about--it's one of the very best benefits of becoming a member of National Farmers Union. My social media feeds are now all filled with farmers' posts from all over the United States. I'm seeing really great stories of sustainable, regenerative agriculture taking place on small, family-scale farms throughout the country on a daily basis. These posts make me happy and fill me with optimism for what Randy and I can do here on our farm.
4. I joined the Indiana Agriculture Advisory Council for The Humane Society of the United States. Then I joined the National Agriculture Advisory Council for The Humane Society of the United States. In July, HSUS flew farmers from all over the country out to D.C. to lobby on Capitol Hill. During this trip, I was able to meet some of this country's brightest and best advocates for family farms and sustainable, humane agriculture. My participation in these councils also has offered me the chance to listen in on national conference calls and meetings that discuss the many pitfalls, needs, concerns, and bright spots associated with the American food system. I'm learning so much from the many connections I've made through the Indiana Farmers Union and HSUS that I'm overwhelmed by all that I didn't know about how this world works. It's like I spent the first 40-some years of my life feeding myself blindfolded.
5. I've participated in lobbying efforts here at the Indiana Statehouse and on Capitol Hill for both HSUS and Indiana Farmers Union now. Each of these opportunities further solidifies the feeling I have that advocacy is in my blood. I never saw this coming, but each time I'm able to speak up for family farmers, for animals, for the land, and for the health of consumers, I feel fulfilled in ways I have never felt before. These feelings are what drove me to push so hard last year for Farm Indiana to become a statewide publication that explored the issues vital to reforming and restoring our agriculture and food systems. Ultimately, I didn't win that battle, and Farm Indiana is what it is: a small section in a newspaper for a company for which I no longer work. I'm totally ok with that. Although I don't exactly know where my career will lead me in coming years, I know that this is the new normal for me. I know I'll be encouraging farmers to join Indiana Farmers Union. I know I'll continue to network state- and nationwide, learning about our country's food system as I go. I know I'll be urging farmers to open their minds and embrace what HSUS is doing to help family-scale farming and humane agriculture. I also know I'll be speaking to and writing and calling politicians about the impacts, risks, benefits, and problems associated with agriculture today. I'll be doing all of that stuff because I have to--I can't not do it.
6. I was told I have breast cancer. See my previous posts on this blog page if that's news to you. I never think about cancer until someone reminds me by asking me how I'm feeling. (It's ok--go ahead and ask!) I no longer worry about cancer. Maybe that's naive, but it seems impossible to worry about when I feel so full of energy, so happy, and so free from pain and inflammation. I truly didn't know how bad I had been feeling until I started feeling good again. The first two months of my diagnosis were admittedly rough. I was cleaning out my body, completely revamping the way I ate, and dealing emotionally with this new norm. I was on a hormonal and emotional roller coaster. One day I'd feel great. The next day I'd feel lousy. Somewhere along the way the good days started outnumbering the bad days, and I now don't remember the last time I had a bad day. I feel good. In fact, I feel great. And if this is how cancer feels, I'm fine with it. If it took cancer to get me to start paying attention to my body, I'm fine with that. If it takes cancer for me to be able to share my story with others and inspire them to pay closer attention to their bodies, I'm totally ok with that, too. In early November, I get my blood drawn again to find out whether any of the treatments are working. Once we have those results, which will take about eight more weeks to come in, then we'll make a new plan. I can't explain why, but I'm just not worried about this. I might even feel a little grateful for it all. It took cancer to make me see how incredibly short and sweet life is. For me, that translates to how important it is to me to do something good while I'm still here.
7. Which leads me to the farm: Things are finally coming together. We seem to have a plan, a vision, a solidified mission. I should really only be writing about the farm in this post (because there's so much to talk about here), but I'll save that for another day. The work we're doing and the possibilities of what we can do leave me breathless. I'm so thankful for what we've been given, for what we've been able to do thus far, and for what we can do in the future. If ever I have a bad day, all I have to do is look around me. It makes my heart melt. Go #teamdugger.