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Are You Sitting On a Plow Pan?

The moldboard plow is an amazing tool. It slices soil and turns it over, burying the previous crop to make room for the next. As it skims through the soil, the bottom of the plow smear tiny particles under it. Over time, plowing at the same depth, the smeared particles adhere into a solid sheet of clay. Roots can barely penetrate it. Water that used to drain freely now pools on the surface.

Tractors drag great gangs of plows through most of North American cropland. How do farmers deal with the resulting plow pan? They can drag long-shanked chisels that slice soil into ribbons. Farmers can plant ferocious-rooted radishes and other determined plants to insinuate themselves through the underlying barrier.

But while these agricultural techniques are interesting enough, I'm going for the metaphor. A glossy cultural plowshare has severed roots of my connection to the soil. Generations of hard-packed voices told me not to touch soil, not to grow plants, not to ask myself if animals feel happiness. The literal and cultural soil underneath me was cut off from my beneficial influence. I was sitting on an enormous cultural plow pan, and my personal roots are slowly making their way to the hidden richness underneath.

I am enriched by the tremendous sense of connection I develop by cultivating the soil. I share nutrients with this place through my animal presence. I don't mean to brag, but I personally produce over $4 of organic fertilizer a day. That adds up! I act as consciously as I can in the farm ecosystem, choosing who to plant, irrigate, reproduce. It's a daunting task, and I'm painfully aware of the limits of my knowledge. But I would rather be rooted. Not as a purveyor of agricultural commodities, though I am that. Not as a grimy back-to-the-lander, though I would fit some people's definition of the term. Most of all, I am a breaker of the plow pan between myself and the rest of creation. If my work at Hawthorn Farm makes connection easier for the generations following me, then I am farming right.

Finding the best ways to massage soil.

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