By: Emily Kauffman
Recently, after a morning spent planting in the kitchen garden here at Taliesin, I listened to an episode of the podcast “Finding Our Way.” In the episode, titled “Seeds, Grief, and Memory,” the host Prentis Hemphill speaks with farmer and seedkeeper Rowen White.
Hemphill opens their conversation by asking White, “What’s in a seed is as much memory as it is possibility. As much record as it is unknown. What we plant, the seeds we tend, set the promise of what is to come. What’s the relationship between our stories of place, of home, of grief?”
I was drawn to the Food Artisan Immersion Program (FAIP) largely for the opportunity to reconnect with the seed my mother planted in me at a young age.
I spent my growing up years nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, land of the Manahoac peoples. It was there my family took care of 6.5 acres while inhabiting an 1886 farmhouse.
It was a good good life, but at the time, all I could focus on was how hot it was, how many yucky bugs there were, how tired my fingers were after snipping so many beans and how life would be so much better if we lived closer to my friends in a subdivision.
We weren’t the only ones who lived there: The pasture was home to Sweet Pea and Scarlett, my dad’s beloved Red Devon cattle. Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock chickens who laid their eggs in my grandparents’ old pop-up camper. Wilbur and Spot, the pigs for whom an electric fence was not an adequate boundary. Annie, Star, Latte, Cocoa, Dooley, Rae, Lyla, TyTy, Taffy, Jep, Gracie, Ruby, Ella, and Iris—our Boer goat lineage.
Blackberries, raspberries, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, squash, peas, peppers, asparagus, carrots, beets, onions, grapes, and more grew in the garden spaces my mother gave vision to.
It was a place for my sisters and I to play and be curious. To understand the cycles of life and experience a simple lifestyle that would help us see that more isn’t necessarily better.
My parents wanted to instill in us a sense of where food came from and how to care for animals and gardens.
Now, we laugh remembering how tragic it felt when our classmates crinkled their noses in response to the manure on our shoes, or how their eyes widened at the sight of my mom’s homemade oatmeal bread in our packed lunches. “What is that?” they asked with a tone of disgust.
All I wanted was a goddamn Lunchable. To fit in. To belong.
Fast forward 15 years and here I am in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Living on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate as a participant in the Food Artisan Immersion Program.
It’s a little over a month since I arrived and I feel myself returning to a state of belonging. Belonging guided by a commitment to living in and among the earth and not on it. As well as a refusal to tame our love of who sustains us and their immense beauty. All of which tend to the seed my mother planted.
The commitment and beauty I write of is reflected in our farm-to-table menu at the Riverview Terrace Café; in our buns, cookies, and crackers housemade with organic artisan flours grown and milled nearby; in the seasonal produce, select meats, and cheeses that—whenever possible—are produced from local farm alliances.
The Riverview Terrace menu has come to life in our weekly farm alliance field trips. It’s informed by riding in the pick-up truck at Cate’s Family Farm; by watching as cattle happily entered their new pasture; by smelling the blossoms blooming on the apple and pear trees in anticipation for a future yield at Future Fruit Farm; by enjoying the sourdough loaf made by Halee at Meadowlark Organics; by swooning at the newborn calf and goat twins at Dream Farm and learning about what contributes to the health of a chicken liver at Seven Seeds Farm.
“This is a community with a rich agricultural and environmental heritage,” said Layne Cozzolino, co-founder of Siren Shrub Co. “One that inspires residents to think about how food is grown and raised, asks them to get to know and support their farmers, and takes stock in how the environment is impacted by the resources used.”
Or, as White stated in the podcast mentioned above, “Feeding and nourishing ourselves is a collective act. And it has to be, and it has to be a cooperative communal endeavor.”
Yet my identity as a white person comes with history of individualism, extraction, and exploitation. Stolen people on stolen land. The white colonizer’s agenda. And I’m grieving that.
So I’m here. At Taliesin. Inhabiting a 1960s farmhouse nestled in the Wisconsin River Valley of the Driftless area, land of the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Myaamia, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, and Sauk and Meskwaki.
I am here to heal. To restore relationships. To make reparation. To taste. To see. To smell. To listen. To water the seed my mother planted in me.
I feel as though I’m in good soil. Not perfect, but good. And I am grateful to be among those who are doing the work of planting a similar seed.