The Cost of Inspiration / by Ryan Koch

Michelle Howell at Home.jpg

This past summer I spent a weekend with activists and artists and helping professionals at the Kentucky Rural Urban Exchange, which is a series of three weekend conferences designed to cultivate connections, exchange ideas, and work across the geographical and cultural boundaries that often isolate Kentuckians. We were shown some of the fantastic work going on in and around Bowling Green at places like the FFOYA House, the Bosnian Islamic Center of Bowling Green, and some of the natural features and underground waterways in Cave Country. 

Saturday’s trip in the late afternoon to Need More Acres Farm was particularly stunning. After Michelle Howell welcomed us to her 200 year old farm house, she led a tour of some of the fields where they grow fresh food all year round for ten families. The hoop houses allow the Howells to extend the harvest season through the winter. Michelle explained their presence at their local farmer’s market, and other outlets for their produce. I was especially struck by the small self-serve store where folks could come pick up their weekly share (including protein) of farm-raised food.

And after the tour, a feast. Our group was blessed that afternoon to find a table full of fresh sweet peppers, tomatoes, and melon grown on site and chopped for us. In fact, the peppers were just arrayed on a platter, not cooked or cut, but simply beautiful. There was a plate of local cheese, homemade bread, and several juices and ciders to share. A string band tuned up and started to play as we gathered on blankets and straw bales. The sun began its decent in earnest, and the shadows lengthened, and I quietly witnessed some magic underway. I was inspired.

I don’t want to sing too fondly of the merits of inspiration. I have been troubled by this beauty before. I felt this way after visiting David Wagoner and Arwen Donohue at Three Springs Farm. My first visit to their place occurred twelve years ago. And I was similarly inspired when I visited a community garden designed with and for people without homes in Santa Cruz, California. That one happened nearly twenty years ago. These visits, and the memories they create, are a touchstone, and part of my continuing education. I see things that, gratefully, I can’t unsee. I observe some solution that only seems to work there, and that was only discovered after years of experimentation. Many times, I see something that I would just love to have for our community.

(This past week, I was comparing notes on this visit with my friend, Rebecca Self, who told me about the kitchen she and some folks from FoodChain saw there at Need More Acres Farm. The Howells are able to process their food on site and to make food available to a number of emergency food organizations. In doing so, they have created several jobs for local community members. Rebecca too was beyond impressed with what she saw.)

Still, for all the trouble it may cause me, I am very grateful for the Howell’s work and gracious hospitality. We shared that meal. We saw the work underway there in Scottsville, Kentucky. We sensed the pride of place there, which felt like permission to return home to our work, and to remain faithful to our places.