HE SEEDS OF WHO WE GROW TO BECOME: STONEGATE FARM, MATTHEW BENSON
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This week, we finish up our 4 part Seeds of September, looking at seeds in a more a abstract way - the more metaphorical seeds of things. Seeds of our own garden life pathways in this world - How they twist and turn, sometimes augering us into place and sometimes lifting us off our feet and landing us somewhere completely new and unexpected. As life unfolds, we discover the places they take us and what they gift us.
We’re joined in this conversation by Matthew Benson of Stonegate Farm - an 1860s organic estate farm in the Balmville, NY, where Matthew grows, photographs, writes about and shares the vegetables, fruits and flowers born of this land he loves. For nearly 20 years, Matthew has been in deep relationship with this land and the meaningful work of farming.
Matthew is an internationally known photographer, as well as writer and organic farmer. He lectures frequently on garden, food and landscape photography as well as small-scale farming, sustainability and organics. He serves on a Congressional Agriculture Committee advocating for rights of small organic growers. His book is Growing Beautiful Food (Rodale, 2015) is based on the growing practices at Stonegate Farm.
Matthew joins us today via Skype from his home.
"I really fell under the spell of horticulture of quite quickly, not only as a visual subject but also the history and the naming in hort - all the deep thoughts that goes into the plant world and the history of it and the practice of it and ultimately I think all of those things led me to this property.”
Matthew Benson, Stonegate Farm
Matthew knows his way around organic seed – and seed saving, but in his story I was just as moved by the metaphoric aspect of seeds in our lives – what values and concepts and passions are sown deeply in us at different points in our lives regarding our interdependence with plants and nature and when they come out of dormancy and grow us on into who we’re supposed to be.
I’d like to leave Matthew’s journey story with a few thoughts from the end of our conversation – thoughts that as September seem relevant to emphasize. Having grown up in a country with a very long, very dark and very cold winter Matthew said – “There’s something beyond knowing in sunlight” ….and then, “the pleasure of walking out and picking fresh food is a deeply romantic thing to do…..there is a connective tissue between your own outsideness and the natural world that is a made really powerful by growing and participating with it.” I hope these thoughts serve you as they serve me in this end of our sunniest season here in the Northern Hemisphere and as of last Friday and the Autumnal Equinox we’re leaning into autumn and winter with their own particular pleasures – among which we can include days in which we miss exquisitely that something beyond knowing in sunlight.
Join us again next week when we move from the Seeds of September to the Artistry of October and we kick off a second series with 5 artists all making their way in their way in the world through their own expressions of Botanical Artistry.
I find the ways in which the botanical world informs and inspires us to be fascinating.
I am painfully aware that I could have continued the Seed series for many more weeks – the good people working in, growing and sharing with the world about seed in innovative and wonderful ways are legion – so we will come back to this topic again in the future trust me. And for all of you who sent in seed keeper names – thank you! The more we look around for ways in which we humans express our love and need for the natural world the more you see this everywhere.
In October, we will be speaking with and hearing about the journeys of a few of these artists – and once again, this is a series that could my sole focus for months!
There are so many ways people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH MATTHEW's WORK AND LIFE AT STONEGATE FARM On INSTAGRAM:
@stonegatefarmny @matthewbensonfoto @matthewbensongardens
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Happy Fall to you all here with me in the Northern Hemisphere and Happy Spring to those of you more southerly. Just like the monthly full moon, we know these shifts and seasonal thresholds are coming – reliably coming – but they always seem to surprise me and leave me thinking: look at how FULL that moon is this month, or such an autumn – has there ever been such an beautiful September? Maybe it’s just my memory that’s funny that way?
Matthew Benson has a lovely – artistic and writerly way of articulating and capturing at though and an idea.
Here was the sentence that grabbed me in the first part of our conversation: “Nature is an obsession and light is an obsession and relationship with nature is reciprocal - where it needs you and you need it in a deep way - All of this was in me and it was really looking for a way and a place and time to articulate itself in me and through my life and work.” And then just as though the Universe was listening somehow he says, he found this piece of land and he joined with it and its history and his future to find the meaningful and beautiful work of it…”
I just love that he was listening as much as the universe was listening and speaking to him – because no matter if growing and gardening on any grand scale are not your most meaningful work, just the act of caring for a house plant puts you into that space – as Matthew points out “Being a grower and being humbled by growing and the challenges of it is a really healthy thing to have in your life."
I will tell you that I have so enjoyed this four week deep dive into even just five or six of this world’s interesting seed keeper stories in our world this past month. And thank you to everyone who wrote in and shared their appreciation – from the sounds of it you all enjoyed the focused series too – which makes me happy!
Matthew articulates toward the end of this last part of our conversation the role community plays at Stonegate farm – that “Part of the goal is to BUILD COMMUNITY as well as to grow other growers.” How Stonegate farms and its CSA is something of a "community center - a model of an idea of farming that I want others to be inspired by - for people to add beauty, meaningful relationship to nature, and responsibility for individual health and wellbeing to their lives."
That emphasis on Community is so strongly a part of Cultivating Place for me, so strongly part of the powerful potential held in our own home gardens and growing endeavors – to connect us more deeply to one another in this world – whether its connecting me to you over these airways, or connecting you to your neighborhood via you out working in your front yard and chatting with them as they go by of an evening – our gardens help to remind us all that we – the humans, the plants, the wildlife and the seeds of all of these - are in this together.
And working together intentionally, we make a difference in this world.
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The value of conversations like these is powerful action for positive shifts in this world.
And thank you....