This is the recent featured story on Rettlers. After some edits, I have revisted this post to make it more comprehensive and concise.
It’s hard to place the origin – both a time and the foundation – of my purpose for coming to Pepperfield. But, it began quite some time before my arrival and has evolved constantly. From its inception, this trip was intended to expand my knowledge of food. I desired to learn the origins of the ingredients I was intimately familiar with from my time in the food service industry. Additionally, I hoped to further develop my respect for food. Likewise, I wished to participate in all the steps – intensive labor and intimate care – required to propagate plants, specifically fruits and vegetables, but also animals. Furthermore, I hoped to begin a healing process that I had neglected or maybe ignored for many years.
Being in the industry for the last seven years, I believe that I began to lose sight of these origins. It’s easy to become disconnected from food when its acquisition is boiled down to a basic interaction; rather than going to a store or market to look at products, I would just pick up the phone and place an order to one of the purveyors. I wanted to correct my mindset: food doesn’t just come off the shelf or off a truck. It takes people, hands and care, or in some cases compromises of machinery, fertilizers and chemicals. Pepperfield acted as the medium for me to see the requirements and sacrifices of growing food. Likewise, it helped me realize why our food systems operates as it does.
I learned that hauling manure in wheelbarrows, turning the Earth by hand and meticulously weeding the gardens were only a glimpse into some of the components of producing food. If you substitute these inputs or actions with huge tractors and combines, petro-fertilizers and glyphosate – Round-Up – it became apparent why commercial agriculture could easily produce inexpensive, cheap products. My appreciation for organically grown and small scale agriculture skyrocketed as I connected the dots; this was the reason a case of conventional tomatoes cost the same as a dozen of its organic, heirloom counterparts. I wasn’t just learning what it takes to grow the food, I was learning the cost – physical, financial and mental – of producing food.
This trip was also to act as my sabbatical. I noticed – unfortunately later than desired – that the high stress, toxic environment of the industry was beginning to transform me into someone else; a person who promoted this very same environment, creating a cycle by demonstrating that anger, negative reinforcement and ego were the mainstays of kitchen culture. But – for better and worse – through my time in the industry I developed and grew. It helped me learn a tremendous amount about myself and the world around me. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of my happiness and that of my co-workers and acquaintances. Through Pepperfield, I hoped to begin a healing process that was much overdue. I yearned to find emotional balance, channel and refine my passion in a positive way and identify and fight my internal conflicts that had been impacting my life.
And, as I took the 1600-mile drive across the nation my mind began the transition. A combination of reading and thinking helped me realize that I wanted to make changes in my operation as a chef, but as an individual too. Subconsciously, this was where the refining of my food philosophy commenced. These thoughts perpetuated even further during my brief stay at my Uncle’s for Easter. While I prepared the evening’s meal, I shared my methods and thought processes with my Uncle as he observed. It was here that I began to understand my love for food that I hoped to share through education. But it wasn’t until the actual meal that I began to observe the potential growth I could achieve. Sitting among people from a lawyer, theoretical physicists, writers, a naturalist, and a clergyman – all new acquaintances – the evening unfolded into discussions about food, politics, religion and philosophy. I remember saying to my Uncle, “I don’t think I ever have participated in conversations stimulating as those.” I realized I was in an intelligent environment where I could learn about food and life.
But that wasn’t the end. The next day I drove out to Pepperfield and my spirit began to settle in. I was given a warm greeting, with some delicious snacks, by David founder of The Pepperfield Project. We proceeded to talk for the rest of the day about my history and what I hoped to achieve while here. I told David my goals and left it open ended by stating, “I don’t know what else I want to learn, I’m here to take it all in.” The week that followed was where my ideas about my future were rocked to their core. David asked me brilliant, thought provoking questions that caused me to delve deeper into my conscious than I have previously. He made me question my beliefs, the natural – and unnatural – universe, my predispositions, strengths and flaws, and my capacity in the food and hospitality industry; simply put, the path I hoped to lead. My understanding of what I hoped to learn began to broaden and my mind and spirit have never been more open. I knew that Pepperfield was where I needed to be.
The slowest, but equally rewarding, part of my growth has been the healing of my body. Pepperfield promotes “working meditation”, where individuals like me can work hard and see the direct results. Planting a row of baby kale or clearing a patch of weeds helped me create a direct connection with my actions and their results. Additionally, reinforcement of “a job well-done”, through praise and gratitude from the plants and the people has created a healing dynamic that feel satisfying on many levels. My time in the dirt, among the plants and in the sounds of rural nature has allowed me to be introspective and begin to address my inner conflicts. And, while still a work in progress, each day my body feels more relaxed and peaceful but also invigorated.
Nearly five months ago I was excited to learn about the intricacies of food through direct participation. I desired to learn about, understand and respect the creation of food. Likewise, I was thrilled to begin the process of defining who I was and identify who I hoped to become. But at the same time, I was anxious with anticipation to see what my future holds. I sought to find balance in my life and rejuvenate myself. While that still is true, during my time here at Pepperfield, I have discovered that I wanted even more. My purpose for coming to Pepperfield will continue to evolve, like it already has. Each step of growth leads to, what seems like, another staircase of possibilities. I have felt more relaxed, grounded, open and happy then I ever have. I have concluded that my only real purpose is to – as the Pepperfield mission states – grow my body, mind and spirit.