Money and the Month of May-o.
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
So, you say you have purchased an abandoned Farm. But how? And with whose money? And what are you going to do there on that unceded Mohawk land besides write these long-winded Newsletters? I am deeply honored to welcome in the words of my dear friend Ava, who will speak directly to the first two of these questions. I’ve added a short story at the end, called Welcome in the May-o!, to approach the third question.
Before passing the mic over, let me say that I have never met anyone who longs more deeply than Ava to find a path of integrity in the world. I have never met a human person who wrestles more vigorously, and beautifully, with the work of imagining relationships of reciprocity and repair. And her tireless wrestling has ignited some of the most potent conversations I have ever engaged, conversations about wealth and privilege and responsibility and the possibility of taking this old Farm off the market. Last Fall it was clear that I needed to find a new home, but found no land in Huntington or the surrounding towns to which I might relocate my tiny house and the bakery, which is built into three renovated shipping containers. This Farm—three doors down the road from dear farming friends—had been listed for over a year and hadn’t yet sold, likely because the old farmhouse is unlivable. It must be torn down or stripped back to the frame. Unheated for over a decade, mold has rotted out the floor joists. After a period of consideration, Ava and I decided to proceed slowly and work to create an organization—likely a non-profit—to purchase the property. This would take months, but Winter was coming on and likely the place would wait patiently until Springtime. Suddenly the realtor wrote to say that another offer had been made and accepted, and so we would have to move fast or walk away. In a moment of abandon, I threw my name in as willing shepherd of a conservation/restoration process for the land and buildings. I signed the hastily-prepared documents with no contingencies. And then, at five minutes past midnight in a move the realtor described as “extremely unlikely,” the sellers broke the other contract and signed the one with my name on it. On that day—two days before Thanksgiving—I began a practice of walking this land and listening for how the return of humans to this sleepy, wild place could cultivate the relationships of repair that Ava and I had imagined in those many hours of conversation—whether it could. On that day I also began to wonder how I would keep myself from becoming paralyzed by the responsibility of doing right by this Farm and its stories, including the story of being handed the keys to the place I now wake each morning. The story of money and privilege and access that Ava tells in the following Letter.
Thank you for your interest,
On Money—Ava’s Letter
Last week Adam began to toss about the hot coals, speaking to the challenging topics of money and property, ownership and theft. I enter the narrative here to offer a few words that strip me bare down to my core and expose the grief that is woven through my being. I am humbled to share with you my part in the continuing and ever-unfolding story of Goose Landing.
Some of you may be itching to hear how all of this came to pass at Goose Landing. Some of you may accept or even expect the silence with regard to money transfers and deed entitlements. Or perhaps not much thought at all has been given to it. Whatever the case, I am grateful for your attention, readers, and I welcome all manner of response to these words.
There is a piece of this story that has not been expressly voiced aloud or boldly written for many to hear and bear witness to. In this moment, I feel it is my responsibility to do so.
I’m going to talk about Money. I’m going to attempt to instigate a practice of Radical Transparency. I’ve noticed that conversations and openness about Money is often limited to the insular family circle. May today also be an indication of my longing, in spite of my deepest fears, to broaden kinship and allow Money to be present at the table within a community.
You may notice that I’m going to use some language that I do not so much care to: property and purchase are probably the ones that make me cringe the most, but in an attempt to explain with clarity you’ll see them here nonetheless.
This farm, what we have come to refer to affectionately as Goose Landing, was purchased for $475,000 one month ago. How?
For 4 generations, my family has actively accumulated wealth. My maternal great grandfather, a young man who came to New York City at 16 years old began working at a pharmaceutical company. Throughout the war, he continued there and gained more and more responsibility. The company was financially successful and the monies that my great grandfather came to acquire and subsequent investments have been passed down my mother’s side of the family for multiple generations. As a participatory member and beneficiary of modern society, white/class/gender/etc. privilege, I acknowledge that I am wholly complicit in an unmeasurable number of problematic patterns that I cannot deny are embedded in my being.
In the past few years, I have come to understand my family’s wealth as that of a dammed river. The generous flow of energy has been trapped, allowed to stagnate and circulate only amongst itself. Years and years of heartbreak and confusion, mystery and muddiness are contained in the dam. I feel called to break the dam. And that is the moment I am inexplicably humbled to invite you to bear witness to in this piece of writing.
I feel myself stepping into the immense responsibility bestowed upon me by the more-than-human world to Repair and Redistribute.
Building off of our dammed river metaphor, allow me to liken this experience to another element of the natural world, whose guidance I seek persistently in this work.
In the story of Goose Landing, let us imagine money to take the form of Wind. I understand money to hold incredible power. A power that, for many years, I ran away from and was disgusted by and wanted to hide from. I also understand Wind to hold incredible power. Wind brings movement and flow. There are many beings who contribute their breath to Wind. I understand these monies to be flowing through Goose Landing in the form of Wind, opening the gates and bringing movement.
Poetry aside for the moment, this is what happened. The dam was broken. Energy, in the form of digital dollars, was released. The money to purchase this property came from a trust set up in my name by my grandparents. This amount was paid in cash and the property was titled to Adam. In an astounding series of ongoing conversations full of deep trust and love, Adam and I have negotiated the following arrangement. As is often the way in the culture of Brush Brook, I was interested in these monies being a gift. Adam asked me to consider a loan and brought to my attention that by loaning the money and receiving repayment, there would be exponentially more potential to invite more humans into the work. How? In soliciting support to pay back the loan, humans are invited into giving/gifting in a way that many know and prefer to give—financially. I implored myself: was it perhaps selfish of me to want to gift the monies away entirely and thus be rid of it, this impending shadow that had cast a darkness on the rivers flow? Through many hours in conversation with each other, with Loved Ones, with Wild Ones, we set into motion the following plan: the loan would charge interest (1.82%, the federal minimum) and I would sign off on a note annually to forgive the principle, meaning Adam and the Farm would be responsible for paying only interest every year, which would simultaneously decrease every year as it was forgiven. The repayment monies, I pledge to match and redistribute with Community partners to BIPOC-led land and food sovereignty groups thus keeping the monies flowing and out of the dam. (If this particular work is of interest to you, please reach out to me. I would be exquisitely honored to be held accountable by this living network of folks and places.)
By structuring the purchase as a loan and receiving repayment, Adam would be able to share the honest work of the farm and ask others to contribute, making Community and Togetherness and Participation an absolutely central piece of the foundation of Goose Landing. Yes, this is what the land is calling for. Let there not be a singular channel of wealth flowing back to the reservoir; let it be broken open and allowed to flow beautifully and imperfectly into and through dynamic and animate spaces.
I sense that the breaking of the dam is contributing to a Gust of Wind of particular magnitude, lifting off of the turbulent waters, permeating every crevice and cascading through the gates of Goose Landing.
Many others (human and otherwise) may Breathe into the ever-moving, ever-present, ever-changing Windscape. Some may breathe into it (contribute monies), some may take deep breaths from it (learn from this place/eat of this place). Both allow movement and life.
May this be an invitation to Breathe. In and out. Share with others. And listen to the flow of the river.
Many thanks for reading. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel called to connect for any reason.
Welcome in the May-o!
The Greening arrives tentatively as we approach the halfway point between Equinox and Solstice. I spoke this week with several Farmers in the neighborhood who know May 1st, or May Day, as the date they usually turn their Cows out to pasture, Grass nearing a foot tall. Not this year, after an April of frosty nights and Cold, waterlogged Soil. A month under the steady influence of North Wind. Beltane was the old name for this season in the places from which many of our breeds of Cattle and Sheep immigrated—in the places from which many of the humans in these parts came as well. As it goes these days, the internet stands in for the abandoned elders—those too frail to load onto the ships for the harrowing Western passage—and so I’ve asked the computer for some old Beltane stories:
Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink would be offered to the gods. Doors, windows, byres and livestock would be decorated with white or yellow May flowers.
This works out well here at Goose Landing, as the field edges haven’t been cleared of blow-downs and brush in years and a tangle of Vines chokes the old Cow Barn. There’s plenty of dead wood to light a special bonfire, and the Calves—Trevor, Angus, Teddy and Teagan—love to go on parade. So a feast will be assembled and neighbors invited to gather wood for a Fire. And we’ll try to revive an old song called Hal-an-Tow, one firmly rooted in the greening pastures of the Old Country. The song begins, “Since Man was first created, his works have been debated, and we have celebrated the coming of the Spring. Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble-o. We were up long before the day-o. To welcome in the summer, to welcome in the May-o.” In a Spring like this one, the song rides on the howling North Wind as a request, as a supplication, even as a plea. Each of the Farmers I spoke with this week said they have hay left to hold their Cows in the barn for an extra week or two, but not for a month. So you might consider singing the song aloud where you live—in supplication and solidarity. Sing the song as a plea to South Wind—also known as Greening Wind, or Bringer of Springtime. South Wind, may you blow beautifully and bring on the Grass to feed the hungry, hardworking animals. You can listen to Hal-an-Tow and sing along HERE.