It’s always surprising to me, a city boy for most of his life, to learn how much I have come to love the country and many of the people who live here.
There are all kinds of amazing people – outsiders and oddballs like me – who have made their way up here and are working to build their own lives in their own way, fighting corporate American notions of security and expectation.
Most often, they love what they do, and like Maria or me, that is important. People who risk everything to do what they love and live freely and with passion for their work are heroes to me.
Dave Weeks is one of those people.
I’ve been getting hay delivered to my farms every year for nearly 20 years. Most of the people who pull up in trucks are farmers, often showing up with strong sons or hired hands.
They are mostly strong, young people, the older people drive and keep count.
Their hay is always good and fresh, and they are unfailingly honest, but like most of us, they tend to do things the way they have always been done.
We were running out of hay – there is a severe shortage up here due to climate change – and after 36 phone calls to farms, I got hold of John, who owns the Greenwich, N.Y., Agway.
He had some good first cut square bales left, I bought them on the spot, and he said someone would be by to deliver them.
The next morning, Dave Weeks showed up to deliver the hay. It was his hay, and I was blown away by him. He is unlike any farmer or hay supplier I had met so far. And his hay is wonderful.
Dave lives alone, has never married, and has devoted his life to studying soil and its nutrients and working to develop the idea that we don’t need to put chemicals and supplements into our soil to keep it healthy.
He is what I would call a “Biologist Farmer,” he studies the soil and the nutrients in it.
Two people have turned their farms over to him, one for life so he can do his work and conduct his experiments. He farms hay and straw.
The hay he brought us was astonishing – it was gorgeous, nutritious, large bales of nourishing food, legumes like red clover and alfalfa, and three different types of grass – Timothy, Grone, and Orchard.
There are two major challenges to hay suppliers for farms in America. In states where cannabis is legal, many farmers are switching over to that lucrative crop.
And climate change – drought in some places, excessive rain in others – is making hay harvests unpredictable and sometimes unreliable.
This has significant consequences for people like Maria and me who keep animals on farms. I need to get to work and find good sources of hay for the coming years.
Talking soil and hay is like pushing a button with Dave; he can go on forever. I got about 20 percent of what he says. It’s impressive.
I only understand half of what he was saying, but I’m eager to figure out the rest.
His warmth, honesty, and empathy struck me. We made plans to get together for lunch as soon as the covid-10 pandemic is over. He also took care to wear a mask and keeps some distance.
As one of those highly at-risk people, I appreciated it.
Dave talked to Maria about her work, asked me about my heart; he wanted to know what we are like instead of just telling us what he is like. He watched Maria toss hay bales around and said he hoped he wasn’t offensive, but she was “one strong girl.” I told her my nickname for Maria is “Tarzana.”
That, I have learned, can be a rare trait. I’ve met many men here who are unable to focus on anyone but themselves.
Dave was impressive; we talked for a long time.
He has chosen to sacrifice much of his life to studying the soil and figuring out how to sustain and nourish it. Wendell Berry would run off with him.
I very much look forward to getting to know him better, and I marvel once again at the amazing people tucked away in the farms and valleys and hills all around me.
I see America as a nation of individuals, even as we are often told we must work in jobs we hate in places we don’t care to live to store away the millions of dollars we are told we need to live on and grow old with.
That isn’t enough for people of the heart. They want their lives to have meaning beyond security. They are the blessed and the few.