Our farm crew is changing drastically. New interns joined on while two guys who’ve been part of it since they were early teens moved on. Jacob and Tyler, seemingly, suddenly men, moved on to career jobs.
In 20 years of managing interns, there have been bad times. But not this bad. Young Tyler, settling into his new job, planning to graduate high school next week, died in a tragic car accident.
I haven’t been able to write about it. It’s not that I’m being stoic. It’s just that I write when I have something to say. What’s there to say? We can share the tragedy of this with a look or a hug or a thought.
For 6 or so years, Tyler sat at our break table. Break table is kind of euphemism for Momma’s kitchen table. You see, interns and farm fellas don’t so much work as get adopted here. Tyler, quiet and shy, knew what he liked. He did not need to try new kinds of cookies. He’d never even think of trying out my favorite snack: cottage cheese and salsa. On the first day of work, he watched where Gloria pulled the doritos and for years after, he bee-lined it for that shelf.
He was the same in work. We butted heads a lot.
Me: “Tyler can you get a facebook profile?”
Me: “But it’s so we can make a group for the farm and share cals, notes; it’ll make planning easier.”
Tyler: ” I don’t want a facebook page.”
We never converted Tyler. He was set on doritos. As a career, he was set on metal work. As far as I know, he never considered professional gardening anymore than he might have considered sushi. Luckily, our work making gardens and lilies includes bush hogging, oil changing, building sheds, touring master gardeners and chasing donkeys. One new thing that I know Tyler had to consider long and hard before he accepted it was soil building with layers of wood chips inoculated with mushrooms. Mushrooms recycle the chipped trees, turning them back into rich dirt.
We were never looking to make Tyler or Jacob into a horticulturist. But Tom, Jacob, Gloria, some of you and I should be so proud to have been a part of changing quiet boys into a confident men. Men of independence. Men who question, men who always say, “Yeah, we can do that.” And men who know where and how they fit onto and complement a team. Tyler never wanted to garden, but he told me once that “This was what farms need to become to stay alive: new crops, visitors and places to teach.” Tyler took pride in his role on this flower farm.
I know he had lots of great men as role models in his family life. But there’s something about independence from family, something about a job, that contributes to feeling like a man. I felt it in the 70s when I was a teen, as I grew confident, as I gained duties and respect, as I became of a part of the team on Mr. Frank Atkinson’s farm.
Tom, Jacob, Gloria and many of you who’ve visited get to know our farm family. And you get to be a part of instilling pride, confidence and roots in the young men and women here. We talked about internships and mentorship. We’ve supported these programs for 20 years, and we’ll continue. But we’re at a low point now. I don’t have the words to say how low; I can’t tell you how many ways I know this young man would have made our life, our farm our community better for the coming decades.
I comfort myself and hopefully some of you by remembering that many young men his age are still boys. But young Tyler became a man in front of our eyes. And he loved it. He loved dirt, hay, mushrooms, sunshine and the satisfaction of caring for the farm; bringing beauty and nutrients from the earth. He’d certainly roll his eyes or ignore that statement. But he did; he reveled in being a man and the accoutrements of farming. His family, all of you who met him here, and we can be proud of our part in nourishing those things that Tyler loved being.