I was born into community. When my family gathered at my grandparent’s house for homemade pasta dinners, the place was jammed. That meant anyone who had not reached adult status ate at tables in the basement! I never minded. That’s where the real action happened anyway. Like so many extended families, mine has scattered now and the shape of my community has changed over time.
When Darrell and I first saw the farmette we hadn’t formed an idea about the community we were hoping to build but the maple, fruit and nut trees along with the potential garden space made us impulsively put in an offer anyway and we started our journey with a community of just two.
Throughout the renovation process as friends and family showed up to lend a hand and neighbors became friends, our community grew. Out of our abundance we began to radiate out not only by offering bread and primitive skills classes in our home but by gathering for an impromptu Thanksgiving in February and instituting a maple syrup celebration which has become an annual event.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that communities need each other. We’ve been inspired by a larger community, the Genesee Country Museum over and over again. Each time we visit we come home with new ideas and end up pondering what history really teaches us if we dig down deep enough.
There are layers of knowledge to sift through in order to understand not only the past but how to proceed in the present. Of course there’s the practical passing on of information. On a recent visit for their Maple Sugar Festival, Darrell and I learned that you can boil an egg in syrup to remove its impurities. Being that Darrell is a do-it-yourself-syruper, this is the kind of practical know-how information that he loves.
As we sampled sugar on snow, we also listened attentively to learn how communities long ago came together in support of one another. Living in rhythm with nature, they had to be flexible. When the sap started flowing ideally at least three families moved into the sugar bush to work together for 4-6 weeks. Once the fires were lit it became a 24/7 operation as families rotated through cycles of sleeping, tending each others’ farms, and boiling sap into syrup.
The work, along with the bounty of the harvest, were shared equally.
Marie, one of the interpreters at the museum, discussed how important it was that people worked together in both raising barns and raising children.
“Every member of the community was essential. People put up their farms and fields together,” she told us, “even if there was animosity you went and helped if someone’s barn burned down because you knew that the next year it could be you.”
Having grown up in Penn Yan, New York, alongside Mennonite families this made perfect sense but Marie added in a layer that I hadn’t thought of before. “Children knew how important they were. They knew that without their help the family might not survive and so they worked less competitively and more cooperatively.”
“Do kids know that today?” she asked. “Sure they know they’re loved but do they know they’re needed?”
It left me wondering. Had my kids, now 27 and nearly 30, felt not only loved but needed?
Of course we need each other whether we’re overt about it or not. There is something deeply satisfying about not having to always “go it alone” even when the “going” is not all that hard. When Darrell begins to pull out his first potatoes of the season and I mix in the herbs I’ve tended, we can only “Mmmmmm” our way through the resulting potato salad.
By large or small scale, that inter-connectedness helps keep communities viable and dynamic. Everyone ends up enriched by the process just like those families in the sugar bush.
As we neared the end of our stroll through the village, my friend Nancy shared that when she took a bread making class at her local living history museum in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, the sourdough starter they used had been shared by our very own Genesee Country Museum. It seems even small acts can of sharing can radiate out great benefits between communities….and I’m sure there’s been reciprocal sharing!
This comes as no surprise. When I traced back the origin of the word “community” I found it stemmed from the Latin word munus, which means the gift, and cum, which means together or among each other. So community literally is a gift of sharing among each other. What an intention! It leaves me feeling so grateful for those communities which have so graciously welcomed me in over the years.
Given that, how do we best support this gift of each other so that we have thriving communities whether we’re talking a community of two or a community of thousands? It’s a question, like so many others, that has layers to ponder.
As far as the Genesee Country Museum goes, there are lots of ways to help this community not only sustain itself but to grow! Why not consider an annual membership? Summer camps for kids? Volunteering? Or how about my favorite, participation in special events!
This year that participation won a blue ribbon in the cookie division of the Baking with Maple Contest. I’ll be sharing my easy, but delicious, recipe for Maple Biscotti in my next post! In previous years I’ve posted recipes for Maple Cream Cheese Coffee Cake and Salted Maple Popcorn!
Don’t forget, you can follow Kneading Life on Facebook! Please chime in with your thoughts or bits of widsom about community either there or in the comments below!
Hope to share in community with you around a bread bowl soon!
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