Farm Life

Rake Leaves, Make Compost

If you want to cultivate an abundance mindset: rake leaves, make compost.

So much of my journey this year has involved changing the way I think about life. When I chose to leave my high paying corporate tech job in favor of a simpler life of tending the land, growing my own food, and figuring out how to make a living in the process, I thought the hardest part of the journey would be technical. I thought my biggest challenges would be learning how to care for chickens, how to grow food in a wetland, how to identify trees and plants… that kind of thing. And don’t get me wrong, those have all been challenging pursuits. But the critical asset I didn’t anticipate needing is an abundance mindset.

I grew up in middle class America: always aspirational, always seeking more, never satisfied with enough. That mindset really doesn’t work for me anymore. The scarcity mindset of my birth culture lead me to make choices that cost me more in the long run, and left me less happy. What good is it to spend a huge chunk of time trying to earn money when I just have to spend it buying things I could have gotten for free if I only had the time to go out and gather or make them?

I’m learning to value the things I can create from the materials I have at hand. I find those pursuits enjoyable and fulfilling, and I’ve learned that those choices can be just as financially responsible as the kinds of work that yield actual money. Our worldview impacts everything we do, every choice we make. By changing the lens through which we see the world, our work, and our lives, we change the scope of possibilities we can see. We change the magnitude of the things we can create. We open ourselves to the possibility of sharing from an open heart, and our resulting peace then begins to ripple out into the wider world.

Let’s look at compost as an example. I make compost. Of course I make compost! I compost all the food scraps from my house, all my chickens’ bedding, and all the weeds I pull and all the brush I cut. It would be enough compost to maintain a well established personal garden, but it isn’t enough to continuously expand and maintain a market garden and build up degraded soil that still suffers from a century of servitude to industrial agriculture.

Problem: I need more compost.

For the last two years I have been purchasing my extra compost by the truckload from a landscaping company in a neighboring town. I haven’t had any problems with it. It’s not terribly expensive, but it costs about as much as I make in two farmers markets. That’s a significant time investment. In addition to the cost, I’ve started to feel more concerned about bringing in soil and compost from outside sources. Between persistent herbicides and invasive jumping worms, I feel that the stakes are higher than ever before.

Solution: make more of my own compost, so I can spend more time with the land and ensure purity.

My first instinct was to purchase a top of the line cordless electric leaf vacuum. I pictured myself hoovering up all the leaves from my ten acres, creating huge compost piles filled with these leaves and mixed with food scraps that I would collect from all the restaurants around town. Then I spotted a leaf rake in the corner of my garage. It seemed impossible to rake up all the leaves from my ten acres with that human-powered rake. But I wondered how hard it would be just to rake leaves off the driveway, where they aren’t going to fertilize anything anyway, and I’m standing right next to them, and the task is right-sized and approachable. I picked up the rake. I made a leaf pile. It took five minutes.

I think the lesson here is to slow down and appreciate the things we already have. I might be overworried about the dangers of trucked-in compost right now. I might calm down about that and go back to purchasing compost again next year. But the real lesson is, everything I really need is already right here. I don’t have to scale up as big as possible as fast as possible. I can rake one pile at a time. Start where I am. Do what I can. So can you. These actions add up.

Autumn leaves are the essence of abundance. In my part of the world, we have an almost unimaginable bounty of fallen leaves right now. We have so many fallen leaves, most people throw them away. We have so many fallen leaves that they can feel like a nuisance. But every single leaf contains multitudes. A leaf can be mulch, a leaf can be compost, a leaf can nurture new life in many forms. Like the Zen proverb “Chop wood, carry water” teaches us, dedicating ourselves wholeheartedly to the task at hand is infinitely powerful. For today, I’m going to rake leaves and make compost. Whatever tomorrow brings, today’s actions will serve to create more abundance than I had yesterday.

What other treasures are hiding in plain sight? What else are we overlooking that might sustain us, support us, and nurture us on our paths forward? A world of overlooked wonders, I am certain.