Guest Post: Gratitude on the Farm

To close out this month of gratitude, I asked my dear friend Jess of Working Hands Farm, just outside of Portland, Oregon, to write a guest post for me on gratitude. She and her fiancé Brian have been running their farm for a few years now, but just recently moved onto their own land and are in the process of building their dream farm, and dream life together. Because of this, I thought she’d be the perfect person to share a few words on gratitude—and I was right. Enjoy, and thank you Jess!


“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.”  – Wendell Berry

Life on the farm (and in general) is full of opportunities. Everyday that you wake up they are there – some of them may be routine, some of them may be new or scary, some may even be hard but if you look at them as opportunities you will always see the best in each situation and feel grateful for something.

Growing up on a little homestead in Marstons Mills, Mass nature was always at the heart of the world around us. My parents were the greatest teachers and gave my sister and I a deep appreciation for the little things, the big things and the basic necessities of life…to be self sufficient, to take care of yourself (emotionally, physically and spiritually), to appreciate the World around you and to be open to all possibilities. It’s no wonder that after college and a move out of the country that I would find myself reflecting on the importance of being connected to my community, nature and my surroundings. Being far away from that idyllic world I grew up in made me hungry for that connection to nature and community, and to that accomplished feeling of being self sufficient. It didn’t take very long before I was back in the states pursuing my love of all those things…

Back in '88...

Back in ’88…

So, fast-forward a few years (8 to be exact) to where I followed my dream all the way across the country to Hillsboro, Oregon where I met someone just as crazy about this way of life as me.

As CSA farmers – my partner and I work for ourselves. Each day we have our routine chores (feed the cows, chickens, pigs, check on the seedlings, walk the dog, collect eggs, cook food etc), the unexpected opportunities that arise (frozen pipes, broken pipes, runaway pigs, wilting plants, floods, pests…you name it), and the goals we plan to accomplish for the week (the list is constantly growing and is always keeping us on our toes).

The CSA is at the heart of our farm. The community, the support, the encouragement, the gratefulness all lend to balancing the hard work, long days and productive dedication with happiness, fulfillment and gratitude. We feel blessed and inspired all through the day. We get to grow food (healthy, nutritious and delicious food) for our local community and there’s nothing better than that.

Maribelle, our sweet jersey calf in 2012...

Maribelle, our sweet jersey calf in 2012…

A lot of people say, “I can’t believe how hard you two work,” or “How do you keep up with it all?,” or even “Don’t work too much…” The funny thing is, it isn’t work to us it’s what we love to do. And it starts with seeing it (all of it) as opportunities for living healthy, happy and productive lives.

We’ve adopted a philosophy over the past few years that sums it up in a nutshell (and is easy to remember throughout the day)…the trick is to say, “this is what I get to do today” not “what I have to do today.” Everything rides on those two verbs. No matter how long the list gets. Everyday is precious.

Practicing gratitude is a way of life. It’s important because everyday that we wake up it’s not always the obvious things that we are grateful for on the farm. The unexpected things, the hard things, the things we don’t really want to do — those are the moments where being grateful teaches you to be grateful for all things. That through choosing to do the hard things you learn more about yourself. Whether it’s how you react to a stubborn animal, how to build something you’ve never built before, a confrontation or a hard decision to make, or the hardest of them all, believing in ones self…all things come back to becoming a better person and it’s easier to let things go and move on because there is always another opportunity waiting for you there to learn, improve, and make forward progress…

Transplanting the third round of summer crops last season...

Transplanting the third round of summer crops last season…

Every time we grow a new plant or invest in a new animal, we read all the books, we get all the tools and materials that we need to care for that animal, or to grow that plant, and then slowly overtime we figure out what works and what doesn’t and at time’s it can be a steep learning curve.  There’s a funny idea about farming that makes you believe you have to do everything yourself in order to have some semblance of control…but what time and trust and being in tune with nature and your senses tells you is just this…stop and look. Observe an animal, know this animal, understand it. Your senses are heightened when something is off and you notice those things more quickly and you are far more in tune that you ever imagined. Over time we learn what it is that the animal or plant needs to thrive. And sometimes the most surprising findings as a farmer are the things you learn about yourself along the way. This keeps everything moving forward in a positive way. When I stop and look each day it gives me a clear reflection of myself and all things (for better or for worse). Being open to those lessons that life has to teach you is the gift of gratitude. To keep a good perspective on all the things that we get to do and get to learn about (in this very short life!)

Sometimes it’s hard because you work long days and you don’t always allow yourself to stop and look and appreciate. Some days it’s “go, go, go” but if you can sit at the end of the day and be grateful that’s important. I know this is something that I need to work on throughout the day. To stop and look. And go.

The bounty and the beauty of the growing season...

The bounty and the beauty of the growing season…

Nothing is final on the farm.  Everything moves in a circle – just the like seasons…and it’s a great reminder that there is always another opportunity waiting for you. The more experience and knowledge that you have the more you grow, learn and work smarter.

They say that happiness stems from gratefulness – it’s not the other way around. It’s not, ‘happiness makes you grateful,’ it’s when you are grateful, that you are happy. It means you are connected and open to all the opportunities that each day gives you.

I have a partner who is pretty much the most – one of the most, maybe THE most – grateful person that I know and because of that he has no fear.  We all have our harder days but he’s pretty much my biggest inspiration for practicing gratitude every day and for keeping a positive and healthy outlook on the world. Because of his outlook, all of the opportunities he’s had/taken, he’s met each one with vigor and excitement and he’s learned a lot. In my book that makes him incredibly successful. He enjoys each and every day. Which is really important because life, again, is too short.

We all kind of start out that way – being kids we approach all things with “child-like wonder” which is kind of like being grateful for all opportunities.

The bees have a lot to teach us as farmers... and it's been one of our favorite projects yet!

The bees have a lot to teach us as farmers… and it’s been one of our favorite projects yet!

It’s hard to feel the highs without the lows and if you can keep it all in perspective I’d say each day is pretty darn good. It can start small too…my mom likes to tell the story of a friend who was in her 80’s-90’s and when she woke up and saw the ceiling in the morning she knew it was going to be a good day. Just goes to show…perspective is everything and on the farm there is always something to learn.

Gratefulness has everything to do with it (i.e. living life happily!)  The more you practice it the better you’re perspective and the more often you will be happy…no matter what pops up in life. Seek out all the “opportunities” that come your way and see them through and you might be surprised with what you find….happiness is just a ‘stop. look. go.’ away.

-Farmer Jess

dirty hands, clean hearts

You can find our more about Working Hands Farm on their website and also their  Facebook page and Instagram account—both of which are always chock-full of absolutely gorgeous images.

Assorted Gratitude

This week I took a few moments to feel grateful for the following:

  • For the teensy, tiny glimmer of Spring that made it’s first appearance earlier in the week. We may have drifted back into below freezing temps since then*, but for a minute there I saw the light at the end of the tunnel getting a little brighter.
  • That my bestie Sondra and her husband are coming to visit in April. It means a lot to have friends willing to take time off work and spend 12+ hours in a car to come visit you when you’re in the midst of your first year living away from home.
  • To be fortunate enough to come from a stable upbringing. This is a big one, I know, but you don’t realize how truly lucky you are until you leave the nest and encounter others who haven’t been given this incredible gift. Mum & Dad, you did good xoxo
  • For my health, another big one, and probably the #1 thing that people take for granted, myself included. If you’re in good health, it’s important to remember that there are those who aren’t, and who would give anything to be in your shoes.
  • For the 19.3-pound ball of fat cat love that’s perched on my chest (actually, she covers my entire torso and then some) as I write this. She may destroy all the furniture and cost me an arm and a leg, but the joy she brings me outweighs it all—she outweighs most things, actually.

And since tomorrow marks the last day of February, my Gratitude Journal month will officially be coming to a close. I’ll be back with one last gratitude-inspired post, and then it’s time to shift my focus to March’s challenge…

Any excuse to post a picture of Fanne and I...

Any excuse to post a picture of Fanne and I…

*And so you don’t think I’m just being a baby, Detroit officially ranked #1 in the extreme winter weather ‘misery index’. To turn it around, this article makes me grateful for a warm winter coat, mittens, and a toasty apartment. 

Truly Cultivating Gratitude

As easy as it is to take a few minutes each day to jot down what I honor and appreciate in my life, there have been a few days this month when I either forgot to write in my gratitude journal, or I consciously decided to put it off and play catch up later on. While there are certainly no rules to keeping a gratitude journal, I’ve personally noticed a big difference between briefly recalling something I was grateful for a few days ago, and actually taking a few, silent moments to feel the gratitude, to focus on it, to sit with it.

Gratitude can be defined as feeling warmly and deeply appreciate of something, and for me the key word in that sentence is “feel”. To say you’re grateful is almost meaningless, but to truly feel gratitude is what’s essential. 

My teacher Karina posted a video a few months back about cultivating contentment, which she refers to as being “the other side of the same coin as gratitude”. Since the exercise she outlines in the video pairs nicely with the act of keeping a physical journal, I’ve decided to incorporate it into my daily gratitude practice for the remainder of the challenge.

Have 3 minutes to spare? Try it yourself:


A Week of Gratitude, In Pictures

Well, I was right. It was almost too easy to find things to be grateful for last week while I was away in Puerto Rico. I could go on and on about how lovely it was to escape the polar vortex—even if just for a week, but since every entry in last week’s gratitude journal was accompanied by a visual, I thought I’d share my gratitude in photo form. So…

Last week, I was grateful for…

#1: A view like this, only steps away from our hotel room:


#2: Being able to spend Valentine’s Day sunbathing and tropical cocktail drinking on the beach with this guy:


#3: Simply put, to be by the sea:


#4: Having a view like this from dinner in the middle of winter:


#5: The chance to experience a beautiful rain shower in a tropical rainforest:


#6: This being the first thing I saw when walking out the door one morning:


#6: This being the first thing I saw when walking out the door one morning:


#7: Checking surfing off my bucket list—and I might add that I was actually kind of good at it…for a newbie:


If you can’t tell, I had an awesome week. When Dan and I were at the airpot, dreading getting on a flight leading to much colder temperatures, instead of complaining about how bummed we were that vacation was over, we decided to shift gears and focus on what we were grateful to come home to instead. Reentry into your regular day-to-day life is never easy after a week off, but gratitude helped to remind us that there’s always plenty to look forward to.

And now I’m back, with a week left of my gratitude challenge. February, you short little month you…

This Is Going To Be A Good Week For Gratitude

There’s lots to be grateful for this week:

  • Monday: Pen pals. Remember those? My old lulu pal Carly and I decided to become pen pals when she moved down to North Carolina for school and I moved out here to Ann Arbor and it’s been really fun. As convenient as text messages and emails are, nothing beats opening your mailbox to find a handwritten letter from a friend.
  • Tuesday: After spending $239 out of pocket (gulp) on Fanne’s insulin, I tried to shift my perspective to gratitude, so I focused on being grateful that insulin exists in the first place and that it keeps my little furbaby happy and healthy. Then I also decided (read: forced myself) to feel grateful that I earned 239 miles on my Delta Skymiles Amex card because of the aforementioned insulin purchase. It was kind of a stretch, but I tried really hard to believe it…
  • Wednesday: That this is my weather forecast for the next few days. Did I mention that I’m going to Puerto Rico? Sayonara winter! Dan’s cousin is getting married and decided to do it destination style and I couldn’t be happier to head down to Rio Grande for a week—especially because of the miserable weather that we’ve been experiencing here in the midwest this winter. I’m also incredibly grateful that a coworker offered to kitty-sit while we’re away so I won’t have to board Fanne and worry about her being locked in a cage all week. Sighs of relief all around…


I’ve decided to leave my computer at home for the week but expect some sunshine inspired gratitude via Instagram and Twitter while I’m away. I do have a WordPress app on my phone too so maybe I can sneak a post in while I’m sunbathing—maybe.


Sykpe, The Olympics & Pumpkin Oat Pancakes

To cap off week one, here’s my gratitude log from the past few days:

  • Friday: I’ve been battling a little case of homesickness lately so on Friday I was especially grateful for Skype so I could video chat with my Dad on his birthday. It’s not the same but it’s something, right?
  • Saturday: THE OLYMPICS! After the millionth day of snowfall and frigid temps in a row, I was having a hard time conjuring up some feelings of gratitude when I remembered that the Olympics were on—yes! Seriously, thank you Olympics for swooping in in the middle of winter to give me something awesome to look forward to every night for the next 2 weeks. Perfect timing.
  • Sunday: The homemade pumpkin oat pancake batter that my coworker Debbie gave to me yesterday. Thanks to her generosity, Dan and I enjoyed a delicious and very easy brunch this morning. Thanks, Deb!

But now back to the Olympics…


Me and the birthday boy at my besties wedding

“Type A” Gratitude

I think I’m getting a little too “Type A” about my gratitude journal. Here’s a list of thoughts that have already gone through my mind this week:

  • “Should I organize the things I’m grateful for into categories and go through them one by one?”
  • “I wonder if I should record the big things first and then move on to the smaller day to day ones?”
  • After thinking about something that I felt grateful for: “Wait, is that good enough to be grateful for? Maybe I should think of something better.”
  • “I should probably go back and take a photo so my gratitude journal looks cooler…”

Rein it in, Dzenawagis. How about you stop trying to create such a rigid framework and just write down whatever comes to mind—even if it isn’t “good enough” and even if you forgot to snap a “cool” picture of it—because that’s what’s going to be the most authentic. Gratitude is gratitude.

So here’s my unedited list of things that I’m grateful for this week:

  • Monday: Having an unconventional work schedule that allows me to stay in bed until at least 9am 5 days this week (sorry, am I rubbing it in?)
  • Tuesday: Living downtown and within walking distance of really cool cafés, shops, restaurants & bars
  • Wednesday: Working for a company that truly values and encourages my physical and mental wellbeing (and not to mention my goals)
  • Thursday: Yin yoga. If you’ve never been you’re really missing out, it’s the best.

Anyone else? What are you grateful for this week?