By Dana Burns
Anne McKibben Singh is now 23 years old. She is a second year law student at Otago University in New Zealand. In January 2013, Anne had a fairy-tale like wedding in India to Harpreet (Happy) Singh.
Anne was born in California and spent her early years as part of the Waldorf Community in Fair Oaks. She visited farms from a young age, remembers seeing a calf being born, and went to the farm at the Waldorf school to get milk. She remembers petting and feeding the animals, and even helping to milk, but also remembers feeling like a visitor from the city. The farm felt “set up,” for them. She didn’t really feel that she was a part of it. Her family then moved to rural Wisconsin and they began acquiring their own menagerie: sheep, rabbits, chickens and even a cow. This was a turning point.
I still loved it but the responsibility was not all that attractive.
She remembers seeing the cute rabbits at a pet store and pleading to take some home. But the responsibility of cleaning their messy pens was in direct contrast to seeing them in a pet store. Soon the rabbits were “not quite so cute.” Even the chore of gathering the eggs day after day became formidable. What Anne was fond of, was being on a farm with the wide expanse: the open fields, the silo, haystacks, fields, barn and forest to play in. It was:
Wilderness, exciting, your imagination could run wild, we created endless games. We learned how to manage time to be stimulated and not bored. It could sometimes get tedious, trying to figure out what to do, but we made the game “How to decide what game to play." In the city there is not as much freedom.
The work part was a different story, however.
I never really enjoyed tasks very much. I thought it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like gardening or doing chores. I liked milking and riding, and the horse and animals shows. My mom once gave me part of a garden to plan, but the work to maintain it was not attractive and never really happened.
Soon it became a pattern. “Anne doesn’t like to do chores.” People said. Anne had been home-schooled and then started attending the local Waldorf School.
I don’t ever remember growing into farm work, but I remember growing out of it. When I went to school I thought I was too cool do to work. When I was 12 I was bored. Why can’t I go somewhere else? Why do I live on a farm?”
Anne did attend several sessions of A Week on the Farm, a week-long full immersion farm-based education program. There she enjoyed having responsibility and being “in charge” of cooking; and milking with the commercial dairy farmer. It was fun to be in a program where chores were just “what you did.” But Anne didn’t then understand the importance of it.
Fast forward 4 years. Anne had moved to New Zealand with her family, completely forgotten about farms, and maintained her lack of interest in gardening. She then met Happy, an Indian Punjabi man, and fell in love. Their relationship soon turned serious. Happy got a job at a farm, and during her summer break from school, Anne found herself helping with gardening, harvesting, and making jam. It was now easy, and fun.
Happy then saw Peter Procter’s movie and developed an interest in biodynamic farming. He completed the biodynamic training in New Zealand and took it back to his native India and to the KRMEF in Nepal where he and Anne volunteered for a season. All of a sudden Anne’s background with farming, the preparations, and biodynamics made sense to her. She put it together and was inspired by the ability to offer something so valuable to the world.
In Nepal, farmers want biodynamic farming because hybrid seeds are taking over. Most farmers can’t afford the seed. As in India, many farmers commit suicide. Bringing the gift of biodynamics was highly appreciated. There was a real openness in them to learn.
To help understand their cultural differences before marrying, Anne spent a year living in a remote (to Westerners) village in northern India with Happy’s family and adopting the Indian lifestyle. She displayed remarkable stamina, perseverance, dedication and adaptability in what many would find to be extremely challenging circumstances. After the wedding and returning to New Zealand, Anne is now employing those same qualities to her study of law which she plans to use to help make the world a better place.
As Anne muses about her experiences of farm-based education, she recognizes great importance in:
- Being in the situation with the farm where work and participation is “Just what we do, that’s how it is, it’s not if you want to or not.”
- The discipline to do things that you may not want to do but have to do. There are similar situations all throughout life. Learning sometimes isn’t fun, sometimes you don’t want to.
- Animals -- learning to take care of things that are living beings. It is cruel not to give them the best care or not to prevent them from getting sick.
- Just going to a farm without responsibility does not quite cut it; it must be a lifestyle. It must be a true experience , not just a stimulating fun thing like a petting zoo.
- The only way to really learn is through doing.
- Having a farm is really valuable: the open expanse for imagination, helping to think outside the box, not constrained by anything, open.