Getting Your Hands Dirty

By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  October 13, 2010

"At the end of each day, you've done something," says Gómez-Ibáñez. "You can go home with a real sense of peace. It's such a good feeling. Even if you've fucked it up, you can go home and say 'I'm going to fix it tomorrow.' You make it right. There's an amazing satisfaction of making things right."

Digging in the dirt
Jennifer Hashley moonlights as a farmer. She and her husband raise chicken, pigs, sheep, some rabbits, and a variety of vegetables on a few acres in Concord. Running a small farm informs Hashley's day job as the director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Program at Tufts. The project assists beginning farmers in starting agricultural enterprises in Massachusetts.

A free "Explore Farming" orientation establishes the reality of farming and helps people clarify their goals. The next step is the Farm Business Planning course (it runs for about five weeks, one evening a week, and costs $250). New Entry also helps beginning farmers locate farmland, offers one-on-one support in business and enterprise development, and provides hands-on, in-the-dirt training.

"We find a lot of people in the program are career-changers," says Hashley. "Software engineers, people who made money doing something different and want to . . . do something tangible instead of sit at a desk." They're also seeing more and more young people, right out of college, and even high school.

"We're all going to have to eat," she says. "That's why our program is so important. We're getting people re-engaged in growing food. And if that means 10,000 two-acre farms, well, you have to start somewhere. We're giving people the knowledge and the skills to get them started and keep them going." People who come through the program tend to stick with it. "Once people get their hands in the dirt," says Hashley, "they're hooked."

Foot in the door
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the workshop at Broadway Bicycle School bustled. BBS offers classes and workshops on bike mechanics, teaching folks the basics in bike workings — how to fix a flat and adjust the brakes — as well as more advanced stuff like wheel truing and headset overhauls.

Christopher Lier has been working at Broadway for about five seasons, as a mechanic, a teacher, and a parts-orderer. "It's a demystifying process," he says of learning how to take care of your bike. When you start to learn a bit about how things work, how to diagnose a problem and what steps to take to try to remedy it, "a veil is lifted."

"Once you get your foot in the door," Lier says, "you start seeing a different relationship between you and the objects around you."

Whether you're growing an eggplant, fixing a bicycle wheel, or building a kitchen table, you're interacting with the world directly — confronting real things and strengthening the connection between your head and your hands. That can help you survive the apocalypse or to simply bring more meaning into your life.

"It doesn't matter if you wore a suit yesterday," says North Bennet Street's Wajda. "Because you're not wearing a suit today."

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