"Our bodies live by farming": a brief story on silence.

"Our bodies live by farming": a brief story on silence.
Alysia Leon, milky oats, Bird Fork Farm, Sequatchie County, Tennessee

Aug. 30, 2023

Three of us were harvesting milky oats on Cagle Mountain, swish-swishing through the grain, white clouds floating in a blue summer sky, when we all just stopped speaking. 

It was June. There was both summer heat and spring breeze, the seasons still touching hands. The green oats were waist high, their tops existing in this special window of time after flowering and each full of a white, milky sap prized for so many healthy benefits. To harvest, we'd run our hands up the top of the grain, popping off the oat top, dropping them in a bucket. As we worked, a hawk circled above us.

Milky oats, Bird Fork Farm, Sequatchie County, Tennessee

We'd been talking, laughing, telling stories. Alysia Leon, owner of Bird Fork Farm, was touring us through her land.

Among the oats, our talking turned quiet.

Our quiet became silence.

Had you driven by, you would have seen nothing special: just three people working in a field.

So why, months later, do I still remember it so well?

The external field had created an internal one: a place quiet and calm starkly different than, at least for me, most of my normal day. Things felt aligned. I exhaled, moved slowly, with a somatic sense of ease.

We talk about knowing the land.

But doesn't the land know us?

Maybe you’ve felt this, too.

Maybe when your hand brushes up against a tomato plant and that unmistakable green-earth smell hits your nose. Maybe it's seeing a bumblebee, legs heavy with orange-yellow pollen, touching down on the flowers you planted this spring. Or the clip-clop of a horse, the sunrise yolk of a fresh egg in a buttery pan or all the colors of a watermelon: green rind, red fruit, black seeds.

They're like tiny mindfulness bells. In those moments, we remember ... something.

Alysia Leon, milky oats, Bird Fork Farm, Sequatchie County, Tennessee

I wish I had some fancy word for this, but all I can come up with?


It all just feels honest to me. 

Honest is not jagged. Not reckless or helter-skelter or jangled. Honesty doesn't make me constrict. It opens instead of closes, softens instead of walling off.

I'm not romanticizing milky oats. (I didn't even know what they were until Leon.) That day in the fields, I itched, sweated and stopped after 30 minutes or so. But it sure as hell felt different than emailing. Or sitting in traffic. Or the fourth episode next to my third glass of the night.

Honesty seems like first cousins with authenticity.

And authenticity seems awfully close to healing.

"What relation do we see, if any, between body and mind, or body and soul? What connection or responsibilities do we maintain between our bodies and the earth?" Wendell Berry writes. "These are religious questions, obviously ... but the questions are also agricultural, for no matter how urban our life, our bodies live by farming; we come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh."

The connection between body and land can draw very close; farmers, by nature, understand this. But what are farmers before they become farmers?

Food as a Verb thanks Whitney Drayer, senior vice-president at Morgan Stanley, for his generous support of local food and storytelling.

Contact Whitney at whitney.drayer@ms.com or 423-752-4736

Alysia Leon was a farmer before she was a farmer. Trained and schooled as an archaeologist, she felt a tug toward a different relationship with the land. A few years ago, she and a partner purchased 55 acres on Cagle Mountain.

It's called Bird Fork Farm. Queer, female and first-generation Mexican-American, Leon is cultivating both a farm and a refuge.

"Farming is community. It is learning to work with the land and give back rather than just take; it is being a good steward and it is an act of love. Regenerative farming is so much more than just soil building, promoting biodiversity, sequestering carbon and crop rotations. It is more than just earth-care; it is people-care and the very existence of life," she said.

This Sunday, Food as a Verb proudly introduces you to Alysia and Bird Fork Farm. She's the first herbalist we've profiled, but not the last; soon, we'll visit High Garden Tea, a 100-acre preserve on Lookout Mountain where Leah and Joel Larabell are doing some powerfully restorative work. (Meet them here.)

Alysia Leon, Bird Fork Farm

We end with our schedule of regional farmers markets and a reminder about Kenyatta Ashford's fundraiser, which starts Thursday. The New Orleans-to-Chattanooga chef is immensely talented, winning Food Network's Chopped competition. (On Sept. 16, he'll be cooking for a special farm meal at Sequatchie Cove Farm. All farm ingredients, all cooked over open flame.) He's relaunching Neutral Ground, the Afro-Creole restaurant he created during the pandemic. You can support his fundraiser here.

Thanks everyone. See you Sunday,


All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit SarahCatherinePhoto.com

Story ideas? Interested in sponsorship opportunities + supporting our work? Comments + questions? Contact David Cook at david@foodasaverb.com. This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks its founding sponsors for their generous support.

Regional Farmers Markets

Main St. Farmers Market

Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm

Brainerd Farmers Market

Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave, Chattanooga, TN 

Saturday, 10am - noon

Chattanooga Market

1820 Carter Street, Sunday, 11am - 4pm

Ooltewah Farmers Market

The Ooltewah Nursery, Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

Signal Mountain Farmers Market

Pre-order online for Thursday pick-up between 4 - 6pm at Bachman Community Center

St. Albans Farmers Market

7514 Hixson Pike, Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

Walker County Farmers Market

Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

To include your farmers market, email david@foodasaverb.com

Dig in. (It's free)