In early March, my band Ley Line was gearing up for the renowned South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Being that it’s my hometown and the festival knowingly has somewhat of a tornado-effect, I found myself stocking up on some good ol’ nourishment at the local farmer’s market before total madness. I came across a stand with an interesting and charismatic character behind the table. Dirt seemed to be permanently encrusted in the lines of his hands and you could practically see the sun in his skin. His friendly nature and a beautiful spread of homemade kimchi, tomato transplants, and fresh greens brought a long line of customers. Despite his raging enthusiasm, I could tell he was worn thin from the workload and soon learned why: he was in the middle of moving farms during the height of springtime production. Before leaving with my handful of chard, I casually offered my assistance as a volunteer farmhand.
In the following days, life as we knew it took a huge turn as “shelter-in-place” mandates swept the country in response to Covid-19. My livelihood as a musician came to a screeching halt. Live performances around the world were cancelled indefinitely. My band and I devastatingly watched our 2020 tour dates quickly dissolve. Suddenly, that chance encounter at the market with farmer Ryan Farnau, flourished into a fast friendship, opening up an opportunity to root down during this time of upheaval. Soon I was spending several days a week working with Ryan in his project, F-Stop Farm.
We got to work harvesting and digging up plants to transplant on the new property. Everything that wasn’t going to be transplanted would become compost. Working tirelessly under the Texas sun, Ryan would attempt to throw some laughter into the mix of exhausting labor, hollering across the field, “If we create healthy soil, we can create just about anything!”
Crowe’s Nest Farm would be the new destination. It started about thirty years ago as a 501c3 animal rescue center with a focus on rescuing wild birds. Over the years, they acquired hundreds of farm animals, from exotic kinds like peacocks, emus and llamas to the more standard of goats, chickens, and cattle. But, Crowe’s Nest had never employed a full-time farmhand, so they brought in Ryan. “The reason this place is especially great is because they have classrooms and facilities to provide an extra level of engagement to young people that hopefully leaves them inspired to return and learn about growing vegetables,” Ryan comments.
Amidst the dramatic changes in my life, I found that working in the name of clean food and land gave me purpose, similar to the way live performances with Ley Line bring me a sense of peace and clarity in times of struggle. As Ley Line made plans to release our upcoming single, “Slow Down,” I saw undeniable parallels between the song and the farming, which sparked some interesting conversations between me and Ryan. “In the past 6 weeks, the earth has taken this deep huge breath,” Ryan would say. “COVID is showing us how much healing is needed, not only for the planet, but the human species. As we’re forced to stop everything, the wasteful energy practices, the constant mental chatter, the over consumption, we will improve the circumstances and conditions of every organism that is living on this planet.”
Ley Line released “Slow Down” on Earth Day last Wednesday (4/22/20). Even though my bandmate, Kate Robberson, wrote the song some five years ago, the lyrics are so relevant to the current global situation. The song speaks to the act of slowing down to take in the experience of life, but is also about slowing down to dig up our own truths, our own darkness, and find the joy that lives within, independent of the external circumstances. What better way to do that than to literally dig, sew, watch grow, and nourish the community? Ryan adds how “Resilience is a collective experience, the ability to take the necessary pause, evaluate the system that we live within, and shift to regrow with a collective consideration of how to utilize resources and better support one another”.
In releasing “Slow Down,” Ley Line led a campaign to bring awareness to mental health in the midst of a pandemic. Overloaded by information and statistics, it’s easy to overlook our own “internal weather.” We use music as a way to reach out and connect with others and also to process the world around us. Similarly, Ryan explains that “the role of the farmer is literally to be the strong healthy root amidst life’s wild throws. Our work depends on being attuned to nature’s rhythms, which is a difficult pace to describe. Nature definitely doesn’t always extend an invitation to “slow down” literally, but the metaphor works because farming demands continual awareness and observation.”
Today, May 1st, is a special day because “Slow Down” is available on Bandcamp and Bandcamp is waving all fees so that 100% of the purchases go directly to the artists. ” Buy Slow Down on Bandcamp today. Or, to more sustainably support Ley Line, join them as a monthly contributor on Patreon @fstop_farm and @leylinesound.