A Sense of Community Built On Food
Single-mom isolation, gastrointestinal problems, a business in the dumps, and a box of vegetables: who would have thought that this particular mash-up could lead to a more self-expressed life? But that’s how it came together for me.
As a freelance portrait photographer I can charm just about anyone to relax in front of my camera. I’m a people person; I bond easily. Without a camera, though, I’m shy. I’ve always felt some inner part of me was sealed deep inside. At times, my throat actually felt constricted, as if my voice was struggling to come out.
Whatever it was that was locked inside got buried even deeper when I became a single mom in 2006. Maybe some women can pull off the whole single mom thing with grace, but that wasn’t my experience. Everyone around me seemed happy, secure and coupled. I felt isolated and lonely.
When the majority of my advertising and editorial photo work dried up during the economic downturn in 2008, I’d lie awake at night in sheer panic. Life was stressful as I tried to provide stability for my daughter and find purpose for myself. Every morning I’d walk our dog through beautiful woods that seemed to offer me the promise of something; I just wasn’t sure yet what it was.
Stomach pains that had plagued me on again/off again for at least 20 years flared up. A conventional western-medicine approach provided little relief beyond drugs for the pain. Actually, any medical complaint I took to doctors (chronic yeast infections, horrible fatigue) found no answer. It was suggested that I seek psychiatric help.
I felt not only let down, but angry, and dove into alternative methods of healing. Eventually, I found my way to a gluten-free, whole foods diet back before it became popular, and that diet changed everything, not just in my body but also in my perception. I’ve spent years studying how the food we eat and the way it’s raised and distributed impact our health and the health of our communities and planet.
I grew curious about the people who grow food sustainably and found a woman farmer who agreed to let me do a photo project on her. What a relief it was to immerse myself in someone else’s story, if only for a few hours, taking photos and learning about farming.
Around this time, in 2011, I became a site host for a CSA (community supported agriculture, where food is either picked up at a local farm or delivered to a pickup spot). My initial motivation was to get free organic food, but I never could have anticipated all that has come out of this experience: a community of good-food enthusiasts; the freshest and most delicious vegetables; and, oddly, a vehicle out of my own shyness. Very slowly over these years of being a site host, I began to express my passion for a healthy way of eating and a healthy food system. I was becoming more comfortable speaking up.
Along the way, I had started to photograph other women farmers who generously let me into their lives. I made the decision, however terrifying it felt to me, to post the interviews and photos on a blog, Grounded Women: Stories of Women Who Farm. I launched the blog a year ago and have been amazed by the positive response. Readers tell me they are inspired by my subjects, yearn for the authenticity of an honest life close to the land, and are grateful to experience it through the blog. Another nice surprise was to have my photos shown onstage during the 2016 Farm Aid concert.
I’m not going to pretend that life has suddenly become dancing butterflies and unbridled joy because I started a blog about women farmers. Certainly I feel I have come into my own, but I also feel that there is some reason why I’ve been led to do this: to bring people together by sharing the stories of strong, resilient, determined women who have consciously chosen a life growing food and nurturing the earth. That’s a purpose worth living and speaking up for.
Lise Metzger has had a long career in photography. Her project Grounded Women: Stories of Women who Farm is a departure from the advertising and editorial work she has been known for, and it represents a coming together of her photographic skills with her passion for real food and authentic life.