Hi, my name is Susan Dabney. I live with my husband on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, on the Miles River. I taught French at Gunston Day School for 12 years, until the subject got phased out. I love the school and the kids, and I even loved tutoring, but I also had the opportunity to travel part-time with my husband in his work with special populations in Virginia, and stay part time on the farm, growing our food. I’m good with languages, and we are both violinists, so sometimes we travel to cool places and play music, which I am glad to be free to do.
Growing up I was always interested in food; not so much the eating, but the finding, the growing, the preparing, the putting by. I remember my father gleaning pre-gmo soybeans from the field, and eating them cooked with a hambone. I remember my grandmother feeding me poke greens. Foraging for edible mushrooms was like hunting for Easter eggs.
I’ve always been a plant person. My mother says it runs in the family, and it’s true that her six times great grandfather was Johann Georg Gmelin, check that out…. but we also have a pirate named Black Peter in the family, so what does that mean? When I was seven my grandmother gave me an illustrated book of medicinal herbs. A nerd, I was obsessed with it and roamed the woods looking for plants to give my enemies diarrhea. Today I tincture medicines for my family and friends, some of which I grow and others I gather.
As I grew older I also began to follow the man who cut the grass, planted my grandmother’s vegetable garden, did everything she couldn’t on the farm. Steve Moaney was a wise and gentle person with a quiet merriness; years later I found out he was a church elder. He always had gospel music playing on his truck radio while he was working. He was a man who was not afraid of work. He would weed half an acre by hand. From him I learned to farm. I still have the framework of his tiller, although we replaced the engine. He also planted a seed in my heart for God.
When I moved back to the farm in 1999 I got a chainsaw so I could cut wood for the woodstove in my house; as a teacher electric heat was expensive, but my father had done the same thing when I was young. He taught me about cutting wood, and about cleaning fish, wildfowl, and deer, although he was an English professor, and recited Keats’s Ode to Autumn while we pressed cider.
As times get stranger and scarier in this country, I find myself drawn more and more to self-sufficiency; growing as much of our own food and medicine as I can, not buying unless I really need something, and appreciating community. That means helping your neighbor, sharing, bartering cider for eggs, drawing closer together with the people you love. We are blessed to have wonderful neighbors who also play music, who have saved our bacon many a time in so many ways. We also have been blessed to have met other musical married couples who love God, who help us to live and grow in faith. People like this, as well as former students and other young folk, have asked me to write this blog.