There's the usual shuffling and resharpening of pencils, as the students give one another sidelong glances and wonder about what got all 50 of us into this. And then, with a little hum and feedback from the microphone, the lesson begins.
Class is starting on Monday evening for most of us, since we are scattered across the Eastern half of the US. But for the woman from the UK, it's past midnight. And for the guy from Japan, this web-broadcast class is taking place tomorrow morning. We are all in front of our computer screens, having downloaded some software and signed in to the Cornell Beginning Farmer network.
50 of us with farm dreams, and we have all plunked down some cash in exchange for some learning.
The two teachers -- one in Ithaca NY, the other just north of New York City -- walk us all through the details of distance learning: the software, the homeworks, the polls, the discussion forums that seem so much like passing notes during class, the links and features, and the goals of the class.
This Beginning Farming class does not cover how to start the tractor (that long stomp on the clutch and the fiddly thing with the choke). No exploration of how to to use a power take-off unit, or how much seed is needed per acre. It's not about the nature of cows or chickens or corn or rain.
Instead, this is a sort of taking stock of dreams. An enumeration of hopes, a tally of resources, a gauging of determination and hardiness.
This kind of assessment is easy in the form of an idle daydream. It's much more challenging exercise when shared with 49 other dreamers on a Monday night (local time).
It's all well and good to wish for a clucking raft of hens, or a field of black-and-white cows munching on emerald-green grass, but to write it down? As homework? ...And then start analyzing what stands between here and there?
People volunteer things like: "At least a tiny piece of land." Or, "Experience with a single live chicken." Or, "A different life, including a family who might be interested in growing something."
So while at least one of the 50 would-be farmers is frozen in place -- flummoxed by the variety and passion of people's longing for a farm -- the webinar continues to churn through a series of basic and tough questions.
If the blade can hold an edge, this class will be honing the wishfulness for a farm.
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