An Open Letter to my Whys

The burr oak has a stately silhouette, especially where it can find the room it needs. CREDIT Chris Starbuck, provided by Missouri Botanical Garden

By Owner and Farmer, Tam Andersen

The wrens chirped happily, perched amongst the branches of the Mayday tree next to our kitchen window as I mused over my cup of coffee today. The wrens were picking Mayday berries for breakfast. Their Why.

I was asked the question the other day. Why? Why do I farm? It’s been 29 years since my life began at Prairie Gardens. How can you capture three decades of Whys?

One of my Whys got up early this morning before me, as usual. Off on his way to check his Whys. The herd. The grass fields. His Dad. Who is 87 this year and still farming.

When we bought this farm, sixteen years ago, my Whys – breathtakingly wonderful daughters, Laurel and Kate, were just babes, aged one and three. We planted an oak tree from a seed picked from Grandma’s oak tree in her backyard. It grew! Fragile yet determined.

I am both in wonder and proud of this oak tree – I marveled as it swelled, sprouted and has now grown to a height of fifteen feet over the past fifteen years. A foot a year. It’s now triple the height of my teenage daughters.

Dare I compare myself? Constantly growing and stretching, losing leaves, regrouping over the winter, then bursting forth with new leaf and hope each season. Proud, too. The roots run deep now, solidly anchored, strong for life. It’ll grow for another 200 years. The wonder of nature. One of my Whys.

At the gardens, there are bound to be a hundred Whys today – each somewhere on their path, their Why converging with my Why. And there are countless Whys, their lives unseen and unknown, whom we have yet to meet, to help, to feed, and bring laughter to. Running and playing around the farm – it’s the Fairy Berry Fest this weekend.


Tam’s daughters Laurel and Kate – fairy wings in waiting

I smiled as I typed out the Fairy Berry Playbill. So many opportunities to connect with one another. Another Why. I smiled, too, as I gazed at Kate’s photo from a Fairy Berry Fest long ago. Wings in waiting. Perched on her back, not yet poised for flight. Soon though, now. She’ll be fifteen in March. Another Why.

Similar to the Mom and her sweet son I conversed with recently. Her Why. They’d come every year, since he was little, for fifteen years. For strawberry picking. No longer four, he was tall, independent, worldly, a little embarrassed by his mother. The toughest age. Almost a grown up. This was the only thing they still did together now. He had come with a surprize hidden in his pocket. Bursting with love, she showed me. A tiny strawberry charm and joyous splash of mother’s tears. My Why.

I am in the business of growth — mine and yours – of expanding beyond my comfort zone, like a seed set into the soil. Every day, in every way, I replant part of myself, peeling back my protective husk, emerging fragile. And determined, from the darkness rising toward the sun. I have no choice. It’s my life. My Why. It takes tremendous energy to burst past that insulating barrier and propel through the mystery toward the surface. The reward – light to warm, space to grow, room to breathe.

The Maze paths need cut. I’ll clear them. Drought looms. I’ll figure out a way. The girls are growing up and going to college. Taking wing. I realize I am both the living thing and a care taker, tending, feeding, watering, pruning, cultivating all things to optimal growth. I wish I had understood this earlier. I understand it now by Grace.

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