After discovering her father’s journal ten years ago, and sustaining her curiosity and passion through research and writing, Cinder Hypki is finally ready to complete her book.
Last November, she launched The Far Field Stories Project to share the lives and legacy of her parents, Ken and Roberta Hypki. Just after World War II, her parents were newlyweds, and they shared a dream of starting a dairy farm. In the process, they fell in love with the land, and became its fierce stewards.
“The book is about these two city kids from Milwaukee,” says Hypki. “They started a dairy farm in 1951 and created a life and a land ethic. These two feisty characters are both still living on the farm today at 89 and 90.”
The book, The Far Field Stories, will consist of stories, photographs and excerpts from the rediscovered journal, small passages that Hypki refers to as “prize gems,” a favorite phrase of her father’s that could be used with complete sincerity or gentle sarcasm to describe noteworthy people or situations. In the book, her arrangements of excerpts from the journal entries are like prose poems that transport the reader to an earlier time and a magical place.
“It’s really those prize gems that got me into this,” she says. “I keep mining that material for the wider themes of the journal. I’ve been at this for ten years, and I’ve assembled a significant part of the book so far. The journal is full of passages describing things that couldn’t be predicted or that didn’t go as planned. It is a meditation on how to carry on despite hardship.”
From February through March this year she launched the project and raised funds with an Indiegogo campaign, to finance the time and resources to complete the book in 2016 for publication.
Hypki has taught extensively in the Community Arts program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), and among other areas of study also teaches workshops on grant writing and fundraising through crowdfunding, so as a specialist in the field she was under extra pressure to make sure the campaign was successful.
“My biggest challenge, I think, has been to grasp the meaning and the importance of this work right now, of writing the book, in the midst of my urban Baltimore life,” says Hypki. “This is the year in which I’ve lived in a city still reeling from the Uprising of 2015. As a community artist I’m engaged in the life of my city; and then, there’s this book project, which seems so far away from my Baltimore world. I also recognize how privileged I am to move back and forth between these worlds, and to have both parents still in my life; it is a wonderful thing.”
Hypki has acquired a diverse array of experiences with her far-reaching curiosity and devotion to community service.
“I owe a debt to Costa Rica, for being the country that introduced me deeply to the Latin culture, and to the language and poetry, I lived there three and a half years. And I owe Baltimore a debt for teaching me how to be a city person, and for living the longest now that I’ve lived anywhere, in a place that is increasingly diverse.”
“It’s amazing how many people have roots to rural areas in their DNA,” says Hypki. “Memories, family members…we’re on the brink, as a society, of losing so much of that, so it’s important to bring that organic, grounded memory of rural life back to our experience in the city.”
As much as we focus now on recognizing and supporting marginalized groups in society, perhaps those who live close to the land have also been marginalized by geography, by a predominant focus on cities, urban life and culture, and other subtle social forces.
However, in the expanding number of urban farms, gardens and agricultural programs, as well as advocacy for animal rights and related causes, there is a groundswell of support for integrating rural philosophy into contemporary urban life.
“All of these small spaces are important and comforting; the urban gardens in Baltimore, the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City, farm to table restaurants, farmer’s markets; these are the bridges between rural and urban with much to teach us. There are many informal farms and gardens in the city; if what you have is a vacant lot, you can call that a farm!”
Hypki has connected hundreds of students and artists with the growing movement in community arts in Baltimore over the past decade, and her commendable record of advocacy and innovation has no doubt brought her the many people she has gathered so far in support of this unique book project.
“A lot of people have grasped what this can be, how it can be relevant, and that puts wind in my sails. One of the many reasons for writing the book is to share my parents’ land ethic, their conservation ethic, their love and respect for the Earth. This working philosophy of sorts developed over time for them; they were eager and thirsty to learn, and they did.”
Hypki’s parents were some of the first farmers in their area to work closely with the Soil Conservation Service in the early 50’s, to map out the whole farm, its topography, what areas were too steep to plow, how to avoid soil erosion, and where to dig ponds out of swampy areas to provide wildlife habitat. The underlying philosophy expresses the fundamental fact that environmental consciousness is not in opposition to progress, they are linked and crucial to one another.
“My time in Costa Rica as an environmental educator taught me that, you cannot preserve precious rain forest if people who live around it don’t have a livelihood to provide for their families. Conversely, you can’t provide a decent livelihood for your family if you’ve laid waste to your environment in such a way that it no longer sustains you.”
“It brings us back to the Native American concept that the possible impact of any decision should be considered through seven generations; that’s something to build your life around, it’s absolutely the foundation. In our home, on the wall, there is a piece of wood that Pa inscribed as follows: ‘God will not seek thy race, nor will he ask thy birth; alone he will demand of thee, ‘What hast thou done with the land that I gave thee?’ I don’t know where it comes from, but that quote is hardwired into my consciousness; it is the heart of my family’s love of the land.”
“My folks planted thousands of pine trees on the farm; it’s an unspeakably beautiful place. They developed a whole life around respect and love of the land; it is sacred to them. It wasn’t easy, either; it has been an ongoing sacrifice on their parts—especially after the dairy operation ended and most farmers in their position just sold the land. I want to tell the arc of their story, to hold to the light my parents’ love of the land, as an example of how you can live a dream, whatever that is; and still very consciously respect the Earth that sustains us.”