On Reaping and Sowing

saplings peek out the dirt that cloaks the roof of the Brooklyn Grange. Long Island City.

Plants grow better (faster, greener, in a more bountiful abundance) when you play music for them.

And soil knows when a different plant takes root in it than was rooted in it before.

The unimaginative will disagree, but the research is there to quiet them. In the case of the music, there are certain mechanoreceptors in plants that react to the pressure of sound waves. If you yourself need convincing, ask a green-thumbed acquaintance. They will tell you which songs their succulents find most nourishing; which tunes their terrariums erupt most vibrantly to. As for the sentience of the soil, it is otherwise called ‘crop rotation’. The soil grows too accustomed to the memory of a plant if it is rooted in it season after season. The plant that occupies any plot of soil thus must be swapped out routinely to introduce the soil to a new set of nutrients.

There is the objectively-biological, the rationally-physiological, the microcellular, nano-particular reasoning to why these things happen as they do. But there is also an undeniable something else. A plants positive and productive response to music and a soils memory of roots, this strange synergy, is bound to a certain inexplicability: a relationally that is difficult to comprehend, difficult to communicate because we have neither the structure of thinking to rationalize such occurrences nor the structure of theorizing on such occurrences to then put the rationalization into words. Or, at least, though these structures of thought/theory exist, they are not taught, not given primacy in our objectively-oriented world.

In said objectively-oriented world, there is a blindness to affect, to the undeniable-something-else’s. But turning a blind eye to affect is being willfully ignorant of not only our experience of reality, but of reality in itself. As Canadian Philosopher Brian Massumi puts it,”matter-of-factness dampens intensity” (25, The Autonomy of Affect). Objectivity dampens affect. Let us then suspend momentarily our stoic insistence on only the perceivable and quantifiable reality and invite instead a recognition of resonation, interference, and all that which may be more difficult to speak of but is all the more rewarding to understand.


“Affect is synesthetic, implying a participation of the senses in each other: the measure of a living thing’s potential interactions is its ability to transform the effects of one sensory mode into those of another.”


In considering The Farm, I invoke the most simplistic of the definitions of affect: affect as the capacity to act and be acted upon.

The Farm is unique as a physical space, embodying blatantly, flaunting almost outrageously this principle of affect. What is reaped is what is sowed. There is a direct, visible, undeniable correlation between action and reaction that goes beyond weeding-tilling-planting-watering-waiting-growing. There is an intrinsic ‘magic’ to agriculture, in its ability to bring into life. We as humans have a long history with and a shared memory of this magic, this affect. This affect is a part of the experience of being in this space, and whether we are conscious of it or not, it colors our intra-actions with the space itself.

The reaping and sowing that occurs in a Farm is not limited purely to the agricultural practices themselves. With history, memory, and dependency involved, our intention comes to play a tangible role as well. Our care and commitment, both in our thoughts and our actions, effect a farm. The energy we bring translate into a physical reaction in this space.

The three Farms in question for the purposes of my research: Brooklyn Grange in Long Island City, Harlem Grown in East Harlem, and La Finca del Sur in the South Bronx, all have a viscerally different affect to their environment. This is for reasons that have to do with the practices and physical forms of the farms themselves, but also with the intentions of the farmers in their sowing and the purpose ascribed to the produce that is reaped as well. These three farms have vastly different histories and serve the larger NYC community in drastically different ways. They way on which they are acted upon and their reflexive breadth of action are diverse: acknowledging and giving validity and nuance to this diversity will be a task of central importance to my research.

Spurthi Kontham (reach me at konthamspurthi at g-mail dot com)

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Duke University Press, 2002.

~ by Spurthi Kontham on October 6, 2019.

4 Responses to “On Reaping and Sowing”

  1. Most informative: You educate me on the background of plants, the “intrinsic ‘magic’ to agriculture, in its ability to bring into life,” it is such a powerful statement. The history behind the growth of these plants in Harlem and how it caries a unique affect is interesting.

  2. Besides the fact that I love plants and music, this was the most engaging because of the way your writing interacts with the entire idea of affect. Your theme of blindness is something that Brennan, Massumi and Bennet all discuss extensively

  3. Most informative: the fact that plants react to music, or soundwaves, is really an interesting way to start this blog post and help me feel connected to your ecology. It just inevitably makes me consider all things at the farm in a vibrant way, an affect that I may ignore if i approach by myself.

  4. Most informative! The complexity behind the interaction of plants and music informatively embodies Massumi’s perspective on affect and the environment. And it perfectly uncovers what does it mean by “objectivity dampens affect”, something I failed to get through in the reading.

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