David and Jane Steidel were the co-managers of the Deep Springs farm operation from April 1988 until May 1993. By the time I arrived in the valley in 1991, they, along with their son Karl, the tow-headed wonder baby, were such a core part of the community that it is impossible for me to imagine Deep Springs without them. Dave Steidel died unexpectedly this January of a heart attack, and I know that many of us who were lucky enough to share the Valley with him are mourning that loss, but none more than Jane and Karl. Our hearts go out to them both.
Farmer Dave was many things; wry, patient, dynamic, blunt, and dedicated. He was a real center of my experience and that of many other students. I loved working in the garden under his and Jane’s supervision, and most of my strongest lessons and deepest satisfactions as a student happened in that little plot of earth. Farmer Dave was passionate about growing food and being a good steward of the land, and it was important to him to transition the farm operation to being CCOF certified organic. He was more passionate about growing food for people than he was for animals, which led him to plow under part of field #2 in order to grow a whole pile of potatoes, over 100 varieties in a genetic preservation project he had inherited from Rex and Susan Mongold, farm mentors of his who lived in Fish Lake Valley. That was the kind of project that really excited him—positioning the college to be part of some of the larger conversations that were happening in sustainable agriculture at the time. And a lot of those potato varieties were pretty cool. Everybody I know who had one of the labor positions that worked closely with Dave—Irrigation, Garden, Farmer’s Ass.—speaks of it as one of their favorite labor positions. Dave was a good dude.
In addition to farming, Dave had a deep love of music that he shared with the community on Farmer Dave’s Farm Hour (and a Half), broadcast on pirate radio from the lower power station. It is certainly because of Dave that a strong portion of the SB knew all of the patter on Nanci Griffith’s live album “One Fair Summer Evening” by heart, and that our time in the valley had a soundtrack of music as rich with integrity and love for the earth as the man who shared the music with us. I’m listening to that album now and am struck both by how much it is of its time and how it speaks of who Dave Steidel was—which is to say that there was this sense of optimism and passion and a romantic attachment to this world we live in, a belief that even though there might be some trouble in the fields, as the song goes, that if we love each other and work together and hold on for a little while longer, it’s all going to work out in the end. I’ll be the first to admit that these lessons are hard to remember in our current moment, one marked more by fear than by hope, one where we could be doing a better job at lifting each other up. Listening to these old songs and thinking about Dave is making me sad, but it’s also reminding me of his core values. So here’s to you, Farmer Dave. Thank you for all of the lessons. Thank you for being such a strong example of what it is to live with integrity, dedication, and passion. And thank you for still showing us the way forward.
– Brendan Taaffe DS91