Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Jason weeding strawberries in our second strawberry house!
Happy New Year from Tumbling Shoals Farm! Time to make those resolutions! Truth be told, the only New Year’s resolution I ever kept was to never make another New Year’s resolution. Yep. Still sticking to that one several years later! But resolution season happens to fall into our production planning season, so I reckon a couple resolution-ish things sneak their way into our planning. Like, we really are going to keep the deer fence baited this year to prevent the astounding amount of crop damage done by those pesky creatures. Or, we’re going to keep up with the tomato trellising so they never get unruly. Or, we will write down everything we do on the farm each day!
This year, on top of resolution season falling into planning season, I’m also reading this book about how habits work and (hopefully) how to make new ones (The power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business). Look out husband and employees, you are going to be one big experiment in cues and rewards!
The last harvest on a cold November day
Thanksgiving. I love this holiday. I mean, how often do we take the time to sit down and focus on all the goodness in our busy lives. Not often enough, I’m sure. Which is why I love an entire day dedicated to giving thanks. This holiday also marks the end of the growing season for us, which means a lot of rest, relaxation, and light duty indoor “work” for a month or so. It seems like the perfect moment to give thanks for you. You, who reached out and helped in any way possible when Jason was injured. You, who stepped up and supported us when the season was looking so rough. You, who stuck with us until this cold end. You, who keep us going with your kind words of encouragement. On this day of giving thanks, I’d just like to reiterate my appreciation for you. Thank you.
Shiloh and Kitty Amin working on the newest member of the Tumbling Shoals Farm "fleet"
You might not believe this of me since I do my best to keep my feet firmly planted on the solid ground, but I have a few soapboxes that I occasionally stand upon. You may have enticed me to do just that once or twice (ever ask me why we are certified organic? Best advice: don’t ask). I spent this past weekend mingling with fellow farmers and associated ag advocates (groupies) and I noticed something pertaining to one of my soapboxes.
If you probe around in the lives of most farmers of any scale, you’re likely to find that someone on the farm holds an off farm job. Sometimes for the money, sometimes for the insurance, sometimes both, but either way, the vast majority of farm families require an outside job to live sustainably. Why is that? Clearly, the demand is there-- everyone has to eat; so it stands to reason that farming should be a viable career choice. Yet it appears that it’s not. Is it us, the consumer, just not paying enough for food? While it’s true that we don’t pay enough for food (we spend the least percentage of our incomes on food than any other developed country in the world and we spend the least percentage of our incomes on food than ever before in this country), I believe it goes deeper than that. I believe the farmers themselves are partly to blame. They don’t ask for what they need to make a real living. They, themselves, don’t see farming as a viable career choice. For years, this fact has bugged me.
But I noticed this weekend a shift in that paradigm. Finally. I’ve been attending this conference for 12 years, missing it only once. For most of those years, the focus was primarily on production—the “how to grow stuff” variety of information. In the last few years, however, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in focus to more business themes—the “how to make a living” variety of information. I couldn’t be happier to see this change. Finally, farmers seeing themselves for what they are: entrepreneurs. Finally, farmers demanding the tools to help them make farming a viable career choice. This shift in paradigm will go a long way toward developing and strengthening our regional and national food security because more and more young folks will choose to enter this profession. Plus, honestly, it feels pretty cool to feel like I’ve been listened to whilst on my soap box :)
My concept of November: recliner, wood stove, snuggly cat and seed catalogues
My body and mind are at war with my to-do list. They are protesting-whining even- that it's November and they're still working. It's cold! It's dark! they cry. But somehow, I drag them unwillingly through the day's list. It's just a matter of principal to them. November=the lazy season. It still is. One can hardly say that working 10-3 is working hard. But still, my mind and body fight me every step of the way. Isn't it time for reclining in front of the wood stove and gazing longingly at seed catalogues?
Dry aging "carrots" (venison seasoned with vengeance)
Until recently, I’ve never thought of myself as a vengeful or spiteful person. But then, there was discussion of attending the Watauga County Farmers’ markets through the month of November in the cold!! And I thought back to those early Hickory markets in April, when I rousted myself out of bed at 4:30, leaving a pleasantly sleeping Jason in bed, to stumble down the hill, load the truck and make the trek to market alone. And I thought (vengefully and spitefully), “Jason should know what it feels like to leave a soundly sleeping partner in bed while I get up and work.” (I would like to note here, that I did, in fact, get up and attend last Saturday’s Watauga market with Jason, but it was probably so that I could see myself as less vengeful and spiteful).
And then the deer descended on our carrots. Our friend Joel came to our rescue and eliminated four of them. And we found ourselves dancing in delight at the fact that there were four less deer around to damage crops. We’re sure beyond a doubt that venison seasoned with vengeance will be the tastiest venison ever.
Deer are a factor on our farm. A fact of life we have become accustomed to. We think we know their habits and their hierarchy of tastes. First sweet potatoes, then beets and chard, then strawberries, etc. Turns out they like lettuce a lot too. But never, never have they messed with carrots. Until we made them mad. We dug the measly sweet potato crop and mowed the vines, then we covered up the chard that they had been enjoying quite heartily. And we put deer netting on the sides of the strawberry tunnels so they couldn’t get in there to eat those either. Honestly, we left them a lot to eat. There was still the remainder of the lettuce planting that they took out earlier, after all. But no, we took away their favorites. So, in retaliation (I can only imagine), they decimated the entire beautiful carrot planting. I happened by there the next day and had to go ask Jason if he’d already harvested the carrots. They were pulled entirely from the ground. Some remnants were scattered around. It looked like a stampede had run through those beds. Even the drip irrigation tape was scattered as if someone had been in there harvesting. The best carrot stand we’ve had in years, completely gone. Hours later I was still picking my jaw up off from the ground. Wow, I just didn’t see that coming.
Shiloh with the last ginger harvest (before frost)
Have you ever felt so lazy your eyes glazed at the mere thought of lifting a finger? I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. We drag ourselves unwillingly out of bed in the morning (it’s still dark!!!), flopping about the house like fish dying for water, wishing only for more bedtime. We’ve just plum run out of steam. Nathan is the only reason we show up to work in the mornings. Knowing he’ll be there, ready and motivated to get it done. That, and the promises we made. We curse the tomatoes like last night’s liquor for making us think it was a good idea to keep producing food through November. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.” Back when we were drowning, and the tomatoes were blighted, and we weren’t so seasonally hung over. That’s exactly what this onset of laziness feels like too. A hangover. When we wish we hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic earlier. But like all hangovers, this too, shall pass.
View of South Charlotte from our hotel room on the 23rd floor (sorry, I never took any pictures of the Value Village outfit)
Jason and I went to Charlotte this weekend. With medical bills arriving, we figured this was our chance at any sort of “vacation” getaway. We did one of those Priceline things and got a good deal on a swank hotel room, spent a half an hour picking out our “city slicker costumes”, picked out a restaurant and a show to attend, then got up at 4:30 as usual and headed off to farmers’ market. By the time we got back, unloaded the market stuff and loaded our city stuff, I was in a bit of a feverish haze. It wasn’t until we checked into the hotel and collapsed on the cushy bed for our nap that I realized that I had forgotten all of my city slicker clothes. There I was in my crocs and smelly market clothes. Places to go, but not all dressed up. Value Village to the rescue! Instead of indulging in a fancy dinner, we found ourselves wading through miles of used clothing and shoes, but we managed to successfully disguise me as a city girl and made our comedy show in style.
Happy belated National Kale Day!
Already October was my favorite month. It contains my birthday, my anniversary, Halloween, and, of course, the awe-inspiring color display that slithers down the mountain. But now, I find out that October 2nd is National Kale Day! Talk about gilding the lily! It reinvigorated my adoration of kale chips, and made me smile to boot. Who knew even more greatness could be bestowed upon this glorious month?
October also encompasses a shift in workload. Just when our biological clocks (not that kind!) are indicating it’s time for daylight savings time to end, when we need a few more minutes of sleep, and a few more days off. When our attention spans can no longer focus entirely on the farm. Finally, we get to less time sensitive duties. The deconstruction of things. Slowly putting the farm into hibernation mode. I know, I know, we still have nearly two months left of production! But still, most of the planting is done; it’s now just maintenance and destruction. Which, I might mention, is a lovely combination of things:)
The days ooze by like oil. Viscosity alone moves me through the day. After two weeks of solo farm management, my mind scattered across zillions of tiny details, I’ve eased into a bit of tunnel vision. My long term and big picture visors have gone up and all I can see is the immediate task list. I just put one foot in front of the other and repeat. I just float along on the liquid days.
Tomorrow though, my farm partner returns to us. Although relief is palpable, there’s also a bit of proprietary pride that has evolved over the last few weeks without him. We rallied. We managed. We did it all and made it through just fine, thank you. So now, we’re not totally jumping at the bit to let Jason take back over all his previous jobs. I mean, I’m pretty happy with Nathan managing the packing shed. And don’t even think about changing out harvest schedule! There just might be a bit of grinding of gears as we ease him back into the farm workload, but we’re glad to have him back and we’ll be back to oozing before too long.