Waxing Poetic (farm blog)

Welcome to Shiloh's world!
Posted 7/8/2013 6:27pm by Shiloh Avery.
watermelons under water the pepper pond the overflowing creek
the creek overflowing great 2013 flood-pepper field the flooded grass buffer

 

I heard snippets of an interesting TED talk on Saturday. It was by musician Amanda Palmer, of whom I’d never heard, and whose music was not for me, but I found myself in a teary-eyed inspiration all the same.  In a gist: Amanda puts her music out there for “free”, then asks her fans, etc. to support her in her artistic endeavors via kickstarter or other internet mediums.  It wasn’t so much that which made my eyes blurry, but what she said about putting her faith in people.  About asking people to support her and trusting them to do so.  She calls it the “art of asking.”  I realized that we too, as farmers, put a lot of faith in you.  We ask you to show up on Wednesdays and Saturdays to purchase the fruits of our labor, we ask you to purchase those fruits in advance in the form of the harvest shares, and we ask you to put your faith in us to do our very best to bring you the best cleanest, healthiest fruits and veggies possible.  As humans, slogging through this world together, we ask these things of each other.

We’ve had a tough season.  We’ve been hit with hail, floods, a late frost, a tomato disease that thwarted all our extreme efforts to keep tomato diseases at bay, and just yesterday, the worst flooding this valley has ever seen (with potential for more rain yet in the forecast).  Yet today is a day of hope.  The sun is shining for the first time in two weeks, the clouds are white, fluffy and unthreatening, and I’m thinking of you and all your outpouring of care and concern when you heard about our late blight disaster.  And so here we are again, putting our faith in you to support us through this difficult season.  Here we are, asking you to eat fewer tomatoes this year, to put your faith in us to grow lots of other beautiful and tasty veggies for you to enjoy, and to come back next year when we, once again, have the most beautiful and delicious organic tomatoes for you (as well as all the other delicious veggies!).  And we thank you for your loyal support.

Posted 7/1/2013 6:59pm by Shiloh Avery.


late blight in tomatoes
Yesterday they were fine, today they're half dead

 

To think we could grow things out of season.  To think we could grow desert plants in the wet, humid southeast.  To think we could grow anything! This is the arrogance of man.  We thought we were finally set up.  With the “little” hoop house, we could plant super early and have tomatoes in early June, and with the big tomato umbrella, we could have them right up until frost, or close at least.  We ran from the weather, but we could not hide.  For late blight, never before seen on this farm, blows in with the wind, and devastates overnight.  Imagine us last week, with our hands about our faces like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, as the horror descended upon us.  Our minds filled with the innate injustice of farming: “How could it be?”, “Why us?”, “What did we do wrong?”  The answer, my friends, just blew in on the wind: the arrogance of man.  We cannot control everything we mean to control.  Sometimes, nature happens to be cruel.

Posted 6/24/2013 8:40pm by Shiloh Avery.


"super moon"

The not so super moon (that never actually showed up on Sunday for its party here)

We get a lot of cooking magazines around here. When you live on a vegetable farm, you’re always looking for new recipes.  No one ever told me I shouldn’t look at these magazines when I’m hungry though, so I did just that this past weekend.  I mean, it’s not like grocery shopping!  Seems harmless, but as a result, I planned enough meals using the farm’s veggies for what seems like several weeks (breakfast, lunch and dinner).  Luckily, my folks showed up tonight just in time to help us eat all those meals I’d planned!  And our insurance agent told me that if we didn’t stop posting pictures of what we eat around here, he was going to come over for supper too.  Bon Appetit!

Posted 6/17/2013 3:12pm by Shiloh Avery.

lo mein

mixed veggie lo mein

kale chips

kale chips

 

Two things happened today that heightened my own appreciation for what we do here.  First, I uploaded pictures from my camera to find only pictures of food we had prepared from farm ingredients, and second, I received a call for a wrong number.  The woman on the other end of the line was disappointed to not find Marjorie on the other end of the line and then asked if anyone in our household had diabetes.  I admit that I giggled a little bit, and replied that we were an organic vegetable farm as if that were enough answer in itself.  But afterward, I thought that maybe it is.  “I don’t do this for my health” is usually an apt statement when applied to one’s work.  But in our case, perhaps it is done for our health.  At least partly.  I often get asked about the particular nutritional content of one vegetable or another and I have to admit ignorance.  It’s a luxury, perhaps, to never really need to worry about those little particulars, which we don’t because we assume we’re doing okay just eating all the stuff that comes from the farm.  In the absence of work benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave or vacation time, food from the farm becomes a hugely important benefit.

Posted 6/10/2013 4:57pm by Shiloh Avery.

Nathan harvesting in the rain

Nathan harvesting lettuc in the rain

Mitch in the rain

Mitch in the rain

 

A month or so ago this season started to look a little too reminiscent of the 2009 year of the flood (what was the Chinese zodiac sign that year?  The water buffalo?).  Tired of wet feet, Nathan decided to go get himself a pair of rubber boots.  Always the gambler, Jason promised to buy those boots for Nathan if, after he bought them, the season dried up.  Sometimes with superstition, a farmer feels like it just can’t hurt to err on the superstitious side.  And for a week or so, it looked like it was going to pay off.  But here lately, well….it looks more like the investment in boots is going to pay off for Nathan’s feet.  Really, if you’ve been praying for rain, stop it!  We are floating around the farm here.  The mud is getting so deep that Nathan’s actually likely to lose those new boots in it.  Alas, what can a farmer do about the weather except bet on rain boots.

Posted 6/3/2013 6:01pm by Shiloh Avery.

Jason mowing with swallows

Swallow belly with Jason mowing in background

swallow skimming freshly mowed field

I did my best with the camera I had on hand (just a point and shoot) to capture the moment

 

Mitch asked me today how many hours Jason and I work a week.  As a rule, I’ve never added up said hours for the risk of it being depressing.  But today, curiosity got the best of me and I relented.  Although the answer varies throughout the season and depends on the weather, the general answer right now is about 75.  That answer surprised me a little bit.  It seems like a lot.  Perhaps it is a lot.  It wasn’t until later that evening as I was packing the last few items into the cooler for an order tomorrow while Jason was mowing that I realized the gist of my surprise.  There’s a lot of joy incorporated into those 75 hours, which help to minimize in our minds how hard we work.  Evidence of this joy gets presented to anyone lucky enough to get around to tractor work in the late afternoon or early evening.  The swallows have trained themselves to the tractor and show up to feast on all the insects you disturb in your work, which is evidently quite a few as lots of swallows show up.  It’s quite a sight to behold and never fails to bring an awed smile to my face.  I mean, what if we could eat that way?  Just fly around with our mouths open and gobble up anything that happened to get in our way.  Formidable!  (Just think how much more work we could get done!) Even just observing it happen brings infinite joy into our long days.

Posted 5/27/2013 6:21pm by Shiloh Avery.
blooming blackberries blooming blackberries

 

Since we didn’t actually frost last Saturday morning (despite spending six more hours preparing for it!), I find that I can look up and enjoy this positively lovely weather we’ve been having.  Really, it’s perfect.  Finally not raining (I did actually knock on wood after I typed that!), sunshine without excess heat and humidity, breezy…I mean really!  It’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow following such a supremely challenging spring.  And we’re still here to enjoy it!!!  We are so busy this time of year that we can tend to plow through the days with our heads down, barely noticing the natural marvels around us.  But Mother Nature has her way of pushing up on your chin to force you to look at her.  This season, she does it with scent.  Tucked into every nook and cranny of the farm is a heavily scented blooming plant.  On one end, there’s the hillside of blackberries in full intoxicating bloom; at the creek the air is tickled with honeysuckle perfume; and along the driveway, odiferous multiflora rose meanders on the breezes.  It gives me an inkling to linger….

Posted 5/20/2013 6:37pm by Shiloh Avery.

 

cleaning up frost blankets

Gretchen and Shannon folding up frost blankets

Nathan planting peppers

Nathan planting one of 2880 peppers

Shannon mulching

Shannon mulching before planting a thousand winter squash

 

I finally did it.  The boxes have been sitting there for a month—in limbo.  But I’m calling it.  Cold is over.  Well, at least cold that calls for frost blankets and long johns.  Today, I busted out the shorts, put away the wool sweaters and removed all evidence of frost protection from the fields.  Now, it’s time to play catch up.  Time to tackle that ever enlarging to-do list.  It’s amazing how much time we spent this year just putting out and removing frost blankets and all the related equipment.  I wish now I had added it up so I’d have a ready-made justification for how behind we are.  But after last Tuesday’s 28 degrees, we’re putting all that behind us.  We’ve brought in the reinforcements and kicked it into high gear to make up for the loss.  Last week, we just about cleaned out the greenhouse that was backed up and overflowing.  I think big jobs should get two spots on the list.  Last Wednesday, we planted 2880 pepper plants but only got to cross that one job off from the list.  It hardly seems fair to have busted our butts all day long and only get to cross off one thing.  It’s not near enough reward for all that work.  So even though it makes the list look yet even longer, I’m writing this week’s big jobs on there twice so we can have twice the satisfaction in crossing them off. Now if only it stops raining long enough…

Posted 5/13/2013 5:33pm by Shiloh Avery.

drowning spinach

floods

tomatoes under frost blanket tent

late frost (tomatoes under frost blanket tent)

list

the enlarging to-do list

 

We do our best to control whatever we can here.  Don’t we all?  Unpredictable spring cold snaps?  We erected some hoop houses (unheated greenhouses) to protect the crops, and bought frost blankets for the crops left out in the field.  Too much rain on sensitive crops?  We built “umbrellas” to fool them into thinking it was California.  Well California it is not.  And this year, Mother Nature is doing her best to thwart our attempts to control her whims.  For the crops that can no longer be rained on, she sent floods to sneak in beneath the umbrellas.  A little hail for the crops that have been thriving in this wet and cool weather.  And how about a late heavy frost to challenge even our most valiant efforts to protect the sensitive babies?  So we scramble and delay and do our best to breathe life into the farm.  Each weather challenge adds a whole new set of tasks to our perpetual “to-do” list, and each delay makes the list even longer.  We spend each waking moment, and more than plenty of our sleeping (or should be sleeping) moments changing plans and solving problems, doing our best to “out-think” nature.  We’ve had to put much of our other “thinking” life on auto-pilot for the moment.  Just yesterday I opened the cabinet to obtain an aspirin for a burgeoning headache, but I was thinking about frost protection for baby tomatoes.  Auto-pilot dictated that when I open the cabinet, I get out a toothbrush and toothpaste and brush my teeth.  Thus, I found my teeth sparkling clean for the second time that morning.  After all, good dental hygiene is important.

 

Posted 5/6/2013 5:09pm by Shiloh Avery.
Sandy planting potatoes Jason and Lee building a cabin

Shiloh's mom Sandy planting potatoes and Jason' dad Lee building the cabin

I spoke with a reporter the other day was doing an article on our mentor farmers, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm.  (Here's the actual article: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/04/30/2858861/one-farm-grows-many-farmers.html)  I found myself comparing them to parents.  In a sense, they “raised” us as farmers.  This got me thinking about parents, and how they’re never really done “raising” their children.  Both of our parents have helped immensely with the start-up of our farm and continue to do so.  In fact, each time they visit, they work their butts off!  We once tried to take a day off while my folks were visiting and they refused (“No! There’s work to be done!).  Jason’s father “visited” us specifically this spring to help Jason build our third employee cabin.  It’s not just us either (as I’m sure many of you parents can relate).  I delivered to Hatch last week and it was Zach’s mom who greeted me at the door, readying the restaurant for opening. As if we weren’t approaching 40, they still take care of us.  They lend us tools, expertise, labor and money (not to mention love).  It is not any different with our mentor farmers.  10 years after working there, they’re still “raising” us as farmers.  We still call for expert advice and even borrow tools from time to time.  We owe our careers to our parents, both biological and “adopted.”  As I watch the rain out my office window pour incessantly down on our fields, I’d like to take this moment to say “thanks.”

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