Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Pickled peppadews and cherry bombs and dried aji dulce chiles
We’re nesting. Not because I’m pregnant or anything. Just because the weather is changing and we’re ready to hunker down in the warmth of the house. So we’ve been “autumn cleaning” so to speak, and preserving food, and sort of gliding through the days. We did our best to play Saturday evening after market so we could have all day Sunday to plug along through our domestic to-do list. It’s as perpetual as our farm to-do list. All our Saturday evening energy level could handle was a nap and a movie, but hey, it couldn’t be construed as “work” so it counts as play.
Our house smells of aji dulces drying in the dehydrator, and of pickled peppadews, and of cleaning products. Of a cold, rainy Sunday that kept us indoors. Soon we’ll add wood smoke to its scents, and roasting sweet potatoes, and simmering soups and fresh baked bread. The odors change along with the leaves and full on into autumn now. And the nesting instinct (hibernation?) is taking over.
Hmmm...I wonder why our bodies are so tired.
A word that gets thrown around a lot in our agricultural community is “sustainability.” We consider ourselves practitioners of “sustainable agriculture.” A system of agriculture that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse. An overarching question that floats around the perimeter of this discussion is “is is sustainable for the farmer?”
Why, pray tell, have I been pondering this so much this week? You ask. Well, because it’s the season of reflection, my friends! And yesterday, I found myself, once again, embedded in a think tank of farmers at yet another farmer party (see, I told you fall and food gets us farmers off from our farms). And boy, do we love to talk shop. This time though, I noticed our conversations hovering around our aching bodies and our exhausted minds (and this group involved folks under thirty I might add so that you don’t think it was a bunch of grumpy old farmers) and how to alleviate some of that “heaviness”.
It occurred to me that sustainability is a social construct. That anything is sustainable, I suppose. That I could continue running myself ragged in this crazy work cycle. That I could even do this indefinitely (though likely less and less well, I’ll admit). But what it comes down to is that I don’t want to! I want to work a few less evenings, a few less days, heck, even a few less months if we’re talking plain old desire.
And so we, in this season of reflection, plan ways to move toward a more sustainable future. And as we age, our idea of “sustainable” shifts from expansion to reduction.
Season of deconstruction and reflection (disassembling the tomato umbrella)
How to get farmers to turn up at your party:
1. Have your party in late September or in October (still not on a Friday though, we do still have market in the early Saturday a.m.)
2. Free food
Last night we attended a farm dinner in Watauga County at our farmer-friends’ farm. I was impressed with the turn out. Now, we weren’t all farmers, but there sure were a lot of us. Our presence alone reflected a similar mindset, confirmed by our conversations. We’re all tired. We crave just the sort of distraction an autumn party promises. Good food, flowing wine, fine friends and yes, a little bit of mutual relief as we all can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Don’t get me wrong, we all adore our career choice. But also, it’s quite seasonal-intensive. We’ve all been chained to our respective farms, heads down, blinders up for many months. It is only now, forced by Mother Nature to collectively slow down a bit, that we raise our weary heads and smile grandly at another season under our belts.
Gathering at precisely this time, is both celebratory and productive. Celebratory because, well, friends, food and wine; productive because we gather while our season reflections are fresh in our minds and we can compare notes and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes.
Jason and Nathan hand weeding chard until a big sky
It’s 8:00p.m. and we’re stumbling out of the fields in a fit of irony singing “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere!” Or at least we were for most of the season. These days, five o’clock comes and my feet stubbornly go on strike. Sunday afternoons have become disjointed distractions of food preservation that embody that “light at the end of the tunnel” hope, but also conveniently keep us in the house and out of the fields.
The last few weeks of the luxury of two employees upon us, we steal these little subtle moments-just here and there to tidy the house, weed the landscaping, or cook a complex meal. We brand this onset of laziness “cumulative exhaustion.” Like we’re just making up for those earlier long days. It’s probably a euphemism, or perhaps a rationalization, but either way, we’ve arrived at the seventh inning stretch before we head into the closer.
Digging sweet potatoes is hard!
The thing about coming back from mini-vacation is that we miss it already. The weather is gray but I can no longer sleep all day. But I do sort of sleep all day. It’s this time of year that we begin to understand the meaning of “plugging along”. Because that’s what we do. We go through routines and try to remember all the changes we’re planning to make next year, hoping we don’t mess up the rest of this season. Weeds grow at an alarming rate (mental note for next year: fall mulch is key!) and the farmily starts to disperse. September is such a time of change. And reflection. We are planting cover crops which means we need to review our rotation and make changes now in order to plant the appropriate one.
But thinking is so hard this time of year too. We’re worn down by two seasons of scrambling and problem-solving already. So some days like today feel like we never woke up. Thick clouds muddle our vision and it feels like some sort buoyant dream. Indeed, with the sky so close, we float through the day. Just plugging along.
Shiloh and Kyle hauling in around 400 pounds of peppers!
Well didn’t that September just make a grand entrance. As if it were late, it came skidding in on two wheels, spraying gravel everywhere and nearly killing us all. Or at least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point crawling around in the peppers. I have attempted to not complain (at least too much) about the weather this year, considering all the craziness in last year’s weather, but something about the fact that it was also Labor Day goaded me a bit.
Nathan’s family stopped by this afternoon and I feared they might be acting on some legal orders from the humane society or something and we were going to be in trouble for making him work on Labor Day. I promise, though, he volunteered to work (and I never asked him if he regretted it given the heat index—some things are better left unknown).
The thing about running farm is that the crops have no idea it’s a national holiday! Nor do they seem to care. They (and the weeds) just keep on growing despite our attempts to reason with them over a 5-day work week. So we grit our teeth, put on hats, and welcomed September to our season with forgiveness for its crazy entrance. After all, it is September. It will be pleasant soon. And before we know it, we’ll have arrived at a season where we can actually celebrate holidays like normal people.
Vast cerulean sky swallowing okra
Knowing a pile of office work awaited me, Jason interpreted my working late in the field as judgment of his prioritization of different things when assigning tasks to the crew. But really, despite having a penchant for paperwork, today was just too enjoyable to sit in an office. Really, I was just having too much fun.
It’s beneficial to have days like today. Especially Mondays like today. Days when the sky swallows the horizon with its cerulean vastness and the thermometer reads “perfect” and gentle breezes brush against us like tender lovers. It’s beneficial to have days like today to remind us of why we love what we do.
It just was not one of those days where office work is the better reminder of that love (and there are those days). So yeah, my pile of office work still looms large, but I’m ending the day basking in adoration of a farm that, on some August days in hotter years, can sometimes feel more like drudgery.
I call this wanton weather. Not to be confused with wonton weather, although a nice dumpling soup does sort of hit the spot during weather like this, doesn’t it. Wanton weather makes me think about the weather. I know I’m a farmer and I’m supposed to be thinking about the weather, but this weather makes me really think. Like worry and fret kind of think.
We watch helplessly as disease rushes through crops in this ideal environment. We roll our eyes as trellises that we so painstakingly built topple over in the soggy ground. We nearly fall over while our feet are stuck in the mud. We find all the leaks in our rubber boots as we truck through standing water. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait for heat loving summer crops to ripen.
No, this is not the kind of weather that makes me love being a farmer. It’s the kind of weather that makes me wish I were a cat. I mean, look at them, all nonchalantly stretched out in their favorite sofa. All “no thanks, don’t think I’ll go out today. I’ll just sit around here in this warm and dry sofa until my soggy human comes to feed and pet me.”
Shiloh's parents working on the farm: Sandi (left) harvesting hard squash with the crew and Dean (right) weedeating.
To all of those who shamed me for calling myself old: I tried to take that to heart. If I'm not really that old, then I'm not really too tired to hang out with my friends on Saturday. How about a PBR on the porch then!
Well okay, but that quickly morphed into Shiloh asleep in a chair on the porch with a PBR perched precariously on her chest. Luckily, my friend David doesn't do that whole compromising picture for social media thing, because I believe I was quite the picture of old(ish). Ha! Old indeed!
Speaking of people who shamed me--my parents are visiting this week and are working their butts off (just to prove I'm not old, I think). So I'm keeping my rambling short.
The farmily harvesting cockscomb
I have a stopwatch function on my old dumb phone. I got to timing myself the other day assembling tomato boxes. It took me an average of 40 seconds. My record was 34 seconds. In a business like ours operating on such a thin fragile margin, those seconds end up mattering. We even follow a certain route to town because it’s 1 minute faster than another. Those minutes add up over a lifetime on the farm!
This stopwatch phenomenon is really a habit of Jason’s that I recently adopted. He spends a lot of time thinking about the best and most efficient way to go about things. Up until recently, I’ve just been amazed that we figured out how to do something at all that I’ve been complacent with how we do it. I’ve just really figured out the method to his madness. First, you have to figure out how to do it; then you have to figure out how best to do it. It’s part of becoming a better farmer.
Turns out, I’m a faster farmer when I’ve got that stopwatch thing going.