Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
We don’t make much money. Not of the tangible paper green stuff, anyway. It’s not a secret, but also not a big deal or a “topic of discussion” or an “actionable item”. It’s just the way it is. And we continue to choose to do this. “Why?” you ask. “The fruits of our labor,” I answer.
I call it the “fringe benefits of farming”. This is how we think about organic growing. It’s a whole system approach with many little parts. We manage the farm as a whole living, breathing thing, rather than looking narrowly at each crop. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we look at each crop, but we also look at each crop within the context of the whole farm organism. For example, we are extremely interested in the health of Tumbling Shoals Creek (which runs through the middle of the farm) because it actually affects the health of our farm organism. We did some creek restoration and planted 700 or so native wetland plants in the riparian zone. Did this directly affect the kale crop? Well, not in so many words, but the native flowering plants created an attractive habitat and food for the native trichogramma wasp which, in an act of reproduction, parasitizes the caterpillars that feed on our kale. This is what I mean when I answer the question “what is organic?” with “it’s a whole system approach”.
We think about our lives within this same context. We are running a business that requires both our physical body and our minds (so we should never get dementia right?). We are managing all aspects of the farm from planting and harvesting beans to counting beans (ha! Get it?!). As an integral part of this farm ecosystem, we need to stay healthy. The first step to staying healthy is eating well. And boy, do we eat well. Most evenings, while I sit tap-tapping away at the computer in some form or another of business management, Jason is preparing a wonderful meal from ingredients we grew on our farm, or that our friends and neighbors grew. It was Virginia Woolf who said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Check.
Another step to health is physical exercise, of which, there is plenty to engage in on the farm. It is, after all, a physical labor sort of job. So, check. Mental health is another aspect of the whole human organism. If you’ve been reading this a lot this year, you may have noticed a focus on “seizing the moment”. We’ve been working on letting some things go, or at least letting them wait, while we seize an opportunity to relax or play. It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but we’re improving every day. So, check (kind of).
So this is why we continue to choose to do this, despite the tiny margins and tiny bank account. This is what I mean by the fruits of our labor, or the fringe benefits of farming. Quite literally the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor, but also the physical and mental well-being that comes with breathing clean air, staying physically active, connecting with the earth, and being present in the world.
Pasture party at Creeksong farm in Ashe County (on Sunday--we still worked on Monday)
Labor day is a day “set aside” to recognize the social and economic achievements of American workers. The irony is never lost on me that most farmers I know work on labor day. That farmers, borne of a fierce independence and social isolation, are not considered part of any great labor “force.” Farmers, who have mostly existed in the lower socio-economic factions of our society, shy away from any recognition of their place as the backbone of said society.
We just plow forward, coaxing life from the land and distributing it among our fellow citizens. We just do what needs to be done. Humble. Quiet. Steady. Content to work “behind the scenes.” We labor in constant companionship with the land. And yes, it’s a labor of love. A love like a long marriage: one that runs deep and true, and whose faded passions meld often into bickering, but whose constituents could never imagine being apart. This is who we are. This is what we do. They are the same.
Kyle thinks we might need bigger buckets!
We slept with open windows last night. I don a long sleeved shirt in the mornings now. I look back at this date in all the years past and witness this same shift. It’s a slight shift in perception—one where we can suddenly ignore the knee high weeds and other failures of this season and settle in for the final stretch. When we gain a sudden purchase where we were once flailing around in despair. Where it’s simply too late to correct this year’s mistakes.
There’s a strange comfort in this: "too late to correct this year's mistakes". This year, extremely short on labor, we’ve been struggling against that reality, scrapping entire fields for lesser ground, sending an s.o.s. to the world for help. But now, we’re just sort of settling in to what is. Living in the moment (I hear it’s all the rage). And the moment happens to bring long sleeved mornings, big fluffy benign clouds, perhaps even a prosecco on the porch in the evenings, and acceptance.
oh. Oh. Oh!!! Like the return of a long gone lover, pepper season has finally arrived. And like the one left behind, I’ve been pining away for it, watching the pepper patch like the phone, waiting for the first ring of color. I could almost taste the crispy sweetness on my tongue. And just when I thought I had been jilted, the brilliant shades of the season shine once again.
Ahhh …August. Most farmers despise August. And really, who can blame them? With the weeds that escaped us a mile high, heat and humidity in dangerous digits, employees quitting, and summer’s bounty on the way out, but not me. Nope. August is jambalaya, gazpacho, salsa, chiles rellenos. August is the candy crunch yielding to my greedy jaws. August is roasted pepper sauce, soup, and sandwiches. August is stuffed peppers, sautéed peppers, pepper pizza. August is a pepper (or two) a day ….well, you get my drift.
This. This is our lives now.
We’re paralyzed by the weather. What at first appeared like the cool kiss of relief has quickly turned vengeful jilted lover. We have a waiting line of plants (that are not that patient) and seeds (that are) hoping for places to spread their roots. We have hoes sharpened and ready to protect the plants we managed to get out before this onslaught. But the sun never comes and the rain never dries and the weeds are winning and we’re in triage mode.
We had a beautiful plan for fall. A best laid plan even. But circumstances shift and we find ourselves on much muddier ground. Time for business meetings and number crunching and a general scramble. We miss Sage and Eli and worry that we put too much on the shoulders of our employees. We call in the reinforcements. I hope they bring rain jackets.
Kelsey and Trey hanging with us in the extreme heat to trellis peppers. Thanks guys!
I’m just going to go ahead and admit it. Last week was a tough week to be a farmer in the southeast. We tried, somewhat in vain, to maintain morale, but heat exhaustion is cumulative and the struggle was real. The heavy air came in from the rain and mercilessly tried to choke us. There was no sympathy from the sun. It ganged up with the humidity and beat us even after we cried “uncle.”
But we arrived here to August, somewhat in one piece, ready to take on the tomatoes. Did you catch that? It’s already August! It’s sort of the pinnacle of our season. It signals…well, something. All it seems to signal these days is more tomatoes to pick. But we’ve been here before. We know August is the top of the slide into more angular sunlight and big blue skies and evenings that make you want to sip prosecco on the porch. August: adjective meaning inspiring reverence or admiration; majestic.
Yes, we have arrived. Not exactly the august arrival to August that we intended—completely on top of things and bursting with energy—but all the same, we have arrived. Exhausted and limping, we still intend to conquer the world.
Soul soothing with the farmily this afternoon
We just got back from the river. It was hot today. And we hustled. We’re down to a skeleton crew on Mondays without Eli or Sage. But the river called us and we seized the moment. Carpe momento? We don’t have entire days to seize, but we’re learning to seize the moment.
Yes, there was work to do. There’s always work to do. This is what I’m just beginning to figure out. I mean, we’re nearly 10 years into this farm and we’re just figuring out how to do it sanely. There will always be work to do. But some work can wait. And a half hour of stretching will make you feel so good! And an hour at the river will be so refreshing. And five minutes to pick that bouquet of flowers. And twenty minutes to juice those reject carrots. And forty five minutes to sip a prosecco on the porch. And fifteen minutes to pet the dog or cat…
This is what keeps farmers sane. Seizing those small moments makes the mountains of work so much more approachable.
Just having a moment of relaxation with Chairman Meow
I feel relaxed. I’m sure I shouldn’t because it’s July, we’re about to be in tomato land while planting fall stuff and we’ve got some major projects coming up that include some planning, and we’re back down to a 6 person farmily, and there’s always the weather to worry about, but I can’t help it: I just feel relaxed.
I think it’s because we didn’t get around to our Sunday field walks that lead us to our weekly plan (because I was busy doing my Monday work so I could give Jason a half day off for his birthday this week). So, since all the week’s tasks aren’t written down there for everyone to see, it’s like they don’t even exist! And it’s so relaxing.
Wow. It’s that easy. Don’t write it down, and it doesn’t have to be done! This, my friends, is a revolution in stress reduction! Can I market this somehow? (Because not doing all the week’s tasks might mean we don’t have veggies to sell). I mean, it’s a world of difference. Usually Monday has us running and working late and here I am at 5 p.m. talking to y’all! I’m having a breakthrough moment here…I think I need to go celebrate. :)
Here we are on our nation’s day of Independence. Because Monday is not a day we can take completely off, we celebrated yesterday by floating lazily down the New River. Emphasis on the lazy. Just floating: eyes to the sky, toes dipping into the water, oozing along like oil. Little droplets occasionally melded together, occasionally drifting apart. Without paddles, nothing to do but live in the moment of the river.
I am tempted to find a life lesson in such an experiment. Living life without a paddle? But the truth is, I like research and information and plans and lists and all the paddle-esque things that guide us through our everyday lives and careers. I like being on top of things. It’s just that, every now and then, it’s nice to take a day to simply ooze. To let go of any need for control and trust the river to get you there in its own good time.
ALL HUMANS ARE OKAY! But Vanny DeVito met his demise in Tumbling Shoals Creek this past week
We’ve decided to thrive in challenging situations. Yep. It’s on our list. Want to know what’s no longer on our list? Getting a spare wheel and tire for Harrison Ford (the Hickory market van, who has never had a spare tire since we’ve owned him). But I happened to notice while Vanny DeVito was upside down in the creek that he has a really nice spare tire, now available. Boom! Check it off the list!
See how easy that was? Just total one van a get the part you need for the other. Easy as pie.
But seriously. We learned something from Vanny DeVito, who got dragged back out of the creek and set back on his feet, started back up and limped back to the farm by his own engine. I mean, farming is a lot like this accident. Inevitably, there are setbacks, but being a farmer is about taking those setbacks and making the best of them (free spare tire! A thing checked off the list!), and perhaps learning a thing or two along the way.
Farming takes tenacity. It takes grit. Sometimes, it takes sheer will to thrive under formidable conditions.