Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
This is a common semi-retirement activity
I write a lot about the seasonality of things. It’s an important part of our lives as farmers, especially this most recent seasonal change that has descended on us. This is our annual semi-retirement. It’s the season where we pretend to be retired: we re-join the gym, start playing regular pickleball, watch a lot of movies (we don’t have television, but watching movies is a lot like television), go hiking, eat meals at somewhat normal people times, etc.
Just as the bitter cold of winter weighs down upon us like wet wool, annual retirement humbles us. We like to think of ourselves as strong people, carrying the burden of farm work on our backs like mules and persevering. Translated to retirement, we might think we would kick some proverbial butt. Alas, imagination is a delightful deceiver.
The YMCA class, “body pump” (say THAT with a straight face!) was sufficiently humiliating and nullified any image of myself as strong resilient stock. I returned to that class two days ago and I still can’t ascend the stairs without grunting! And so, it is with a heavy dose of humility that we enter again into these cold winter months and our season of semi-retirement.
Jason washing radishes in cold water on a chilly November day
The warm November weather tricks us into thinking we could possibly grow all winter long. Until the cold water in the open-sided packing shed hits those cold fingers and we are reminded of why we give this activity up for the winter. But we came back from the beach raring to go and jumped right back into the ole harvest, wash, and pack routine like we had never left.
Honestly, it wasn't all that bad. The warmer weather helped, and the fact that our get-away wasn't strictly vacation. We spent a day working on our friend's farm that was flooded in Hurricane Matthew, and a couple of days in intense farm business meetings. So we never quit working entirely, and, I guess, this makes it easier to get back to work!
A lot of "lasts" happening now. Last pepper harvest (is that a pepper in your pocket...?)
I had a backwards kind of day. One of the last gorgeous October days and I spent it mostly in the office. When I started seeing double and my body began aching for use I walked away. I walked out into the waxing sun and cloudless day. And breathed in the inspiration. The love of using my body for practical work-the work of coaxing life from the soil. While bills and email and accounting are necessary tasks, they are not the inspiration for this career choice.
Why did I tackle these tasks in the wrong order? Trading the sun for the screen and spending sunset instead working outside on the farm. Today, logic did not prevail. But the dregs of sunshine and movement were enough to push me back to the present and the enjoyment of this job.
This. This is what I've been trying to say for the past few weeks. We've been celebrating ourselves as strong women and recognizing the strong women who came before us and the strong women who will come after. Don't get me wrong, we appreciate the strong men who worked by our sides this season, but today we're celebrating ourselves as strong women.
Farming is an endurance sport. And we are on the home stretch. It feels good. It feels like we've left a mountain of accomplishments in our wake and that we're about to win a medal. Though tired, we feel ourselves at our peak strength. We can feel the final push within ourselves. And we realize that we are allowed to be proud of what we do. Proud of our strength and endurance and ability to just get it done.
What she said, that's what I've been attempting to say.
Not exactly what he meant, but still...professional athletes
Jason asked me this morning what I wanted to do today. The day was beautiful if not a little chilly in the morning. Light breeze, lazy wisps of clouds meander across the sky, the sun low, casting shadows at noon, is warm across my face. What I want to do is lay in the grass and pick shapes out of the clouds. What I want to do is let the sun warm my eyelids and day dream. Let my thoughts wander, look back at the season and all we accomplished here. The relationships we built, the people that we fed. I think it’s the way the light illuminates the world differently this time of year. Or that our bodies are tired so our minds kick in.
I call it the “thinking season.” The time of year that we reflect and use those reflections to plan for the next year: capitalize on our wins and plan to improve our weaknesses. Worn out and tired, Jason and I were discussing the changes in the body over a farming season. He used the analogy of professional athletes’ bodies becoming worn out toward the end of their season and then, “I guess we are professional athletes.” Nearing the end of our season, we drag our worn out bodies through the routine.
Get 'r' done! (women who come from strong stock)
It's my birthday today. And Jason scheduled me my first ever massage (and a day off!) this Thursday. So I'm aiming to get as sore as possible over the next couple of days:) Which, given the nature of our work, tends to be easier than you might think. The way I figure, we've got to come from some strong stock. Right?
Because season by the time my birthday rolls around, I feel as strong as ever. Like I just completed 6 or 7 months of training and I'm ready for the contest and the glory. Of course, there is no contest and the only glory is in getting a day off and a massage. Which, come to think of it, is going to be glorious!
The view from the porch (photo credit: Shanon Wood)
I spent some time porch-sittin’ yesterday with some good friends. Just lethargically shooting the breeze that lightly rustled our hair. Just sitting, watching the sun move the day toward its end—easy like Sunday morning. Laughing. No pressure. Gazing at the bumble bees and soldier beetles get drunk on the nectar of the Burr Marigold.
Despite the title of my memoir that I’m never going to write, “Prosecco on the porch”, I just don’t do enough porch sitting. It’s the kind of thing that gets forgotten in the great rush of the agricultural season. Until now. Now, our bodies creaking from the weight of the season, the cool evenings and low angled sun lighting the hillsides like firelight might just draw us outside for a little prosecco on the porch. Just a little soul soothin’ porch sittin’.
I nearly cried three times on Saturday. It’s not what you think. It was a tearful joy brought to me by some lovely customers. There I was at farmers’ market, doing my usual Saturday thing with my usual lack of sleep, when this couple brought me a gorgeous loaf of freshly baked bread and a jar of homemade jam: a simple gift of appreciation for “feeding” them all season long. I would go about my thing for a while then notice the smell of that bread and get a new wave of tears in my eyes.
I was talking to Jim at Talia Espresso the other day about being small business owners. “It’s all about relationships,” he said to me. This loaf of bread and jar of jam brought that all home to me (enter another wave of joyous tears). It’s true. It is all about relationships.
This is why we do what we do. Whatever I said last week, forget about it. I mean, that’s all true stuff too, all that about the fringe benefits of farming that can overcome the whole minimal income stuff. But really why we do what we do is because of you. It’s because you care about us and what we do and we care about you and what we’re feeding you. It’s a relationship. And a lovely loaf of bread baked with love and caring (and a whole lot of skill, I might add!), and homemade jam reminded me of all this. So thanks. Thanks for caring. Thanks for being a part of our lives.
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.