Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Nathan hauling cabbage from the chaos (the weedier end of a field)
Many people who’ve come out to the farm make the same remark: “I don’t know how you keep on top of it all!” The best response to that is, well, “we don’t.” I mean, we are an incredibly diverse farm, getting more and more diverse every year as we add perennials. We do our very best to manage it all, but the truth is, we lose some things every year. It’s the nature of the beast, so to speak. You might have noticed, for example, a dearth of beets from our farm this year. Case in point. Or you might have noticed we’re not raising hogs this year. I just plum never got around to picking up any piglets! Got too busy, there was no convenient time, and the whole project just got left behind in the wake of managed chaos that our farm is.
Some days, there is great satisfaction in managing said chaos. Today was one of those days. Most of the satisfaction came in the form of mowing. Jason and I went on a mowing frenzy this weekend. For perhaps the first time ever at Tumbling Shoals Farm, mowing and fence weed-eating ARE NOT on the perpetual “to-do” list. At least for the moment. The thing about managing chaos is that it’s a lot like “whack-a-mole.” You cross one thing off from your list as another pops up and while you’re crossing that off from your list, the other things pops back up, and there is no end until winter and cold and my feet up in front of the wood stove. But I don’t let that detract from the satisfaction of getting in a good whack at that mole.
Kyle harvesting sunflowers
I love lists. I do. My nightstand is littered with old lists. There are lists that fall out of the laundry. My pockets are lined with lists. There are at least two lists on the table at all times, not to mention the ubiquitous lists on the dry erase boards in the packing shed. I even take pictures of lists.
But today, the list took on a tyrannical tone that I didn’t much appreciate. It all seemed reasonable this morning. But I swear the list was adding to itself while we weren’t looking. Or maybe it was messing with the time. Because my lunch alarm went off before my hunger alarm while we were still in the middle of a morning task. Then we found ourselves headed to our afternoon task, already well into the afternoon.
Today’s list left us a bit bewildered, but I’ve got my eye on it now. Tsk tsk tsk list, if you ever try to pull one over on us again.
Lizzy and Lacey pounding posts for our pepper trellis
There is this Andy Warhol hipster hang-about in the book I’m reading, The Flamethrowers, who meets a waitress in a diner in Hoboken who is actually a sociologist studying the lifestyle of people in jobs like waiting tables at a diner in Hoboken. It’s like she’s playing the part of a waitress. Like a performance, except for research. In Sociology, we call that a “participant observation.” She says, “I infiltrate to study this world.” The Andy Warhol hipster hang-about is curious and decides to play the part too and gets the job the sociologist leaves when her research is finished, but then she becomes “authentic.” The lifestyle part she is playing infiltrates her.
There have been days when I feel like that is exactly what happened to me. Did you know I have a degree in sociology? Yep. And did you know there is a whole branch of sociology called “rural sociology”? Indeed. There used to be a lot of days when I felt like I was just playing the part of a farmer in order to study the lifestyle, jargon, etc. Or maybe those were the days when I hoped I was just studying this career and lifestyle in order to write a book about it and teach a class in rural sociology.
I sometimes find it hard to answer the common question of “how did you get into farming?” Sort of by accident? I guess I just played the part of being a farmer until the lifestyle infiltrated me and I became “authentic.” The same way I learned French, or became the farm mechanic, just “fake it until you make it”.
Nathan and Kyle planting ginger on a lovely afternoon in June
June. Named after Juno, the Roman goddess of childbirth and fertility. The weeds that escaped our hoes in April and early May have all grown up and are having children of their own now. Usually, June rolls in on a saucy heat wave, announcing her presence like a child demanding your attention, stamping her feet and screaming “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” But Juno must be otherwise distracted at the moment, because June just sort of slid into the raucous party through an already open door and sat down. I hardly even recognized her. Sweatshirts in the mornings and evenings, no desperate Popsicle breaks, even the squash seems to be confused and isn’t growing so fast. A subtle June will have us all complacent and unprepared for that blast of July that is sure to come, but since there’s nothing we can do about that, let’s just enjoy the sweatshirts while we wait.
Lizzy, Kyle and Nathan putting up tomato trellis
I remember in the Peace Corps how we would always be trying to “out-suffer” each other. As if points were awarded to those of us in the most remote, difficult to travel to and from places with the least amenities available. I had cold beer in my town. I never won these one-up (down?) contests. It seems I’m still in the ferry of tortured souls that makes it ashore. Because I keep hearing references to 16-hour days.
I started thinking about it after (what felt like) a particularly long and grueling day. 16 hours really? Said day, I quit working around 7:30 utterly exhausted. I mean I was spent. But I got to thinking about it, and realized that I would have had to keep working until 11:30 p.m. to call it a 16-hour day! I had “only” worked 12!
Jason and I don’t usually punch the clock until 7:30 on our normal non-market work days. We get up at 5:30 but that doesn’t count right? I mean, normal 9 to 5 workers don’t “punch the clock” when they get out of bed. If I don’t want to commit crimes against humanity, I need to get some sleep. The only way for me to work a 16-hour day would be to begin work as soon as I got out of bed at 5:30 and keep working right up until 9:30 (which is already a half hour past my bed time). I’m only awake for 16 hours (hopefully)!
I can only imagine that, with a few weird outliers, most people aren’t working actual 16 hour days. Not that they’re not working a lot, too much, whatever, but (in my humble opinion) 12 hours is enough. If points are, in fact, awarded to the most suffering, 12 hour work days are enough to rack some up. It is definitely not my goal to rack up those points though. In fact, as soon as we make it through all the current “firefighting” over the next few weeks, I plan on losing a lot more of those one-up contests.
The beautiful valley (an old picture, but you get the point)
The whippoorwill, which gets a lot of grief around here (for being a late night partier so to speak), is actually kind of pleasant on a warm (suddenly) summer evening at twilight while azalea perfume dances on the breeze. I’ve made it a point to sit on the porch for five minutes this night. Every night, we’ve been working until past dark. When this sort of situation arises, as it inevitably does during the farm season, one has to make a point of relaxation. Even if it’s just five minutes. It sounds counter-intuitive to force recreation, but sometimes that’s just the trick.
We live and work in this beautiful valley teeming with a diversity of life we can’t even name. When you’re going hard with your head down, you can inadvertently miss the good stuff like the mysterious call of the whippoorwill and the perfume of the azalea at twilight on a warm summery evening.
I know this is a terrible picture (I refused to get off the tractor to take it), but here is a plant blooming in the creek bank!
Do you ever wonder just what “management” means? Me too. I find myself waxing poetic about managing the whole farm system organically, but sometimes management just seems like a buzz word for scrambling around like a desperate herd of prey in the heat of the predator’s chase. For the last couple of years I have vowed to “be more present” as a manager. With 50 different crop types and 170 different varieties of those crops, being “more present” sometimes seems like a buzz word for not sleeping. But sometimes it pays off. Like this year.
I was mowing this past Sunday and I noticed a plant blooming in the creek bank that I’m sure is one of the 170 native wetland plants we planted there a couple of years ago. Perhaps providentially because my neighbor recently informed us that he lost all of his honeybee hives this past winter. So our native pollinators can take over because we’ve been working on providing them habitat and food as part of the whole farm system organic management. Yea!
I’m not saying that if you ask me in the moment what “management” means that I’ll give you a sane answer. But there are times when I get a chance to see more concrete examples of said management. And those times reaffirm my commitment to organic management.
Planting tomatoes and peppers in a couple of days (3360 plants!) requires a lot of stretching in the evenings
I love community colleges. They’re so practical. Or maybe I have a soft spot for education. As if the learning curve on farm as diverse as ours wasn’t steep enough. I have to go and learn stuff at an institution too. Or, at least it seemed like a good idea at the time. “The time” being when the continuing education class catalog arrived in the mail in late December or early January and I was sitting around with my feet up in front of the wood stove ogling seed catalogs. The excitement of discovering a class in just the thing I’m interested in learning is akin to a child’s view of Christmas morning. So I register and bounce on in to my first class in early March before we’ve hit the crisis line on our “to-do” lists.
But that was then. Ask me how I feel about continuing my education about 7:30 last night when I’m caught in a yawning frenzy, sneaking in butt stretches in my chair in the computer lab. Ask me how I feel about extra-agricultural learning when I’m stuffing a packet of Lance artificial flavored cheese food crackers down my gullet on our 10-minute break (and don’t even mention the yoga stretches in the hallway during that same 10-minute break). Or you could ask me today when I applied something I learned last night to our farm management database and solved a problem we’ve been living with for years. Yeah. That would be a better time to ask.
Sometimes work looks a lot like play. Especially from the outside. Today was one of those days. We could be seen traipsing through the puddles with our pick and shovel, creating little rivers of drainage like we were kids with a garden hose. Boy would my mom would get mad! But you know, we were just learning about hydrology in preparation for days like today.
With nearly three inches of rain under our belts, and water attempting to break the dams of our freshly tilled beds (ready for planting tomatoes and peppers!), playing in the mud became a necessity. All we need were those little green army men and some paper boats and we could have had a complete story.
Jason tilling in a failed carrot crop
In an effort (perhaps a misguided one) to create consistency, we eliminated direct seeding from tasks that employees other than ourselves do. These are crops that don’t do well transplanted or would consume too much greenhouse space. Things like salad mix, arugula, radishes, beets and carrots. We just figured that if we did it the same way every time, we would get the same results As it turns out though, we figured wrongly. Consistency isn’t always consistent. This became clear this past weekend as we attacked our “to-do” list and had to “rock, paper, scissors” the direct seeding task. And it was the loser who had to do the direct seeding. Somehow, it is easier to blame the cosmic forces when the other’s hand held the seeder. In this light, then, perhaps we should return direct seeding to the employee task list? Isn’t part of their job description to do the jobs that neither of us wish to do?