Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
I was just reading an old blog entry from this time of year which spoke of too much office time resulting in us being way ahead of schedule with taxes, season planning and seed orders, office cleaning and organizing, etc. I cannot fathom how that happened. We have been scrambling all fall and winter long to keep our heads above the “to-do” list water.
We’ve been traveling around cramming our brains full of technical information (not to mention cramming others’ brains full of information with our enhanced teaching schedule this year), attending hours and hours of meetings, and generally ignoring our own “to-do” list. Today was a long awaited catch up day in the office (thank you cold miserable weather!), but I’m sacrificing some greenhouse seeding time in here avoiding the cold wet outside in order to push around my giant pile of papers. But finally, my desk is clean (ish) and I can once again turn my focus toward the actual growing of things.
Part of the reason we’re so behind in our natural flow of winter work is because we have attended two farm conferences this year on near opposite ends of the country: one in cold New York and one in balmy Mobile, Alabama. Conferences are about learning, networking, and inspiration. We come back jazzed about new things to implement on our farm this season.
Jason washing radishes on a cold November day
When I was in college, I went over to some friends’ house after class one evening, but the door was locked and they were deep into very loud band practice. Just that day in my astronomy class, I learned the only thing I still remember from astronomy class: that shooting stars are actually extremely common. And that if you stare at the night sky for any few minutes, you’re very likely to see one.
So I lay in the hammock on the porch and stared up at the night sky. Of course, I witnessed the biggest, brightest shooting star I’ve ever seen.
Until tonight. When I stepped outside to go get the laundry in the bathhouse and remembered that lesson from all those years ago. I just stopped for a moment to stare up at the night sky for a spectacular reward. Just before I headed back into the fire and warmth of our little cozy house.
Smoking chiles, drying chiles with prosecco on the porch beneath this color show
Sunday oozed by in a colorful haze. We were celebrating our 11th anniversary with a little last minute food preservation. The last chance chilies to be exact. We frivoled away the day smoking, pickling and drying chiles, drinking prosecco on the porch, just absorbing the 75 degree autumn day. Beneath the cerulean sky, the October leaves were putting on a brilliant show.
It was a nice segue. A good introduction into the last week of our regular bustling season. The last week of the discipline of having an employee. The last week of wicked long Wednesdays and way too early Saturdays. We find ourselves turning toward scheduling winter travel and registering for conferences, and planning workshops.
Nailed it, don't you think? (That jacket is my high school softball warm up jacket!)
I have trouble retiring clothes. I still wear things that are nearly dysfunctional as clothes. You think I’m kidding, but I still have a pair of shorts that I had my freshman year of high school. Last year was my 20th high school reunion.
I served in Americorps in 1999 and the sweatshirt they gave me is beginning to feel the effects of all those years. But I still wear it. My friend Tom visited me in San Diego during those same years and gave me a shirt of his that I had complimented. Evidently, I really liked it because it came with me to Madagascar for my Peace Corps service. I had it repaired once there and it made the trip back with me! I returned from Peace Corps service in 2002. I still pick okra in that shirt.
My “city” overalls—you know, the one’s that constitute dressing up—have holes in multiple places and my warm “city” shirt doesn’t have any elbows. I like to call it my “ragamuffin fashion”.
I’ve always been somewhat immune to fashion sense. But I have noticed fashions returning for another go around twenty-five to thirty years later. I guess I figured that if you just held onto clothes that long, they would come back in fashion eventually. Of course, it doesn’t count if you wear them continuously for those thirty years!
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.