Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
This beautiful cover crop is part of tending to delicate ecological relationships
I listen to a lot of NPR podcasts. Yes, I am that person the pledge drives are targeting who begins many of their sentences with “I heard on NPR….”. The fact that I know that I am the target for pledge drives is just one indication of my NPR habits (because clearly I have listened to the pledge drives!). I once even made it in the annual report of WFDD-the Winston-Salem NPR station. It’s an addiction, but I can think of worse things to be addicted to I suppose.
Anyway, one of my favorites is the TED Radio Hour. The other day, while seeding radishes, I listened to a TED Radio Hour interview with the chef at Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barn Dan Barber. He was speaking from a chef’s point of view about the flavor of ingredients. He said, “delicious food never comes from careless farmers….but farmers who care about delicate ecological relationships.”
Now, the word “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot these days. But it’s a concept that we have always strived for. We always considered these “delicate ecological relationships” to part of the environmental responsibility aspect of sustainability. But what I realized from listening to Dan Barber toot our horn, so to speak, is that tending to those relationships as environmental responsibility circles right around and benefits us back in terms of quality and flavor of the food we produce. Cool!
I mean, the management of an organic farm includes thinking of the farm as a whole ecological system so it’s always there in the back of our minds, but hearing a famous chef appreciate it created a whole new level of proud for me. I have to say, though, that it did nothing to dissuade my addiction to NPR.
Jason and Eli kicking off our mad planting week (catching up!)
We do all our thinking in December. Seriously. We analyze the past season, look at any notes we might have made during that season, and plan our entire next growing season. The crop mix, how much to grow of what, when to plant it, etc. December is the “thinking season.”
We have arrived, then, at the “trust season.” Now is when we must blindly trust our December selves and carry out the plan. Frequently, we pause and look at each other and say, “Really? This was part of the plan? We’re really growing Fava beans again?” But we have to assume our sanity was intact in December and each part of the plan is well thought out. We must edge ourselves toward becoming implementation robots and move like pieces of an intricate machine.
I listen to podcasts when I am seeding in the greenhouse. Today, I listened to the “Farmer to Farmer” podcast, which is, well, a farmer interviewing other farmers. Today, I listened to an interview of a farm couple in Oregon that took place last November and man, were they happy and bursting with energy! They told of just finishing an extraordinarily hot and tough season and they were headed into their winter production season with excitement. Insert double take.
By November, we are worn out and the mere thought of spring is enough to send us back to bed. But luckily, we don’t have a “winter production season”. We take the time in December and January to live lives off the farm: to recreate, recuperate, and to forget the long hours and hard work we put in the previous season. This, so we come to the spring with enthusiasm, energy and inspiration.
That’s where we are now. I know it’s not officially spring yet, but here we are, reinvigorated, inspired and chomping at the bit to get back out there. But as usual, our greenhouse is bursting at the seams with little babies ready to be planted in the field, as we wait on the weather to break.
And break it did today! You almost can’t tell that we were snowed/iced in on Monday and this morning. With temperatures in the sixties predicted, we’re moving plants outside to the coldframe and scheduling some tillage and field planting by the end of the week. It won’t be long now and we’ll be back in the full time farming world (and our pickleball games will begin to suffer).
I still adore this picture of Sam holding a harvest share from June 2010-we still grow all those things and a June share might look just like that!
Greetings and happy new year!
An interesting thing happened this winter during our trip to Peru. Jason experienced a bout of altitude sickness. But that’s not really the interesting part. The interesting part was that when the doctors treated him and were passing along the various prescription to continue treatment while we traveled, they also gave us nutritional advice. Lists of food “dos” and “don’ts”, so to speak.
Not that we seek medical attention very frequently here in the states, but this is not something we’ve ever experienced here. You present the symptoms, perhaps get a test, receive a diagnosis and a prescription to treat said diagnosis and you’re out of there.
I know this is different for gastro-intestinal diagnoses, but altitude sickness is not as obviously directly related to diet unlike those diagnoses. And I’ve heard rumblings of change on this front happening here in the U.S. Still, it was quite a unique experience for us. And a positive one. After all, it was Hippocrates who said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, wasn’t it?
We took the day off today. Even though our annual semi-retirement begins next week, we had to jump the gun. So instead of work, we temporarily turned into my (fully retired) parents. We started the day with a three hour pickleball session, then grabbed some lunch and meandered around thrift stores for a bit. The only difference was that I was shopping for a Halloween costume, while my parents shop for games and clothes for the grandkids. Well, that and my parents are much better at pickleball than me.
I guess you could say we are a little eager for this annual transition from farmer to semi-retired normal folks. At lunch, we sat around planning our semi-retirement activities. Which days are pickleball days? Should we join the Y or the more local gym? When can I start going to yoga? Don’t forget to re-start our Netflix account. You know…”normal”.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Deconstruction has begun
Today is the perfect day. After so much rain and gloom, nature has decided to bless us with today. Which is how far out we’re living these days. We’re at the point in our seasonal journey where long projections simply exhaust us and we run into the “I just don’t want to” phenomena. There’s just today. It’s amazing how close Zen and exhaustion really are. Want to live in the moment? Be a farmer in October.
There are still “to do” lists, of course, but we glance at them with a wary eye and find it easier and easier to put forth the procrastination effort. There are very few crises these days. With most of the summer crops gone, their fields turned and cover crops sown, we turn our heads toward winter rest and restoration. Toward the return of a slow daily cycle. We await the inevitable frost with a hands-folded, quiet, monk-like acceptance. We embrace it like a long absent lover.
A lovely farm party on what turned out to be a lovely evening
We're feeling nearly as soggy as this pokeberry plant
It was the first game of the season. The stakes were high. After “deflate-gate”, the animosity toward the Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady was at a record high. In fact, Tom Brady nearly unites Jason (a Steelers fan) and Kyle (a Packers fan) in their “common enemy”. And the Steelers were up against the Patriots in a Thursday evening game.
We don’t have a television, so Jason was headed into town to watch the game when he stopped for gas. This guy approached him with a story. There are plenty of stories out there. This guy’s story was this: he had bussed into town from Winston-Salem to go to court to pay his speeding ticket. It was an expensive ticket, and it was all he could do to gather up the money to do this, but if he didn’t, he’d lose his license. But to his surprise, the court tacked on “court costs” to his amount due, which took all of the money he had. Now, he was stuck in Wilkesboro with no money and no transportation. He needed $17 for a bus ticket back to Winston-Salem.
Elaborate story aside, many of our knee-jerk reactions are distrust and disbelief. And Jason fell immediately into that pattern. But his last $20 began to burn in his pocket (and he knew I’d buy him a beer), and he started to think about karma and good deeds and all that. And he thought, “if I don’t give this guy this $20 and the Steelers lose, I’m going to blame myself. I’m going to think that the loss is punishment for my greed.” So he turned back and gave the guy $20.
He was lauded, much appreciated, called an “angel” and all that. And I did buy him a beer. But at least he couldn’t blame himself for the eventual Steelers loss.
We went to pick up cider from McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks for our (shameless plug) chamber of commerce business after hours event this Thursday (on the farm from 5:30p.m. to 7:30p.m.). While there, we tasted the current slate of wines, and chatted with Hannah about the seasonality of wines.
You see, I’ve always thought of seasonality as happening within a given year. There’s greens season and squash season and tomato season and pepper season, etc. But Patricia McRitchie had just pulled out a few cases of a 2011 wine of theirs which had us reminiscing about the near perfect weather we had that year and what a good year it was for certain grapes. And I realized that we have this kind of seasonality too.
We’ve noticed that this year has been a good year for “winter” squash flavor, and tomatoes. And that the chilies this season are tending toward the hotter end of their spectrums. And that this wasn’t the year for eggplant but that one of the varieties of sunflowers grew huge this year. It’s the same longer term seasonality, just not one we can preserve in a bottle for several years down the road.