Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Signs of spring
Wow, spring. With the cold weather delay, spring is in acceleration mode here at the farm. Everything is happening all at once. The trees are budding out, the early and mid season daffodils are blooming together, the peepers are peeping. And the wind is blowing.
Spring winds are a fact of life here in the Tumbling Shoals Valley, and usually we appreciate their soil-drying effect that helps us be able to get into the fields to prepare them for planting. But like spring, we’ve been delayed, and everything is happening all at once for us as well. We just don’t have the luxury of waiting for that somewhat calm day to lay down the 90 foot lengths of landscape fabric or the 100 by 10 foot giant sails of row cover. Ha!
As the gust of wind actually pulls me 3 or so feet on my belly across the field (I refuse to let go!!!), I find myself looking the gift horse of wind hard in the mouth. I even scowl at it. Roll my eyes, sigh, beg, curse. But still, it does not relent. By the end of the day (the wind still blowing), I feel like I’ve been body surfing in a really rough sea. My entire upper body is sore down to my fingers just from holding on. I’m coated in a film of dirt like I’ve been sand blasted, which, I suppose I have. Alas, like Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “This is what’s cruel about springtime: no matter how it treats you, you can’t stop loving it.”
Since the beginning of the year I’ve felt like a Loony Tunes character bouncing around in a scramble to beat back the ever encroaching “to-do” list. We took desperate measures to be ready to seed and plant on time, packed our greenhouse full, planned out our days in order to be able to accomplish all the things that needed to be done. And lo and behold, we caught up to where we should be this time of year, ready and willing to plant out in the fields and then this “slow-your-roll” weather struck.
The snow descended on the valley with a muffling arrest. All activity stayed, aside from the smoke tendrils weaving their way out of chimneys and a few robins ruffling their feathers in protest.
I have to admit, it’s a pleasant reprieve. It’s as if we’ve been running hard just to get to the starting line and now we’re forced to catch our breath. The race has been delayed. I’m sure I’ll be worried come time for these crops to be harvested and they’re behind schedule, but I’m going to live in the moment for a minute. Take a break. Enjoy winter’s beauty without question or quarrel. Maybe even have a little fun with it. And breathe. After all, there isn’t a thing in the world I can do about it. Snow is snow and there it is-beautifully blockading my schedule; slowing my roll. I might as well embrace the peace.
Hey it’s February! Did anyone notice that it was 65 degrees yesterday? Ha! We’ve been filling up the greenhouse, but really struggling to get into the wet and frozen fields. It’s a struggle we’ve been getting used to over the past few years. And we’re making concessions that I never dreamed of in my conception of my life as a farmer. I know I never conceived of hauling around bags of gravel to hold down plastic to keep the rain off from the fields.
Actually it’s hard to remember back to my dreams of reality. The days of the moral certitude of youth. Big ideas and inspiration of farmer as super hero, standing proud with the wind through my cape, one foot propped on the ubiquitous pitchfork. Who uses pitchforks anyway and why are they such a symbol of farming?
The romantic idealism of farm philosophy, now jilted by the practical reality of plastic and bags of gravel. Even this hint at desperation is fraught with hope though. Because it just might work. It just might keep the rain off and heat the soil so we can get in there earlier to plant. I guess that’s our farmer mundane super power: our capacity for hope.
Also, it’s harvest share enrollment time. It appears that this is going to be a year where we quickly fill our capacity, so get your payments or deposits in as soon as possible. Everyone is hungry for fresh veggies!!! For more information about the harvest share program, check out our website and contact us if you have any questions.
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.