Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
This is what organic farming often looks like to us: a lot of hard working people!
Have you ever heard the NPR show “This I believe”? It’s where people of all stripes and colors read their essays about what they believe. Just to give you fair warning: I’m about to do that, though I promise not to be as long winded as some of those essays (is it still long winded if I’m typing it?):
I believe that what we do-grow food organically-is beautiful and just and right. Believing this does not make me believe that other methods are wrong. In fact, I believe that growing food for people is beautiful and just and right. Growing food for people organically is right for us. I believe knowing the people I’m feeding breeds integrity in what I do, and that this is the best case scenario between grower and eater. But I recognize that this is not always possible. I mean, can we all really know personally the grower of our wheat for flour, or our corn for tortillas? This is where organic certification comes in. With much labeling voluntary or even illegal, and with no “teeth” to them whatsoever, organic certification is the only thing a consumer has to go on while standing in front of a grocery shelf. At least I can be reasonably assured that I am not eating any genetically engineered crops, and that it wasn’t sprayed or fertilized with any synthetic chemicals. Is it a perfect system? No way. Is big agri-business always going to be beating at the door with their water hoses trying to dilute the regulations? Absolutely. This is why I believe in small growers’ (that is not a short joke) full participation in the system. Because if all of us walk away, there will be no one to stand up to the big guys and keep the “teeth” in organic. But if we stay involved, attempts to water down won’t go unnoticed, and together we can protect the integrity of the word “organic.”
Emily acting the part of the EZGO
The old saying, or country song (I forget which) “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is true. But it’s also true that you don’t know what you need until you have it. This was true of our first pick-up truck. Once we had it, we suddenly couldn’t figure out how we lived without it. Then came the ATV. How on earth did we get up and down this monstrous hill without it? How did we ever have time to make all those quick trips to the edges of our farm to turn on and off irrigation, etc.? When I turned in all my cool points and traded my motorcycle for a golf cart, we had divine plans of getting fat and lazy. Anywhere we had to go, any task to be accomplished, could surely be accomplished with the use of fossil fuels right? I mean, our human energy is precious and as it turns out, a lot of it is needed for this type of agriculture. But, insert big sad sigh here, while the EZGO golf cart quickly made itself a farm necessity, it simultaneously made itself a problem and a source of additional work, not to mention the headaches. And the heartaches. As you may have guessed, the EZGO cart has broken down yet again, and today, we actually had to walk(!!!) out to a field. Suddenly, Tumbling Shoals Farm felt like a ridiculous tyranny and had I not quickly fed them chocolate, I’m sure our crew was going to revolt.
Jason and I taking advantage of the picture perfect June entrance to do something other than farming
June. Named after Juno, the Roman goddess of childbirth and fertility. The weeds in the spring fields sure think so. 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 that it’s too big if you don’t pick it within 24 hours of the last picking. It is a surprising, but welcome difference in the usual cycle of things around here, and we plan on enjoying it while it lasts.
Come see us in Hickory! (in my relaxed state today, I failed to take a single picture!)
We rely on brakes more than we think about. Of course we don’t think about brakes. Just as we don’t think about breathing or walking, we don’t think about brakes. It would be a whole lot of unnecessary brain activity if we did, and it seems to me that we need all the room up there we can afford. We just careen through life under the assumption that brakes will be there when we need them. And lo and behold, the brakes were there when I needed them yesterday. It wasn’t a verbal agreement to more or less take the day off. But we’d been pushing so hard for the last few weeks (as every May and June), living on coffee, arugula, and adrenaline, and less and less sleep we could never quite catch up on. So yesterday arrived in the usual panicked list making frenzy, but just when we needed them, the brakes were there. And we hit them hard. We took the day off. Not to do anything special (well, laundry and house cleaning are kind of special), but to be slow and lazy and well, placid. And today was surprisingly smooth and relaxed, despite doing nothing productive yesterday, and a great many things were crossed of the list. A lesson learned? Maybe…
Look at those innocent dogs...
I know this may come as a great shock (I’d tell you to sit down but I probably can assume that you already are), but I get grumpy sometimes. It comes straight from this crazy privileged notion that things should just go my way. I mean, it would be a lot easier! Today was one of those days. Before our Monday morning “meeting” was even completed the dogs were chasing each other through the pepper field. Those of you who know me, know how serious I am about my pepper infatuation. It’s some serious adoration folks. And there they were, completely ignoring my wishes, possibly trampling my little baby pepper plants (insert fist raised in indignation!). These are the days when I throw myself into young adult dystopian fiction. It makes me feel better. No really, there’s nothing like the imminent end of the world to dwarf your own problems. It’s all about perspective, I suppose, and tomorrow the dogs are forgiven, just let me get a few more chapters under my belt.
Okay, so I'm no food stylist, and none of the ingredients for this came off from our farm, BUT we did make the english muffins and the bacon and everything came from local farms except the flour and lime juice. This was what we ate in honor of our mothers on Mother's Day.
In books, many things trigger flashbacks that are so strong they momentarily consume the character. There are only a few things that trigger such passionate memories in me that I completely immerse myself in them. Most often, scent is the trigger. The scent of sawdust brings me right back into my grandfather’s garage, which also served as his wood shop. He was a carpenter and a careful wood worker and made some of the most beautiful things, none of which I was able to fully appreciate until my adult life. But I could recognize in some part of my child’s half developed brain the passion and care and love that went into such work.
Just now I caught the scent of bacon wafting from the kitchen and wandered down a scent-laden reverie of Jason in the kitchen. The man loves to cook (praise God!). Like my grandfather’s precise wooden creations, Jason throws all sorts of passion and care into his nightly creations in the kitchen. Said creations made Lacey cry with joy last week (I’m not exaggerating!). He can take our raw product out of the field and weaves it into a grand multi-course, melt-in-your-mouth tapestry as if the house elves of Harry Potter magically made it all appear (come to think of it….). I can appreciate that sort of passion. My taste buds especially.
One of the many things on today's list: planting tomatoes in the field!
The list we made was too long. “Unless you’ve got ‘brush your teeth and pet the dog on that list, it’s too long,” Lacey said. Today’s list was impossibly long. When there are only two things on my list, it’s impossible to get any of them done. “Oh, I’ve still got plenty of time,” I say, and do something else. There’s just not enough in it for me to be motivated. But when my list is impossibly long like today, the glory that comes with crossing everything off that list is poignant. You are suddenly queen of the mountain, standing on top of everything flexing your muscle Rosie the Riveter style. Momentous, paramount, powerful, a thing you’ll tell your grandchildren about one day-all because the list was impossibly long. That’s what it feels like to have conquered a too long list. Was it worth it? Well, I hate to speak for the rest of the farmily, but yeah, it feels good. Now to bed…
One of our many "as soon as it's dry enough" jobs: planting and mulching!
Our lives here on the farm are dictated by the weather. The thing about our lives being dictated by the weather is that when it rains it pours. And then rains again. And when it rains, we slow our paces, seek shelter or greenhouse jobs, and add to the “as soon as it’s dry enough list.” It sort of reminds me of a slinky. Remember those? By the end of a very soggy last week, our slinky lives had just descended the step, and were slowly, easily, leaning toward the next but rain kept our momentum at bay. Then, with that startling sudden slinky acceleration like some kid thought it would be funny to give us a push, we got just enough dry sunny days to attack our “as soon as it’s dry enough list” and found ourselves in quite a frenetic whirlwind today. But I hear thunder again, which means we might find ourselves again in that slow easy lean toward the next acceleration.
Re-erecting the tomato umbrella (for days like today!)
The incessant staccato “tut-tut-tut” of the rain as it falls from the long-cluttered gutter above my office window is, today, comforting. I feel a bit like the desert soil upon a sudden storm, opening my pores to the moisture and releasing a long held breath. Like the plants in that arid soil-somehow alive but dormant- the rain washes away the poverty of parchedness I was unaware of but that had been holding me back from the normal spring renewal and re-growth. We drink deep and reawaken ourselves to purpose. By this time next week, we’ll have grown a foot. I can already taste the fresh greens of spring, and feel their chlorophyll coursing through my rejuvenated veins. It’s finally harvest time and the rain has arrived just in time for that burst of growth that accompanies spring.
Planting tomatoes in the hoop house today (here's to June tomatoes!)
“No one to blame but myself” always seemed like a nice concept to me. It’s one of the reasons I cite for wanting to work for myself. As it turns out though, sometimes it would be nice to have someone else to blame. At least in theory, that is. Take this year’s first planting of carrots, for example. Everyone keeps asking me how this exceptionally warm spring is affecting us. I keep saying “not too much.” Other than things in our passive solar greenhouse growing more quickly than planned, we’re pretty much a “plant according to schedule” farm. So, failing to translate “exceptional warm spring where plants are growing at an exceptionally fast rate” to seed germination in the field, we expected our flame weeding timing was perfect! Except carrots that normally germinate in 21 days in the spring and 4 days in the summer, didn’t get the memo that it is, indeed, still spring! And so we, diligent weed control freaks that we are, busted out the flame weeder at the first flush of weeds and, unwittingly, killed our first planting of carrots. Oops! Here’s where it might be nice to say something along the lines of “mistakes were made” and forgive the offending parties. Luckily, though, it is an exceptionally warm spring and carrots are germinating in much less time than normal so it’s not too late to re-seed them for a slightly later crop. That is the beauty of mistakes being made in the spring—there’s generally lots of room for forgiveness and recovery.