Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
A recycled picture of a savoy cabbage (the camera with new pictures is on a road trip)
A year or so ago I read an article in the High Country Magazine about a few local Ashe County farmers that I knew. Most of them had come into farming as a second career. You know: left a corporate career to play in fields of barley thing. They spoke of the career switch as a search for a slower, simpler life. I’m sure now, that the interviews must have taken place in October. I laughed at the time. “the slower, simpler life.” While I never found myself climbing the corporate ladder, I have had a couple nine to five jobs in my time on my way to this land here, and I recall the nine to five life with free weekends a much simpler and slower life. Not satisfying, mind you, but definitely slower and simpler. But now October has arrived and my tired body is slowing down, the cool weather is slowing the crops down, and the shorter days have me inside at a reasonable hour (kind of like nine to five). So yeah, I can see their point now.
Our little creek becomes a pond!
a new river forms to feed the
Water flowing over the newly planted bed
Little Tumbling Shoals Creek
over the irrigation line
Like bookends to a most challenging season, floods arrived this weekend bigger and badder than even the spring floods. This time, it’s too late to panic or really even worry. All the crops that suffer from rain are on their way out anyway and as long as the water doesn’t sit too long, the fall crops will be okay. All the same, I can’t help but remark on the coincidence of this most recent flood. As if to say, “we survived.” We move on.
The seed catalogues have begun to arrive in the mail, which pushes me into a Pavlovian planning session. Jason says there should be a support group for people like me: SCA (seed catalogues anonymous). Seed catalogues are inherently exciting with their bright pictures of beautiful veggies; I want to grow everything in them! Last year, I’m afraid, Jason gave me a little bit too much free reign with the seed order and we ended up growing seven different kinds of eggplant. And I won’t even get into the chilies. But this is an exciting time of year. This year especially as we venture into many new things, including a move out of the camper into a new house! We expand to full capacity in annual crops, we’re planting blueberries and blackberries and asparagus, and we’re constructing three “hoop houses” to extend the season and keep rain off. It all begins with the arrival of the seed catalogues. Feel free to make requests!
The assembly of our "puzzle"
Jason had us do this little exercise once where instead of saying “the government,” we say, “the people” since “the government” is supposed to be an extension of “the people.” The idea was to put a face on that entity. “The People” have recently launched an initiative called “Know your farmer, know your food.” Wow. Are the feds catching on? You can watch a brief video of secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack stiff in his suit and tie talking about local food: www.youtube.com/usda, and comment.
I’d like to propose a similar initiative called “Know who you’re feeding.” See, this whole concept is a circle really. You are on a first name basis with the person who grows your food and thus, know how your food was grown. But it works that way for me too. Knowing that John’s daughter is in South America, and that Susan’s cat is sick, and that Mikelle and Mike just found a little dog that her dad adopted and that Becky’s twins love green beans and the color orange makes people real to me. And real people with real faces and lives make me the farmer care about what I’m feeding them! I love when you bring your kids (or parents) to farmers market and introduce them to me. I love knowing about your lives. It’s a community: A living organism. My role in that community is to grow food. Others have different roles, and together, we make a thriving community. Oops, I guess I should have turned on the sap alertJ
A lot of us complain that the heart of the problem with our food system is that it’s centralized. Well, this may be true but I think the real problem is that it’s anonymous. There are no faces on either side of that system, so no real reason to care. In a centralized anonymous food system, you don’t know how your food was grown and the farmer doesn’t have to tell anyone (the exception being certified organic). Don’t get me wrong, I realize that we small scale growers cannot entirely meet the food demand. We don’t often grow grain, for example, but we serve a very important role in connecting people with the land their food is grown on and with the folks who do that work. Of course I think that’s a very important role in the local community and food system. I’m glad “the people” appears to think so too!
I think it’s always like this: the feeling that I’m trying to hold onto the last particles of sand as they slip through my fingers. What was once a mountain of sand in the spring that I thought we might never see the end of is now just a few grains. Slippery little suckers. We watch the summer crops ease into retirement and the summer heat relax to the song of the cicada. We’re in the penultimate week of the harvest shares and we’re talking end game with Maggie and all of it makes me just a bit sad. Like a little family is breaking apart. Just grains of sand in the wind ("we are star dust..."). With a promise of renewal in the green of the fall garden. It’s just a promise, but it’s enough for me to slide into all of this farm disassembly that begins to happen this time of year. We call it “putting the farm to bed.” It’s a slow process, but the signs of its approach are here.
Jason shows off tonight's roasted pepper, tomato and goat cheese calzone
Homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks!
My mother quit cooking right after I left home and she went back to work. They took to eating out a lot, or microwaving frozen meals. I always thought that was a bit unusual. (I went to school in the south, all my friends’ moms cooked big ole’ southern meals every time I visited). But after reading Michael Pollen’s August 2nd article in the New York Times Magazine, I realize my folks were just part of a growing trend of people not cooking. The article is titled “Out of the kitchen and onto the couch: how American cooking became a spectator sport, and what we lost along the way.”
A while back, I wrote about eating seasonally for health. Well, Michael Pollen has given me a new one: prepare your own food for health. Pollen’s research shows time spent preparing food is directly linked to physical health: “The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity. In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income.” Wow. He goes on to tell us that the average PER DAY amount of time American’s spend on meal preparation is 27 minutes. 27 minutes a day?!!!
Upon learning that we don’t own a TV, people often ask us what we do in our free time. I never understood the question. I countered with, “how do you find time to watch TV?” But I get it now. That’s what we do in our “free time”: we cook. Okay, okay, I know I’ve already told you all that Jason does most of the cooking, but I do help. Honest! I am like the prep cook. So even though he’s in charge, it’s still something we do together. It’s a sort of bonding process and it is important to us. Maggie used to marvel how we’d work such crazy long hours, come in at dark and still prepare a nourishing meal. I think she’s used to late evening meals now. But my point is that even though our “in season” lifestyle doesn’t technically allow it, we still take the time to prepare a meal. It is nourishing to more than just the gastro-intestinal. It is nourishing to our souls. There’s just something about preparing and eating a meal together (even at 10 o’clock at night!) that fulfills some deep primal instinct. Okay, maybe not primal, but you get the point. Eating well involves this process we call cooking and it saddens me that so many people are missing out on that. Remember the cookbook called “The Joy of Cooking”? Doesn’t that just say it all? I don’t know when the last edition was printed, but mine is a 70s era copy. I envision all those cookbooks languishing on thrift store shelves. That’s just it: we’ve lost the joy somewhere along the road to frozen meals and booming take out dives.
Even pizza can be ridiculously beautiful and delicious homemade!
If there’s anything you’d like me to hold for you here at the farm (for pick up Tuesdays or Fridays from 5pm-7pm), at the Wednesday Hickory Farmers’ Market (noon to 5:30), or the Saturday Boone farmers’ market (early am to noon), please let me know my phone or email! Thanks!
Tumbling Shoals Farm hosts a "tomato
tasting" for the Wilkes Chamber of
Commerce (wouldn't you know we ended
up between tomato plantings!)
Our hay field becomes a parking lot for
the tomato tasting event.
I caught myself referring to this season in the past tense the other day. Oops. Not that there aren’t parts of this season that I’d like to put behind me, but we are heading into PEPPER season for crying out loud (not to mention the greens growing in the fall garden)! At market on Saturday morning(after rising at 4:30 am), I found myself actually smiling to myself before 7a.m., before I even finished my coffee, even giggling a little perhaps, as I placed those beautiful sweet treasures in their box. Then, as I caught myself smiling, that made me smile even more. Chalk up another point for August! It’s time for our grill to be constantly occupied with various shapes and shades of roasting peppers. They show up in the scrambled eggs, in the lunchtime sandwich, an afternoon snack, and in various forms for dinner. And they never overstay their welcome.
An oversized puzzle (our new hoophouses! Ha evil step-mother nature, try to thwart us next year!)
August. I almost feel like I need say no more. I used to think of August as the most brutal farming month. In fact, a wise old farmer once advised me never to evaluate my profession in August. The weeds are a mile high, the wicked hot air presses down on me, and the insects arrive en force. But I’m welcoming this August with open arms. It brought along with it the first hot and dry-ish weather we’ve seen all season, which is what all our summer crops have been waiting for. Insects, I suppose, but that includes colorful butterflies, the summer serenade of the cicada, and, well technically not an insect, the hummingbirds also come out in force in August. This is the time when I love working in the flowers. And weeds, well, I suppose that can’t be helped much after all the rain, but all in all, I’m inclined to defend August this year.
I’ve been talking a lot about thwarting Evil Step-Mother Nature next year. Well, our hoophouses arrived today! To us, they’re basically big umbrellas under which to grow strawberries and tomatoes (and actually harvest some!!!), but they also offer a little season extension (earlier tomatoes and late strawberries). It was exciting to unload the truck, but it will be even more exciting to put them up, I’m sure, as right now they appear like an oversized puzzle. Hmmm. I think Jason will manage that project. We intend to get one of them up for strawberries in the next few weeks, so be on the lookout pictures of frustrated faces.
The latest weather related heartbreak: the third and last planting of corn laying down on the ground after Wednesdays storm.
After last Wednesday’s latest weather related disaster, I’ve taken to calling her Evil Step-Mother Nature. I guess she didn’t like that too terrible much because she decided to give me what I’ve been wishing for…in the extreme of course! Sun and heat! Why do they call these the “dog days?” What is it about a dog that causes us to sweat, dehydrate, move ridiculously slowly, and become exhausted? If I’d have invented the phrase to describe these days, I’d have called them the “okra days.” The okra has actually jumped up and down for joy. I swear it. It’s become an everyday picking event, and one we might consider a twice a day picking event if we had it in us to do that much work. I haven’t heard the eggplant complain lately either. So, okay, Evil Step-Mother Nature has made her point, and I swear I’m not going to complain from my comfy chair here in the air conditioning:) knowing my crops are kicking it into gear as I type. But I’m NOT going out there either:)
A ground hog has made a home in the cucumbers! How's that for natural!?
I always get a kick out of the label “naturally grown” on produce. Honestly, it seems sometimes that nothing could be less natural. Okay, some things are less natural, but you get the point. This year, I’ve spent my days scheming up new ways to thwart Mother Nature. Oh sure, we aren’t using any synthetic chemical junk in that effort, but still, I feel like I’m at war. Really though, I was feeling like another rainy day in a season of rainy days, armed and dangerous with a rotten tomato in my hand. And then Sunday, when the rain finally cleared in the afternoon, I sighed and made to head down to the fields when Jason said, “I think you should take the day off.” We’d already spent most of the weekend planning ways to grow strawberries successfully beneath the wrath of Mother Nature. He said his reasoning was that it just seemed important that I take the day off. He’s very good. Considering that I nearly threw a rotten tomato at his head for no reason the day before, I’d say he’s quite observant. And he didn’t have to tell me twice. The stars aligned, I spent the rest of the day lazing around, reading, and doing nothing, and the sun stayed! Today, I went to town and got me a temporary crew for the week to help catch us up on all that stuff we’ve just not been able to get to. Jason’s working on the farm this week. And the heat and sun arrived to my welcoming arms. Wow. I swear I’m a new woman. Did I mention that the sun is out? Mental note: take a day off sometime in July before you’re tempted by weapons of mass disgustion (okay, okay, I just made that word up).
Some things are happening at Tumbling Shoals Farm this month! This weekend is the high country farm tour: Saturday and Sunday from 1pm-6pm. I know we’re in the foothills, but we’re on the tour. Two other Wilkes County growers are on it too this year. But a wristband and see as many farms as you can, or just visit one for $10. It’s a fundraiser for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. For more details, check out their website at brwia.org.
August 20 Tumbling Shoals Farm is hosting a tomato tasting event through the Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce from 5:30 p.m. until. We’ll be touring the farm and tasting tomatoes (hopefully!) You’re invited!
One of the many farm hand colors!
My parents aren’t afraid of hard work. I’ve always known that. But wow, did they work their butts off last week. I mean, everyone knows that if they visit us in July, they work (and incidentally, our parents are the only ones who’ve ever come back in July), but this time my folks came geared up. I remember my brother wanting to farm some land he had access to. He mentioned it to my mother and she told him to come visit me in July. Funny though, I have yet to see him (but I do think he’s growing some things on that land). I guess he heard the warning in her voice.
As we sat down for lunch on Tuesday, my father looked around and said, “everywhere I look I see work!” Ahh, July (and May, and June, and August too for that matter!). We have arrived at the perpetual list. It starts out innocent enough. Just make a list of the things you have to do. What you don’t get done this week goes on next week’s list. Except the list only gets longer! Each week I add more than I cross off. And oh! Do I ever cross off! I’ve confessed this so many times now it’s no longer even embarrassing. If I do something productive that’s not on my list, I have to write it on my list just so I can bask in the glory of crossing something off! Oh yes, I love to cross things off the list.
So I had to do that this week. You see, there’s this little shed up on blocks in the middle of the field where we plan to put up some hoop houses. It’s pretty old (it came with the property), but dead useful for storage, and we didn’t really want to disassemble it to move it to a better location. Every now and then we mention its relocation, but never had we come to a conclusion. Evidently, one of the times we mentioned it was in front of my father and he never forgot it. He thought about it all week, I guess, and finally, on Thursday, the day they were scheduled to leave, he came in from the job I had assigned him and bee-lined right over to the shed. This is when I realized that he had been thinking about it all week. Earlier, he had been inspecting our lumber supply stacked under the big shed (from other buildings we had “re-located”). I just hadn’t been paying attention to how much attention he was paying to the shed and his scheme to relocate it. Finally he divulged his plan and we spent the next few hours enacting it. By golly, (much to my pleasant surprise) it worked! Nearly without a hitch. Now the shed is resting peacefully, still intact, out of any potential fields. I’ll have pictures of the move when my mother gets around to emailing them (I took them with her camera). So, not that this wasn’t on some mental list somewhere in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t on my “immediate emergency to do last week” list, so I got to add it just so I could cross it off. Oh! The glory!