Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Maggie and Jason planting your tomatoes
I swore off the word “efficient” this weekend. I knew I was risking institutionalization for obsessive-compulsive disorder if I said it one more time. But I couldn’t help it-it was making me into a liar. I’d say I had it available and then get to market without it. Honestly, I didn’t mean to do that. I just couldn’t seem to get to everything. So I began to obsess about efficiency. How can I do the same amount of things in less time? Eventually though, I tired of hearing and saying the word so it became taboo.
Speaking of weather…oh, we weren’t speaking of weather? Wow, that’s hard to believe this time of year. I refuse to complain about the solid week of rain we’re expecting. At least it’s not cold. And as we walked the fields today I realized that nearly everything out there right now loves this warm rainy weather with tidbits of sunshine in between. The kale loves it. The chard loves it. The peas love it. The beets love it. Well, you get the point anyway. In fact, the only crop producing out there right now that hates it is the strawberries, but they seem to be handling it for now. So I decided that I’ll take rain any day over frost (I hope I don’t regret saying that later). And this tropical weather is great for planting! Which we have been doing non-stop since last Thursday. We completely cleaned out the greenhouse of all those summer crops that have been waiting somewhat patiently for us to get around to planting them. Yep, all the ones that were quite happy not to be in the ground last Tuesday morning. Tomatoes, peppers, okra, oh my!
May 18th low: 31.9 degrees!
I am trying to figure out the date stamp on my camera. It’s evidence in my case against Mother Nature. She is behaving badly and is getting on my bad side. May 18th frost is NOT supposed to be the nature of the farming beast. This is going to screw up the statistics for years. So instead of the usual frantic harvesting of spring crops and planting of summer crops that occur in May, we are frantically scrambling around protecting all the fragile crops from frost as best we can. I had a nice long talk with the spring crops and they agreed to be tough tonight, but that was not a conversation I could have with the baby summer crops, most of which are fairly fresh in the ground. There’s a funny coincidence though. Last year (still adjusting to this climate), my tomatoes were scheduled to be in the ground around April 25th, but I got behind in the spring/summer craze so they were not in the ground April 28th when we got 28 degrees in the field. We covered frantically the night before and came out early in the morning to “hose off” the frost on summer squash and summer flowers that had already been planted. The complicated thing about tomatoes and frost is that they are virtually impossible to cover with our frost protection “blankets” due to the nature of their trellis which goes up before they are planted. Well, due to last year’s April 28th frost, I moved all summer planting back a week, thus my tomatoes were scheduled to go out the first week in May. Yet again, I got behind in my summer planting and said tomatoes are still in the greenhouse! Whew!
Jason hosing off the May18th frost this morning
Our mixed bouquets
What did the vinaigrette say when the man opened the fridge?
Shut the door .... I'm dressing!
It’s salad time!!!! I compare this to spring cleaning. After the heavy foods of winter and all the time spent indoors, spring pushes us out the door and fills us up with fresh fresh fresh. Last week the first bit of salad mix made it up the hill to our little fridge. Jason saw it and made himself a big bowl of salad for lunch, thought, “hmm..that was good, I think I’ll have some more.” He made himself another big bowl and when he was done with that he looked at the bag and thought, “well, there’s not that much left, I’ll just go ahead and finish it.” He didn’t even realize how fresh deprived he had been until then.
Then at market last Saturday, a pregnant woman came up to the stand eyeing up the seven bunches of radishes left. She said she had been dreaming of radishes and wanted to buy all seven bunches. Fresh deprived. But that’s all behind us now. We’re harvesting plenty of fresh things now, and planting summer things like crazy.
Indigo bunting chicks in their nest in our barn
Sometimes a cliché is all there is to say. “Spring has sprung.” The air is rich with warmth and moisture and rebirth. The Tumbling Shoals Valley has changed its wardrobe. Last fall, the valley raised its swan song voice in a stunning display of color before the naked curtain of winter. And now, in case you might be tempted to ignore it, the valley has donned the brilliant emerald of spring. The opening act hums a fresh tune. The air dances with the laughter of the goat kids next door and the twitter of chicks growing to fledgling in nests tucked here and there in the barn. Babies abound, in perfect rhythm with the emergence of food everywhere. Grass, bugs, leaves, veggies. I love spring. I, too, am reborn in a sense with the shedding of winter wardrobe and the taste of freshness on my tongue. The main character in Still Life with Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins, tucks the world into two categories: “yum” and “yuck.” May= “yum.”
Speaking of “yum”, we saw the first pink of a ripening strawberry yesterday. Which leads to my prediction that we’ll be eating red in two weeks!
|Day old calf with mama||goat kids playing|
radishes growing in the field like they're supposed to
Let me preface this by saying that one: I’m pretty sure I don’t “believe” in astrology as any more than entertainment and two: that I don’t usually admit to you all that I ever feel anything but positively perky about my profession:) That being said, I have to tell you first about how Jason came to work for the wonderful organization that he currently works for. We had just moved to North Carolina from Madagascar. We were young, came here with everything we own packed into a Pontiac Grand Prix (and had room for more passengers), and had very little money. Classic modern vagabond returned Peace Corps volunteers. We camped in a tent (the camper seems like an upgrade!) while we looked for an apartment to rent and for employment. At some point, I had three jobs, plus I was completing some hours on a farm for a class I was taking. Jason could not even land a low skill job and was becoming increasingly frustrated. One day, he opened up his Free Will astrology horoscope in the weekly Independent (a fine publication if you’re in the triangle area of NC), which was usually more vague and universal but this week it said, “now would be a good time to work in a fast food restaurant.” Well, there was only one fast food restaurant in Pittsboro so he went there and got a job. The farmer I was working for was incredibly impressed by the fact that he was willing to work in a fast food restaurant (being educated, experienced, and not a teenager I suppose). As it turns out, said farmer was also on the review board for the Tobacco Communities Reinvestment project at RAFI-USA and they happened to be looking for a new project director. Jason was both informed of and recommended for the position (of which he was quite qualified for, I might mention as an aside, but we didn’t even know about the open position) by my farmer boss and the rest is history. We still say that Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology is at least in part responsible for Jason’s employment.
So….(here’ where preface number 2 comes in) the other day I found myself in a bit of a state of frustration and doubt. It’s the radishes’ fault. No really! Normally, radishes are incredibly easy to grow. Mostly because they germinate in just a few days and grow really fast. But I had looked at my first planting of radishes (and spinach, which is not easy to grow by any stretch of the imagination) and the germination was poor, barely even a crop. Radishes! I’m in trouble if I can’t grow radishes! What can I grow if I can’t grow radishes?!! Well, you get the idea of the state of self doubt and frustration (and probably a bit of panic) that I found myself in. It was in this state that Jason tried to tell me that I was a good farmer, and that it will be fine, just because one planting of radishes (and spinach!) didn’t look so hot didn’t mean that subsequent plantings of everything wouldn’t be just beautiful….(etc. etc.) But for some reason, he wasn’t quite able to lift me out of my “I’m a failure” desolation. (I should mention here, that I am writing this with a hint of laughter at my own distress because, as it turns out, subsequent plantings of everything are beautiful—it was just the abnormally cool soil temperatures that caused our early germination woes). At some point during his attempts though, he got on line and looked up Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology and found this was my horoscope for that week:
I once had a girlfriend who was tormented by her demons. As brilliant an artist as she was, as much good as she did in the world, she couldn't get those jerks to stop whispering curses like "You're a fraud" and "You'll never make any money from doing what you're good at" and "No one will ever love you for who you really are." I did my best to silence the voices that plagued her. I tried to sing them to sleep or scare them away or make her feel so well-loved they'd die of malnourishment. But nothing worked, and she and I eventually broke up because of those demons. Since then I've worked hard to improve my skills as an exorcist. As much as I'm inclined to use those skills to help you chase away the pests that are bugging you, however, that's not necessary. You now have the power to perform a dramatic do-it-yourself banishing. So get to work!
Who is this guy? Since I quoted him here, I should at least provide the link to his website: http://www.freewillastrology.com/ .
In other news, we finished our last major farm construction project this weekend, check out the building projects slide show to see more construction pictures of our walk in cooler! Here's the finished product:
I’ve been breaking lots of glasses lately. Not the kind that help you see, but the drinking vessel kind. I think it is the strength and fortitude of spring manifesting in my fingers. ;) I think this because despite my best (well okay, not “best” maybe) efforts to stay in shape this winter with a YMCA membership, March has attempted to defeat me yet again. The sudden acceleration in pace of life coupled with a sudden increase in squats and bending over and “raking” (which is the farmers’ version of rowing) had me whining with each move for a week or so. But April has me feeling strong and eager as the weeds that grow with all this recent rain (I will defeat them!). I tried to wait out that rain this week, waiting patiently (playing tetris) inside until the fading of the rain drops on the tin roof, but eventually I just had to suck it up and do my best impersonation of a fisherman while donning my bright yellow rain gear and just go transplant in the rain. I can envision my neighbors shaking their heads. But these warm rainy days are really a good time to transplant. For the plants that is. No wind to wither, no sun to dry out, and plenty of instant water. Plus, I got a mess of greens and stuff seeded right between these rains so as long as we don’t drown, I think I won’t complain. Besides, a few rain days tempers the sudden increase in pace of life. Tetris is so meditative!
I bet Sisyphus’s neighbors shook their heads with a smile when they drove by. Honestly, it must be pretty amusing to watch someone battle nature with such futile hope that doing the same thing again will bring different results. And so it was today as I looked at Maggie with a bit of desperation and perhaps panic at the oncoming freeze and said, “I truly feel insane!” Sometimes it just takes another pair of eyes to see things a little differently. So Maggie suggested a new method of battling the wind’s intense desire to unblanket the fragile blooming strawberries. And whether it works or not (and I’m pretty sure it’s going to work), I felt a whole new sight come over me. Like when the neighbor finally stops and says, “Hey Sisyphus, why don’t you try it this way instead?” A new way! A new hope! I might beat nature after all! (I can hear her laughing:))
The farm with "blankets":
fennel seedlings in greenhouse
The theme of one of the sustainable agriculture conferences I attended this winter was “Strong Communities.” These past couple weeks have really hit home on the strong community front. I probably should insert a sap alert here, as I feel the warm and fuzzies coming on:)
It’s been said that getting farmers to cooperate is “like herding cats.” We’re known for our independent spirit that led us to farming in the first place I suppose. Now, I don’t know of anyone ever attempting to herd cats, but my cats don’t seem too opposed to the idea, and neither were the 30 or so farmers I witnessed cooperating on an organic fertilizer order. It was truly something: smiles and hugs all around. It was like a mini reunion-we so rarely gather in such a large group away from busy conferences and farms. But we all knew each other from some aspect of the sustainable agriculture community. We all communicate by email in advance to arrange the order, someone coordinates the truck to pick it up, we use a local farmer/fertilizer distributor’s warehouse and forklift, and we all meet there on a certain day at a certain time to unload the truck and load up everyone’s order. It goes down like this. The forklift guy unloads a pallet from the big truck while one of said farmers backs up his truck/trailer/van (one even loaded in the trunk of a sedan!). As soon as the pallet lowers to the ground, the waiting farmers descend on it like ants on a picnic, hefting these 75 pound bags into the waiting vehicle. No one has to lift too many times because there are so many of us lifting once, and the vehicles get loaded in a snap. The whole process, unloading a semi truck full of 75 pound bags into some 30 different vehicles, took a mere hour.
Another “strong community” event happened right here in Wilkes County. The Habitat for Humanity Re-Store in Wilkesboro has offered their facility as a centralized Wilkesboro area pick up point for the CSA shares! They saw the potential symbiotic relationship that might engender a connected sustainable community. More awareness of their store and mission for them, and a centralized pick up point for you, and a centralized drop point for me! Are you feeling warm and fuzzy yet?
Okay, you can quit groaning now; I’m done being a big sap. I just had to share. In other news, we are excited to announce the addition of Maggie to our crew this year! A more in depth bio is forthcoming; you’ll be able to see it in a week or so on our website when you click “who’s your farmer.” We’re excited to have her aboard.
I still have CSA shares available in Wilkesboro and Hickory (or Boone, by special request J). You can get more information on our website by clicking “Share in the Harvest.”
An old friend of mine, in asking how to feed his family better food, told me that some days it would be 5:00 before he and his wife would look at each other out of the haggard chaos of family life blankly and ask, “dinner?” My aunt spoke of the same thing. “It’s not the cooking that’s the problem,” she laments, “it’s the figuring out what to cook!” This winter I realized that I understand this problem. Being bad at food preservation (or not bad at it, per se, but bad at accomplishing it at all), we, too, struggle to decide what to eat in the winter. After the hard freeze that finished off even the hardiest kale in the garden, we suddenly had to think about what to eat “from scratch.” What I mean is this: during the growing season, our menus are dictated by what’s coming in from the fields. So the thinking about “what’s for dinner” begins there: with the ingredients. Then it’s only a matter of looking for a recipe containing those ingredients. Easy. Sometimes the sight of the veggies themselves will spark a memory of a tasty recipe. Or there are lots of websites, including ours, that allow you to search for recipes by ingredients. Or sometimes the ingredients do just fine by themselves (sungolds anyone?) And if you become a Tumbling Shoals Farm CSA member, we also provide all our favorite seasonal recipes.
So this is one of the many benefits of a CSA (which is what I recommended to my friend as a way to feed his family better). They are the building blocks of your meal planning. Another is this: you have all the freshest vegetables in season already there in your refrigerator each week so you’ll automatically be eating more fresh fruits and veggies than you probably would have otherwise. The other day I read in a fitness magazine a recommendation to "purchase in advance" because if you've already spent the money, you're more likely to do it! It was referring to gym memberships, but I think the same thing applies to eating more veggies. According to all the research, this is precisely what all of us need right? So paying in advance for your veggies makes you more likely to eat more of them! For more details on our CSA, click here.
Yesterday's rain frozen solid!
Jason and I just had this conversation about the “self righteous pitfall.” It’s when you work so hard at living a principled life that you can slip into self righteousness. Keeping that in mind, we work pretty hard at trying to live within our principles without becoming self righteous about it, but come on, slave labor? Here? In the U.S. ? Picking tomatoes? I feel myself slipping. I had heard about it once on NPR, just a little mention somewhere to tuck into the back of my brain for later perusal. But this month’s Gourmet has a whole article on the slave labor picking tomatoes in Florida every winter. They’re pretty careful to mention the “unknowing” farmers, but come on, really? Slip.
As if slave farm labor wasn’t enough, in another NPR article, the lawsuit against a Florida based tomato company that has farms in Brunswick County, NC was mentioned. It’s a pesticide poisoning lawsuit: several children of the farm workers were born with defects, the worst being born without arms and legs. Slip. Um, hold the tomatoes please?
I promise you this: though my employees and I might not be the best paid people in the world, we are willing, happy, and healthy, and so are the veggies we produce! There was an editorial in this month’s Eating Well written by a woman about to leave a five year career as a farm employee to return to grad school, which makes her grandmother ecstatic. But the author says of her farm life, “I’ve never done anything more useful in my life.” I relate. I spent some time in academia, believing that a life in academia was for me. I figured I’d go to grad school, then work overseas studying music and culture (I wanted to go to school for ethnomusicology-now that’s a mouthful), documenting, studying, writing and whatever else higher educated people do. I found it terribly interesting, but something was always missing from that: the usefulness. I don’t mean to say that studying and documenting any number of things in this world isn’t useful, but it didn’t satisfy the usefulness of my hands, my body. The use of my mind alone left me feeling a little empty. So I started gardening as a hobby and the fire was lit. A friend of mine, who is a fisherman, said simply yet sagely, “there’s just something about providing food for people.” Yes. There is just something about it.
So as I dug my fingers into that freshly tilled earth to stick in an onion plant, I felt the ground beneath me again as if for the first time. Yes. I am willing. Aching back, sore neck, still I look back over those (not so straight) rows of tiny onion plants, knowing the potent sweet tearful June they will bring and I’m happy.
Onion plants in this morning's snow!
I don’t usually admit that I sometimes go to Wal-Mart, but I went there Friday night. Wow. You know what I hate most about big box stores like Wal-Mart? It’s that I only go there when I need something specific that I can’t think of another place to buy, but when I walk through the doors I’m immediately overwhelmed by the vastness, the lights, the sense of my own insignificance, and many other things until I’ve completely forgotten what it was I came there for. It never fails. Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, they’re all the same (quite literally actually). I’ve always wanted to infiltrate the inner minds of the upper echelon of management to see what strategies they implement to induce this mind numbing effect. Personally, I think it’s the lights.
Well anyway, I, as usual, forgot what I was there for, but fortunately I was prepared for this effect with a list. The fact that there were only two items on my list doesn’t diminish its importance. I shook my head of the haze and consulted my list. Ah yes, now I remember the point of this story. I remember once in college coming out of the Red River Gorge after a week of hiking to a society we had all but forgotten. Even after only a week in the woods, we were suddenly completely socially inept. We stopped at a Dairy Queen (of all places) in search of some sustenance (not sure why we would look there) and just stared at the vast lit up menu overhead. It was like we couldn’t read, or that we could read but not fully comprehend the meaning. You know when you read that same sentence over and over in a book because you keep meaning to concentrate on understanding it but you don’t and you just keep reading it again. Like your mind is only halfway in it. Well that’s what it was. We mumbled out some semblance of an order and just piled our crumpled bills on the table, unable to comprehend or count it. The counter clerk stared at us incredulously, shook her head, and counted out the cash we owed.
This is precisely how Wal-Mart felt to me Friday night. Like my mind was only halfway in it. I knew I was amazed at the sheer number of people in there on a Friday night, but I was distracted by how they looked in the haze of the fluorescent lights, by the sounds of their voices bouncing off from all that stuff, by the way we had to weave through them. It was a totally different world than I had been occupying for the last month or so. It wasn’t a gentle re-entry, but not altogether unpleasant: just sort of hazy and interesting from a one way glass sort of place in my head.
It wasn’t entirely this strange trip to Wal-Mart that signals the re-entry into civilization that comes with the beginning of the season. There were the little green heads emerging from their little soil mothers in the greenhouse, all tender and fragile and needy. This sight snaps every farmer to attention and rarely fails to awe me. Some of the seeds are incredibly tiny, but still…out pokes a little green cotyledon, larger than life. So even though it still thinks about snowing and a fierce icy wind froze the water to the camper in the middle of the day today, I know from the sight of the tiny green sprouts that spring is near (regardless of what the ground hog sees). I suppose this means that I’ll be in need of the yet non-existent addition to the greenhouse. Yikes! At least we’ve begun.