Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Sonia just came back to the farm today to talk with us about farm life as it relates to some classic “sustainable development” literature. Inspired by “Small is Beautiful” by E.F Shumacher or Henry David Thoreau, she asked us something about our spiritual connection with the land. There was a pause.
It’s a pause I would do well to take more often. Because yes, there is a spiritual connection to this land. There is a symbiotic relationship there. We try to give to the land and take care of the land so that in return, the land provides us our living and takes care of us.
But this relationship gets pushed to the furthest reaches of my mind as I get caught up in the fast paced enormous workload of economic reality that farming is. I mean, farming is hard. But I don’t say that in a whiny voice. It’s a good kind of hard. A kind of hard that makes me proud to be doing it. A kind of hard that puts me to bed at the end of the day utterly exhausted but with a smile on face. Because my life feels so full of purpose. Like I was put here to coax life from this land and feed my community.
So yes, I should pause a little more often to reflect on my “spiritual” relationship with this land that I temporarily grace. Because I do love it, and I love that it gives my life meaning and satisfaction. I can only hope that I am taking as good of care of this land as it is taking of me. So pardon me this hippy moment.
Putting the plastic on our tomato umbrellas
You might not know this about us, but we obsessively check the weather predictions. So we’re slated to plant tomatoes outside this week and I did my usual run through the low temperature predictions, despite being in full blown summer for the past few weeks. I saw nothing unusual. This was Sunday. Then our friend in higher elevations near us texted that they are expecting snow on Thursday. Wait, what? Better re-check our low temperatures here.
Well, the cynic inside me wants to say, “we expected this.” Some folks call it “blackberry winter”, but we have always called it the “squash frost.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s inconvenient. And late. We’ve moved on from our squash frost window. We’ve put away all our frost blankets, pulled out their supports, moved their weights, etc. We have whole fields planted with frost tender crops like peppers and squash.
The worst part about it is that it’s my fault. I’m known around the farm as the “great jinxer”. And just this morning, as I was adding “frost blanket support removal” to our to-do list, I said, “knock on wood, but there are no frost predictions in our future.” I actually said that! Just a couple of hours before the low temperature predictions dropped into potentially dangerous regions. What was I thinking?!
The other day, I heard Steven Johnson on the TED radio hour talking about where good ideas come from. He basically says that no ideas are completely original, but rather build on top of other’s ideas. He says, you can’t think a thought without echoing someone else. But that’s not a bad thing!
So everybody steals, it’s just nice to give credit to those from whom you steal. So here’s my shout out to Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm in Alamance County. I worked on their farm some thirteen years ago (yikes! Has it really been that long?). This many years later, we’re still, um, “borrowing” ideas from them. Our farm system looks a whole lot like Peregrine Farm.
If it weren’t for Alex and Betsy, who theorized that keeping the rain off from tomatoes would increase yields a bunch, we wouldn’t even have known about a Haygrove. But because they took that leap years ago and had results to prove its effectiveness, we not only were able to increase our tomato yields with the same system, we use a specialized tool that they had made all those years ago to get ours moved every year.
Alex and Betsy’s innovation keeps spreading. A few years ago, Will and Marie of Bluebird farm came to look at our Haygrove tomato system and built a similar structure to shield their tomatoes from the rain. This year, another friend in Kentucky actually borrowed Alex and Betsy’s tool (still on our farm, but with Alex’s permission) to put up his own Haygrove high tunnel. He brought the tool back with a bottle of Kentucky bourbon for Alex and Betsy, in gratitude for not only the use of this tool, but for sharing the innovation in the first place.
That’s what it’s all about. Mentor farmers sharing problems solved and innovation with the new “crop”. Where do good ideas come from? From building on the success and innovation of those who came before us and who have the grace and generosity to teach us new dogs their tricks. Thanks.
Aren't we just a working Camelbak advertisement?
Did today really just happen? I had to scramble this morning to dig out my box of summer clothes, unsure of weather (get it?) or not I should actually put away the long johns. The conversation revolved around sunscreen, swimming holes, and shandy. And the tomatoes grew. And the strawberries ripened.
It has arrived, my friends. The shifty season. We call it spring, but it’s moodier than that. And more secretive. It moves through the weeks all shifty-eyed, hiding its intentions beneath its trench coat. We, the farmers, just follow it around like police, trying to predict its next move so we can catch it in the act.
Should we cover? Uncover? Plant? Pull our hair out? So many possibilities.
I predict that the word of the year is “mindful”. I’ve been hearing it everywhere lately. It’s a word that interests me quite a bit because I hear about such positive results from implementing “mindfulness practices” in one’s life. I’ve been trying my hand at some of it: morning and evening yoga stretches (which I swear is helping my aging back perform in a back-intensive career), meditation, and most of all mindful eating.
“Mindful eating” is defined in several ways, but most simply by “eating with the intention of caring for yourself and eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body.” That last part is the most interesting for me. The noticing the effects of food choices on your body part. I feel like that has become easier as I age. I mean, when I was in my 20s I could eat junk, not sleep, not exercise and feel fine! I doubt I felt as good as I could have, but really, the 20 year old body has an astounding capacity to deal with mistreatment.
The 40 year old body—not so much. Which is good probably, because it leads me to better treatment of my body. More mindful treatment, if you will. For example, both Jason and I have noticed that our bodies are positively craving fresh raw things after a winter of canned and frozen foods (and potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash). Spring arrives with a desire for lighter fare, just in time for such lighter fare to be in production on the farm (I harvested my first head of lettuce yesterday!!). Maybe I’m just trained for the seasonality of produce, but I swear I get cravings for summer squash just before the summer squash harvest season begins.
As I age, I have naturally become a more mindful eater. And I notice the effects of the food I eat on my energy, mood, and general well-being. I mean, immediately. And it’s no small coincidence that the foods that make me feel the best tend to be the foods best grown during that season. Go figure!
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”.