Archive for September, 2011

Winding Down

September 30, 2011

Thanks to those of you who potlucked with us last Saturday. Once again the weather was auspicious, and we always enjoy the wonderful people of A Place on Earth being and belonging here. It was quite a treat to feast under the sun together.
Another growing season is winding down. Forecasts are calling for some frost this weekend. The basil, once so bounteous (some might say burdensome), lives on only in our freezers. Okra, likewise, will not come around fresh for many moons. While Summer’s profusion fades to past, Fall has its own majesty: hardy greens get sweeter and storage crops wait to roast our kitchens full of earth and warmth. We celebrate each cycle in its turn, and some weary ones of us look ahead longingly to frigid, shut-in days of Winter, stoking the literal fire with hard-earned wood fuel and the figurative fire of the imagination with visions of better things to come.
At least once every year I begin to despair that the future will find me with no food to harvest, or that excited, faithful shareholders will open their boxes only to find garlic and onions. So far—some 170 weeks in a row now—that has not been the case, but this year my gloomy outlook sank as low as it ever has. Three weeks of punishing upper 90-degree weather, a deepening drought, Fall crops not germinating, no way to irrigate, fruits being maliciously eaten or vandalized in the night, Clark crying again at 3 AM. It seemed this was going to be the year when every thing went wrong. But somehow or another the squeeze was eased, the retribution relented, the rains (albeit meagerly at first) resumed, and here we are, enjoying an august Autumn. One of these days I will lose this naïve nervousness, which, of course, will be when calamity strikes. Second thought, maybe I will hold on to that anxiety.
This is our fourth go-round on this farm. Soil tests reveal that we are making good progress in the fertility department. Our great old barn looks (from some angles) to be ready to last another 100 years. Our house has become a home, and our family is filling it up. These fields, trees, rocks, neighbors—this community—is becoming familiar. We will see how soon these dreams arise, but I can foresee a grove of fruit trees, animals perusing the pastures, diversity and conviviality abounding. We will take our lumps, no doubt, we will see our setbacks, but we are steadily making our way forward.
Thanks for joining in this dance with us. While our world is hampered by hurt and our hearts are riddled with holes, we find hope in the fact that life is still astoundingly beautiful and ever-renewing, that seeds want to germinate, plants want to grow, and people want to love. It is a pleasure to share this journey with you. May this food and this experience be full of healing for all the hurting.
Crop Update
Sweet potatoes look mighty nice. The rains of late have delayed digging, but we are hopeful that a dry period is now upon us. Look for these nutritious treats in your shares from here on out.
A wide variety of greens have been coming into their own with this lovely fall weather. I’ll do my best to identify for you the kale, collards, arugula, pac choi, tatsoi, and other mustards. Chard of course is still thriving too.
I’ve started thinning the parsnips this past week. These and beets, carrots, turnips, and rutabagas should keep us in the root crops.
Winter Squash performed exceptionally poorly this Summer. This year has provided a painful lesson about the dangers of working the soil when it’s wet. When the weather dries up the ground turns to brick and roots have a hard time finding what they need. You will still get some butternut, spaghetti, acorn, and delicate squash, but these fruits are pitifully small. Those of you with us last year will remember it was an incredibly robust squash harvest. That’s the way it goes, I suppose.
Garlic is still being sorted out for planting in the coming month. Can’t say enough how well it did this year. We’ve got some really nice seed to plant back out.
Onions are in abundance too. I really like these crops that store almost indefinitely.
This weekend will determine if we are still in a bounty of peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Hate to see them go this early, but they’ve had a good ride.

Community Agriculture

September 9, 2011

What first drew me to CSA farming was the A. Specifically Autumnal Agriculture. I spent October 2000 and October 2002 in Purcellville Virginia working at Potomac Vegetable Farms. While heavy, humid July can easily dampen the romantic farming spirit, crisp, quiet Octobers are awesome. Farming, bedecked in glowing, golden Autumn colors, most feels like the idyll of Eden. The slow and deliberate sun sends once-numb fingers unbuttoning and stripping off layers. Great Summer efforts turn black from the first frosty night, retiring into the abyss to emerge in another lifetime. With the fallen annual successes also falls pride. One must stand humble and amazed before the whirring wheel of life to death. The earth is soft and sweet, settling into its seeming Winter slumber. Still tired at the end of the day—which comes so much sooner—I can see nothing so beautiful as the gift of farm and food.
The farming pursuit is full of purpose; you do not have to eat Rally’s, but you do have to eat. Fostering life that wants to live is also ennobling and enlightening; at work are great mysteries and, though the cycles spin round and round, always in abundance are surprises. Although our culture prefers to portray farmers as simpleminded and uncivilized, I have come to know many farmers as deep, creative thinkers, masters of ingenuity, deft managers of spontaneity, encyclopedias of diverse knowledge, modestly melding in with the marvels of the world.
Already allured by good work that challenges body, mind, and soul, I next discovered the equally enriching Community aspect of CSA. In Silt, Colorado, I worked at Peach Valley CSA Farm for the 2004 growing season. Whereas PVF in Virginia was 20 acres of produce and numerous full-time workers through the Summer, PVF Colorado was a single couple and a single apprentice, me. From Ken and Gail Kuhns of Peach Valley, I learned (among many other things) that small is, in fact, a superlative. Over the course of 25 years, the Kuhns’ farm had become a hub of good energy, a loving institution in the community, rippling its positive way through the Rocky Mountains. Working shares, who loved the farm, brought their children, who loved the farm and its strawberries. I could see nothing more important than generations of children growing up in and being nourished by the Kuhns’ embrace. Imagine 10 million farms blessing all our babies with wholesome food and good roots, a place to belong.
(The S in CSA is seems to be less defined. Shared/Supported/Smiling/Sustained/Shaped. What is your preferred S-word?)
I could see then no higher calling than CSA farmer, and so, seven years into A Place on Earth CSA, I still aspire to be one. Perhaps I will go to the grave still feeling like something of an imposter as a farmer. But I do see small signs sometimes that I am headed in the right direction. This past Tuesday, I was packing CSA boxes with one of our working shares, Ben, and his 3-year old daughter, Bailey. Over the last 7 years, we have had very few visits from young children, aside from potlucks. But twice in the last week we have had a brilliant toddler mind in our midst. Ben and Bailey were bagging tomatoes—a simple, mundane task that happens twice a week. But this time it was different. Each tomato was special and deliberately counted. Certain tomatoes looked like hotdogs and each one needed a gentle reminder, “Gentle.”
But what I heard several times that really caught my ear, that made my day, that made me feel that something even more important that food producing was going on, was. “This is fun.” Hardly any adult would ever utter such a thing. But come to think of it, I thought and think, this is fun. This is what I want to sustain. When we share good work and good food, feel purposeful and invigorated, problem-solve and smile-make, we are living up to the spirit of CSA. Whatever the dire straits in the manic world around, we have found some common ground and are sowing a few good seeds for the future.
New chicks
Six of the last seven Februarys we have received a box of beeping, day-old chicks. They brave the bitter cold under a heat lamp. This past Winter they arrived just in time for the coldest night of the year, and we lost three that first night. Every year a few hens feel the call and, rather than dropping an egg and being on their way, decide to sit on those eggs and turn them into chicks. Always before we have taken a few pecks to the hand and gathered the eggs out from underneath them.
This year, however, we let one go the distance. Although most of the eggs she sat on were apparently unfertilized, two of them were most certainly fertilized, and are now about two weeks old and as attached to their mama as Clark is to his. It has been a wonder to watch their lives unfold in the natural order. Mom keeps them warm and scratches through the ground until she finds the perfect food for them. She flies off the handle if the chicks appear endangered and goes berserk if she is momentarily separated.
This may do nothing to replace the chickens we lost earlier this Summer. The chicks may both be roosters and never lay an egg. But they have taught us a lot already, and, who knows, maybe they will fertilize the next batch.
Crop Update
I am determined to refrain from reciting my numerous failures in this newsletter. An updated casualty report will appear next time.
Potluck Reminder
We’re a couple of weeks away from the Autumn Potluck (Saturday, September 24, 3 pm til ??). We hope you’ll mark your calendars and plan on joining us to celebrate the gifts of this season. See you soon!