Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Not farming in a vacuum

August 30, 2017
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Here the problems of the world, if not solved, are at least elucidated.  Also lots of good food eaten.

I have been farming for fifteen years. My spirits tend to rise and fall with the annual successes and failures in these fields. The tiniest bug can be my nemesis. A herculean weeding job, completed, can be as epic a triumph as anything Odysseus encountered. Someone dedicated to the grand political issues of our time might find my life insufferably parochial, but I have found that my psychological survival depends upon my focusing on what needs to be done now, here. I have given my all to make this place on earth healthier, more fertile, more welcoming and loving.

Given this track record, the blister beetles destroying our chard crop would garner my full attention, the gorgeous winter squash crop would make me sing the body triumphant. This year has felt different, however. While I have wanted to write newsletters of my provincial concerns, I have instead been stymied and stupefied by the goings-on in the world at large. The megalomaniac we elected, the hatred spewed, the violence incited, the nuclear bluster spouted, the overt racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.—all this has sapped my strength. I, like many of you, have felt sickened and powerless.

It seems to me inadequate to draw back, to turn off “the news,” to cross my fingers that we are not hurtling collectively toward disaster, repeating grave historical tragedies. Do we have to all be waist-deep in water or worse to wake up? Can we realize our common humanity? Can we stop giving away our chances for decent survival to the ultra-rich hoarding all the wealth? What will it take for us to put down our diversions and care for the future that we, individually, will never see? Though we are lost, can we still find ourselves?

I could fill pages with these dismal questions. I would love to conclude with the answers, but I am flummoxed. How comforting it must be to feel in possession of the truth, to cling to simple answers, but I can only side with Socrates, who admits “that I do not think that I know what I do not know.” All the great leaps forward in the last 2500 years have not left this intelligence behind. Can we all just admit our ignorance and be wary of those who would serve our brains irrational diets? We aren’t nearly as smart as we wish we were.

Answerless, gasping for hope, I still believe in this human experiment, in us binding together in communities of compassion and conscience. As much as I rely on my heroes from literature—Thoreau, Joseph Campbell, Chomsky, Zinn, Dylan—I lean on and revere the great persons in my small circle—Hankins, Bruggman, Priester, Willis, Fitzgerald, Brewer, Kalb, Berry, so on. We find hope in one another, in our humor and determination, our work and play. I have had the great fortune to pair with a soulmate nonpareil, a love who keeps me alive and humble. Our two children mean we can’t go nihilistic. We have to keep our queer shoulders to the wheel, to rage against the dying of the light. It’s not about us—any of us. The baton must keep being passed, and any decent teammate better not leave the next runner a big hole to climb out of. We won’t give up, but we might better act up.

Thank you for belonging to this Place on Earth, for working for justice, for fighting the good fight. We are honored to do our small part. If you have any answers for us, please do share.

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Not the Garden of Eden

July 11, 2017

As the planet’s population more and more migrates away from farming, people must mostly use their imaginations to conjure up what a Farm and a Farmer look like. A garden variety of misperceptions persist, but the one that is pushed most aggressively by advertisers and marketers is the Garden-of-Eden-like romance novel. “Foodies” can unconsciously latch onto this archetype: all creatures are smiling, the sun always shines, and the lush, swaying green growth has always been recently rained upon, the machines always purr and are well-oiled, the fox is nowhere near. Heaven and nature sing.

Bombarded as we all are by negative news/noise, I have been reluctant to join the chorus. But only a dishonest person could paint the picture of the smiling farmer holding his trophy harvest here. We were still reeling from the death of our beloved dog when an army of raccoons moved in to capitalize. I’ll elide over the lurid details, but for a number of days the stench of death resided over the farm. We began the spring with 25 pullets (chickens destined to lay eggs), and at present four remain. We have tightened up chicken houses, and it has now been a week since the last kill, so finally we feel relief from the daily body-bagging detail.

Sometimes the lion, instead of lying down with the lamb and nuzzling with its favorite farmer, gets hungry and ransacks the place. Bugs descend like buckets of rain. Deer have demoralized us before. The plagues of the Bible can seem less extraordinary from the farmer’s point of view. The harmony of nature is sweet but also replete with appalling, gratuitous violence. This is farming. This is the deal we farmers must subscribe to. We dig in deep to life’s mysteries. Inevitably, we sometimes stumble into the heart of darkness.

Every tale of woe deserves a heroic figure, so behold the power of the will to live. Unbeknownst to us, three weeks before Tierra died one of our hens began sitting on a secret clutch of eggs in the barn. She wouldn’t be discovered until the day after we lost Tierra, when she and her twelve baby chicks noisily emerged. They owned the farm, going here, there, and everywhere in one of farming’s most endearing glimpses: the instincts of mother and babies. Even as chickens in other quarters were being slaughtered, the busy family continued its far-ranging discourse.

Until one morning I noticed the sound of a lost chick, then another. For the duration of the morning five 4 week old chicks squawked heart-wrenchingly for their mother. A pile of her feathers was found near the house. We eventually (after gathering up other raccoon-ravaged bodies) moved the orphaned chicks into safe housing for the night.

In the morning, I had trouble believing my eyes. Outside the little brooder house was a bird acting like a mother to two baby chicks. Looking battered and bewildered, missing several chunks, the mother hen had survived, found her two missing, surviving babies, and brought them together with the others. We let the three of them inside.

It was already amazing. The resurrected, raccoon-rebuffing nature of motherhood. The next day Clark came running inside, sad and sincere, to report that the hero’s journey had ended. After having saved her brood and reunited them, the next day she died from wounds that would have immediately killed creatures with no fierce feeling of children to protect.

Good news!

We are harvesting the most beautiful crop of onions I’ve ever seen. The reds are almost all in the barn, Candy onions come next, then our long-storage onions. I’ve been drooling over this crop for a number of weeks now. After two years of rescuing onions from rotting in the field, this is a rewarding triumph to see them coming in so impeccably. Look forward to sharing these lovely bulbs with you for the rest of the year.

Thanks to a devoted group of friends in the field, the garden is looking great. Should no further plagues ensue, we should be in good shape for a summer of bounty!

The end of an era

May 31, 2017

In the end, she departed us the same way she moved about us—quickly and quietly. Yesterday she was not herself, and so today, if not all better, she was going to go to the vet. Instead there she was this morning, lying on her bed, peaceful, still, a stone’s throw from where she was born 9 ½ years ago.

Since this place became A Place on Earth, it has been Tierra’s place on earth. She lived here before we did, by a couple weeks. When she was five-weeks old, she moved one hill away from her mother and eleven fellow litter-mates into our house. She knew, from birth, what her purpose on this planet was: chase down and retrieve. She preferred sticks but anything that could be thrown would do. If you didn’t seem to understand what you were supposed to do, she would make it perfectly clear by repeatedly dropping the object of choice on your hand or foot. She’d wait patiently and unwaveringly. Don’t pet her, don’t talk to her—just throw it. You had to follow her rules, but if you did she would go until she wore you out. Lifeless sticks lying around will poignantly point to her absence.

Tierra embodied the fairer qualities of this farm: free, friendly, fun-loving, focused, often fixated. She was also the face of this place. If you ever visited us here, chances are she was the first to greet you. Her energy hardly mellowed with age; it brimmed over and zoomed around. She was never a threat to hurt a soul on purpose, but she certainly could bowl you over with her exuberance. A void will be felt now upon arriving home.

Tierra was terrified of storms and fireworks and gun shots. She never wanted to come inside the house except when the great sounds were pounding. Our neighbor was shooting off fireworks Monday night, and I let her in for the last time. When at first she was missing Wednesday morning, I assumed it was because she was hunkering down from the thunder rumbling about. It was as if she could endure the commotion no longer.

Tierra was a steadfast companion. Countless are the times she led the pickup truck out back to the deer fence and then again back home. As she loped ahead of the truck effortlessly—an athlete ever in peak form—the boys would holler, “Faster, Tierra! Go faster!” In the last 6 months, I took up jogging around the farm, and without fail she would glide along beside me, at times darting off towards movement or splashing into a pond. I will feel with full force now the loneliness of the long distance runner on my trail runs, a boy without his dog.

We named our baby German Shephard “Tierra” because it means earth in Spanish. She was one with this place on earth. She belongs here, and today she transitioned from gracing the face of this earth to melding with the very soil that sustains us. We give deepest thanks for the blessing of her existence. We won’t be the same without her.

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The world needs CSA

May 1, 2017

Political proceedings of the past year have elicited much-needed discussion of the urban/rural divide in this country. As a child of the city who has called the countryside home for the last 12 years, I have lived within and witnessed the ignorance of both sides. We can all reside in our bubbles, smugly superior, failing to acknowledge our interdependence. Community supported farming is a rare yet desperately needed bridge that brings us back together.

Before I became a farmer, I was already appalled and ashamed of the mining that powers our supercharged lives. Be it blasted-off mountains or blood-soaked diamonds, wars over oil or fools rushing off a cliff for gold, our species’ heedless greed is well-documented and often unabashed. Over these years in Henry County, Kentucky, I have come to understand that the ravaging of the land for “resources” is everywhere. Here, corn and soybeans grow green. They don’t look like oil rigs, but nonetheless they are pumping the wealth out of our communities in a direct pipeline to Coca-Cola and Cargill. We have rendered soils lifeless, murdered waterways, choked the airs, snuffed out biodiversity, ghosted the towns. Residents have lost livelihoods and have moved or must commute to where there are “jobs” and, in return, get to buy cokes at our gas station grocery stores and get diabetes. The land and rural populations are collateral damage, sacrificed to a lust for profit.

On this farm, we have been spoiled.
Much of the land around here is steep and rocky and not conducive to agriculture or other “development.” We are not next-door to wall-to-wall Roundup Ready crops. We don’t live near pig or chicken concentration factories. There are lots of woods around. On our quiet, narrow road, there is more tranquil than traffic.

Until this spring. Just down the road from us (about a mile), a neighbor mined his property for lumber through most of March and April. Day after day, pre-dawn to dark, the big machinery groaned—bulldozing, banging, sawing, loading, hauling. The few regular drivers of Long Branch Fork Road had to be extra alert in the blind curves to dodge the massive trucks, barreling past the infinite, innocent greens of spring, weighed down with now-dead, brown logs. It felt to me like living on a construction site or in coal country. The sound was the endless gnashing of teeth, the sad shrieks of a peaceful village being pillaged by steel.

I dwell on all this ugliness to make a plaintive appeal for community supported farming. In the city, it is easy to regret far-off drilling, far-away indigenous people suffering and displaced. The truth is that such shattered worlds are not so distant. In the country, it seems obvious that city folk would rather stereotype us than care about our shattered world. I have come to believe that we either actively and cooperatively take care of the land, water, and people around us or, unfailingly, these will be poisoned for profit. They will die out anonymously, invisibly.

These two different visions—mining and mindfully farming—were in stark contrast this spring. While our neighbors made a lot of noise (and money, I presume), John, Stan, Jonna, and I (and sometimes Campbell)
planted peaches, pears, plums, apples, pawpaws, grapes, strawberries. We dug holes and filled the air with laughter, ate lunch and solved the world’s problems. We stewarded carefully, shovelful by shovelful. Some apple varieties are slow to bear; it could be ten years to a future feast. With community support, we have made a commitment not just to nourish people but also to respect and enrich the earth.

The hell-scape that mining manufactures is not the only way. Rather than dealing the world death and dying, we can choose to belong to community supported farming. We can all together take responsibility for what we eat and how it is grown. Right relationships can be restored. When we see outside of our own bubbles, we realize we had better lift up all the lives around us with reverence. There is no telling what a difference we can make.

What can we do?

February 23, 2017

With little exertion, sweat drips. Grass greens. Trees bud. Spring peepers resound. Some find this February weather charming, perfect to cavort like carefree children. But if you take seriously the dire forecasts of global warming (and who among us is qualified to challenge the scientific consensus?), rather than tidings of joy you hear at least rumblings of discontent. Spring arriving three weeks early is a symptom of dangerous chaos. We know the water is rising, the droughts and floods deepening, the diversity of species declining. We shouldn’t have to wait until we’re clinging to a shoddy raft in a maelstrom to recognize a problem.

If human beings are worth a fraction of what we seem to figure we are, we have to conceive of the vastness of this enterprise: our individual three-score-and-ten years or what-have-you is infinitesimal. In a blink, our children have succeeded us, and so on. If we trash this singular earth for fleeting fortune, we have no claim to holiness or heaven or honor—whatever one’s particular bible holds up as good. Our children should neither honor nor trust us, for we have cashed in their trust. Our world is then endlessly out-of-joint.

I don’t know when, or if, global warming is taught in schools. But I know that it is not soon enough. When I spoke with Clark, my 6-year old, about it recently, I was refreshingly touched by the depth and intelligence of his comments.
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He hasn’t yet subscribed to nihilism. He hasn’t yet determined that humans are superior to and more deserving than other forms of life. He hasn’t yet succumbed to apathy or hopelessness. He hasn’t yet decided political ideology or profit trumps all else. Before I dropped him off at school, he said, “Well, what can we do?”
Well, what can we do?

I don’t have a handbook of appropriate actions, and one size does not fit all. It seems to me trite and cavalier to say, “Plant a tree. Recycle. Adjust the thermostat.” What will make a difference and see us through, I think, is a fortified mindset, a resilient attitude, a strength of character. Although Laurence Gonzales’s book Surviving Survival is about surviving personal trauma, his conclusions equally apply to the collective struggle we face. What we can do is adopt these twelve traits and blaze our own brave trail:

1) “Develop an active, problem-solving way of looking at the world.” This is instinctively how Clark reacted. Wallowing in misery and pointing fingers keeps us mired in idiotic gridlock, giving up, bouncing from diversion to diversion. We need a lot of Clarks on board, ready to plan a way forward and pursue passions.

2) “Take time every day to tune out all the electronic noise, the chattering voices that clamor for attention, and then listen to your own mind and body….You may find an intuition, a gut feeling, a sixth sense that saves your life.” We become so infatuated with our technologies and tools that we become the tools of our tools. The Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree. Enlightenment is unlikely to arrive at the base of the Twitter tree.

3) “Surrender control of the outcome and trust the process.” Have we passed the tipping point? Is there any halting catastrophic climate change? What good do these questions do? As the Bhagavad Gita teaches: “Your right is to action alone; never to its fruits at any time.” Good work done well is reward in itself.

4) “One of the best ways to deal with suffering is to look around you at the suffering that is not happening to you. When it does happen to you, expect it and experience it. Say: This is my suffering. It is my turn to suffer. Use it to prepare for the next stage in the journey of survival.” I’ll always remember one of the last things my grandfather, having been stripped of most of his physical faculties, said to me: “Life isn’t just a bowl of peaches.” It’s not, and it’s going to take a lot of tough cookies like my grandfather to fight through the tribulations to come.

5) “Get the small picture.” Gonzales writes about the artwork that people tortured in Nazi death camps produced. However grim our predicament, life is worth preserving because it is so beautiful. We all need to be uplifted, time and again, without denying reality.

6) “You should learn to tell the difference between a hazardous situation and one that is safe. When the hazard is real, do something about it; don’t remain passive. Learn to tell whether what you did was effective. When it isn’t effective, change your strategy. Last, when things don’t go well, find ways to blow off steam.” I need at present to take to heart this message of putting things in their place. Seventy-degree, sunny days are not an immediate hazard, and it is not effective to gripe about them. Perhaps it is effective to write about disturbing weather trends?

7) “Don’t sit around brooding on whatever’s eating you.” We’ve got a lot of work to do of all different kinds, so we best get busy and do it. Working diligently towards a goal keeps us focused and engaged.

8) “You have to be all right, because you have to take care of the children.” Global warming isn’t so much about you or me; we’ll be dead before too long. It’s vital that we get away from egocentric thinking. Concentrate on others—and not just other people and not just pets or our “property.” The world is full of life that deserves respect and love, and we’re exceedingly more lost and lonely when we think so much of ourselves.

9) “Staying socially connected is one of the most important and effective adaptations.” Join a CSA. Already in a CSA, work on the farm, share recipes and meals. The modern world atomizes and alienates us, making us believe commercials and corporations are our friends. The products we buy are disembodied from where they came from and who made them. Seeking out in-the-flesh community charges us with compassion and inspires us to take offense at degradation, take to the streets, and take responsibility for our interconnectedness. “Skin-to-skin contact reduces pain and produces oxytocin, the hormone of love. There is good scientific reason that people hug when something bad happens.”
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10) “Be grateful.” Be it spontaneous or ritualized, say grace. Somehow, despite everything, our cups and tables overflow. We’ve been shown mercy. However bleak the prognosis, we’re still here, loving and luxuriating, planning our tomorrows, dreaming of an ever better world.

11) “Even on days when I lacked self-confidence, I chose to put on a smile. I acted strong when I didn’t feel strong—and before long, I was strong.” Put on your Super(wo)man shirt. Save the day. Remember that whoever your personal heroes are they too often felt small, but they rose to the occasion. Why not us?

12) “Life is deep; shallow up. Humor is essential, quieting the amygdala and reducing stress. Laugh at the world. Laugh at yourself.” It’s hard to make a persuasive argument for sustaining a world that’s not fun or funny, full of wild, contagious laughter. Global warming, cancer, starvation—none of these are humorous on the surface. But we’ll surely never survive if we don’t laugh in the depths of the struggle.

These are Laurence Gonzales’s twelve “Rules of Life.” I’ll add just one more. There are very few things in this life that we have to consume. But approximately three times a day we have to find caloric nourishment. Make it count, whenever you can. Imagine the chain of events that leads to food on your plate. Care. Give thanks. Laugh. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Why are we still here?

January 29, 2017

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Businesses come and go like the flashings of fireflies on summer nights. The numbers don’t add up sufficiently and they’re snuffed out. I am not a business person; I make poor business decisions, sometimes intentionally. If a vegetable business is going to survive around here, it should be located on flat, fertile ground, close to the city with no significant, indigenous deer population. It should invest heavily in infrastructure improvements and specialize in high-value crops, perhaps value-added products and sell at high-end farmers markets, charging appropriately high prices. Employees should be hired, interns and apprentices employed. The stuff should probably be USDA-certified Organic and branded attractively. Profit should rarely—if ever—stray from the mind of the business owner. She should quantify every square foot and every hour input. Margins are small; you can’t afford to be generous.
So how is it that A Place on Earth CSA Farm continues into year 13? The answer is simple, it seems to me: the dogged work and faith of a small number of beautiful people finding joy and meaning in rich relationships. We don’t think we can save the world. We’re not even sure we can save ourselves. But we cling for life to bygone virtues like dignity, integrity, compassion, love, humor, perseverance. We see not just the beauty in carrots germinating and tomatoes ripening but also in stately ancient trees standing, oxygen exchanged, soil replenished. There is a truth in sweating and stooping and chopping and smelling that won’t ever be quantified or monetized. There is an honesty in our nourishment that will never be found in a pill or a drive-thru window.
Gratitude must go beyond giving thanks to this place on earth; we are compelled to give of ourselves as much as we are given. Our transactions can’t be measured by the pound or the bushel, the hour or the work week; they are invaluable as courage and strength, as a bulwark from despair. Rather than, “How can we make more money?” we ask ourselves, “How can we humble ourselves further? How can we become more balanced? How can we make ourselves worthy of belonging to this awesome mystery?”
Seven generations ago, people could not have conceived of where we are today. And, as broken and tragic as our world can feel, none now can conceive of seven generations out. A good business person would probably wager his money on calamity—indeed they do all the time, elevating quarterly profits above all else. But I think we’re here today because we are hopeful people, investing our cents and souls in a world where right relationships reign supreme. It may seem clear that we are in the minority and overmatched, but it also may just be this flash of light we embody that gains momentum and turns the tide.
There are plenty of sour people accumulating billions of dollars. It is my great honor to share in the wealth of a small circle of wonderful lives, gathered around a welcoming table, radiating out from a sacred place on earth.

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Time’s winged chariot

October 6, 2016

Extend the season
A bountiful year spills over into a bountiful fall! The first week of November we will conclude the full season CSA, and then we’ll proceed as in years past with 3 more every-other-week Friday deliveries: November 18, December 2 and 16. Shares will consist of the usual roots, squashes, cabbages and greens and cost $100. We will accommodate you with pick up times and places.

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Last call for chickens
We are about a month away from the last chicken harvest of the year. Speak soon if you are interested, because it will be many months before the chance comes again.
Thanks-giving time
It is not November yet, but in the vegetables farmer’s life, the tale is largely told. The crops were planted. The weeds and armyworms and the like were weathered. The weather was weathered. The barn is full of cured and curing food. Twenty weeks of busting-full, beautiful boxes have been packed. Our thanks extend, as Campbell might say, “Fifty-eight ten infinities.”
On the mundane, nitty-gritty level, the farm is wholly indebted to those down in the trenches, doing the work, early, hot, and late, sharing the humor and humility. We are a well-oiled machine: we pick the produce, pack the boxes, eat a delicious lunch; the van arrives like clockwork,9242 the pick-ups are properly handled, Phyllis’ newsletter knows exactly what to do with every thing.  The list goes on, but the bottom line is simple: the working members of A Place on Earth CSA Farm are an amazing collection of diamonds in the rough. Thanks especially to John, Stan, and Jonna, who make me want to work harder and be better.

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Heartfelt thanks to all of you for placing your faith in us and living differently. We know how much work you do in the kitchen. We know that other food options can be more customized and convenient. We know that you don’t have to participate in our CSA or any CSA. You have sustained us now for 12 years, spanning two farms and the arrival of two brand-new farmers. Thanks for making this grand journey possible.

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As I hear of Hurricane Matthew battering hapless Haiti, I am reminded of the fragility of this farming enterprise, let alone of life itself. Some have suffered and some are suffering through catastrophe, but our fate has furnished us—this year at least—with the opposite end of fortune. And we shouldn’t be fooled that we are fairly spared, but rather our hearts, buoyed by present-tense and fast-passing placidness, should hurt even stronger for those who have been laid low, as we will be.
Every year every box is unique
Raising hundreds of varieties of vegetables—planted across four seasons of erratic weather, discombobulated by mercurial meteorologists, distracted by stubborn demands like eating and sleeping and family and friends—means not achieving perfection. Sometimes we hit the elusive jackpot and almost end up cursing the plenty (of eggplant). Some things can succeed just as we envisioned them, striking the perfect harmony of abundant-leaning moderation. Sometimes circumstances conspire against our intentions, and we for a time live leanly.
However much we learn from our failures, there are always plenty of new ways to fail waiting to teach us more we need to learn. Take these two 2016 snippets:
*For several years now I have planted two varieties of turnip seeds together, Hakurei and Purple Top White Globe. The Hakurei grows faster and gets picked first. This spring, however, the Purple Top didn’t seem to be sizing up at all. I was mystified, but by then the rising tide of summer swelter swept me away from this minor confusion. Then this fall it slowly dawned on me that the same thing was happening again. I became sure these weren’t really even turnips and decided to channel my ire and boycott the shameful seed company for false advertising. Finally, having taken quite too long, I realized my mistake: in the early spring, no doubt fueled by hurry and carelessness, rather than mixing Hakurei and Purple Top White Globe turnip, I had mixed Hakurei and American Purple Top rutabaga seed. So, no Purple Top turnip this year, but the Purple Top rutabagas are looking marvelous.
*We stayed nearly too wet all the way through July. Thus I wasn’t surprised in early August when the meteorologists began to hyperventilate about a great rain event—5 to 6 or possibly many more inches over the weekend. I picked things early and more aggressively than normal. I planted one night by headlamp. By week’s end, all our fall brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.) were in the ground. As prepared outside as possible, I brought a couple hundred pounds of tomatoes into the house and got busy canning. It got stranger and stranger to me as the sun kept shining, the heat kept baking. I imagined my tender broccoli plants wilting, begging for help. I sweated over the stove, the fire of the sun crackling outside. By the time the rain arrived, I had 20 quarts of sauce, 40 pints of salsa, and a lot of dead baby plants. We’re now nonetheless enjoying a successful fall brassica campaign, but an important lesson resounds: a vegetable farmer without irrigation is a gambler, destined to periodic, meteorologist-induced sweats.
Time piles up
Either time is passing faster or I am moving slower, or both. It has—once again—been multiple months since the last farm newsletter, which was itself short on agricultural observations. I admit I have been stymied by a futile struggle with time. My babies have turned to young boys.

9244.JPGThe gears keep turning. I look ahead and see “his big manly voice/turning again toward childish treble” and look down and see my “schoolboy with his satchel/and shining morning face, creeping like snail/unwillingly to school.” I feel I could just linger here, in this precious present, “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
All this borrowed poetry to say life here is painfully beautiful and achingly cherished. Thanks for making it this way.

“Secret Crying Places”

August 4, 2016

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I thought today of Gene Logsdon’s book Gene Everlasting and the piece entitled “Secret Crying Places.” Inside the back deer fence, among tall weeds, from the mud I extracted mostly rotten Yellow Parma onions. Though the wasted onions did not make me happy, they were not what was responsible for my tears. Clark Howard Willis heads to kindergarten next Wednesday.

Being a stay-at-home farmer/father has not been easy. I have not been as good at either occupation having to do both. Without a doubt, I could not have feigned “farmer” at all without the great gift of generous grandparents and friends. But always both babies (farm and children) beckon: “Do this, and do it now.”

Amidst the work and demands and exasperation, however, profound joys bloom, sometimes sneakily. I realize—in the middle of my exhausted complaint—that flowers have been taking root. Things have been growing that I did not know were there. I quit quibbling. I smile at my sons, and I am glad to be present. I savor a fleeting moment.

Even on days when I spend so many solo hours in the field it is sickening, separated by some space from Clark and Campbell, they have almost always been within a short walk. I come in for lunch and say hello. We know each other are near. Our selves have been entwined, like carrot roots diving down deeper together.

Whereas Clark cannot wait to acquaint himself with kindergarten, I have trouble accepting the passage of time. Friends say, “When you blink, he’ll be 30,” and I know it is true, and I rue the fact that my buddy is graduating from me, slowly but surely, like all seeds do their parents.

“I cried, I think, because the passage of time marks the death of a boy or a girl becoming a teenager or a teenager moving on to manhood or womanhood. These kinds of death are really more final than a body becoming a corpse. A corpse decomposes and returns to life. Days of boyhood never come back.” (Gene Logsdon)

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Farming and parenting can become a perfect pair. With babies it is harder, but with young boys, earnest and bright and interested, the intentions can intersect. An important job can be done well, by my child, triumphant and proud. Life has allowed me a good number of precious moments. None have been more precious than the oneness between a farm, a father, and his son(s).

It’s August. The sweat is streaming down. Perspective wanes. I am prone to melodrama. A farm grows more than crops. We are nourished by more than food. I could not sit there and cry forever; there is much more work to be done. But Clark Willis is going to kindergarten, and that, for me, is something new under the sun.

Beyond abstractions

July 14, 2016

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Too often, the things we consume yoke us to places and practices that we can’t see and would rather not think about.  We can feel powerless against the global supply chain and its insistence on profit through exploitation.  Sometimes the best we can do is purchase products that bear a label like “fair trade” or “organic.”  In our minds we can conjure up bucolic fields inhabited by cheerful creatures, but there is no real way for us to get beyond abstractions.

As beautiful harvests of delicious food have flowed forth under a conducive climate, I have found myself considering other—equally rewarding—yields of this CSA farm.  We have enjoyed some robust work crews this year, yet at times the adult workers are almost outnumbered by the collection of bright children.  Peals of laughter (and tears) ring out.  Games are played.  Work is played.  Discoveries are made.  The energy on the farm is palpably different.

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And it’s not just a playground.  The beets in the boxes are washed; you can’t see that they were washed by five-year old hands.  The garlic is distributed into each box; you can’t see it was the proud work of a three-year old.  This is neither a workplace nor a classroom either.  It’s inside and outside, muddy and dusty.  Attention spans go in and out.  Interests wax and wane.

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But there is no doubt that a valuable education is happening.  Where food comes from is not an abstraction.  Hard—but gratifying—work is not an abstraction.  Screens and boredom need not exist.

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To many in our society, the salient fact about food is its cost: the cheaper the better.  We have been taught that this is savvy shopping.  But the most important things you cannot quantify.  What is the difference between food produced afar by forced child labor and food produced right here where children happily dance between work and play, increasing the quantity of joy in the world?  Is cheap food worth cheapening the children of the world?  How many more cents per pound would you pay to know that your pennies were working to bind back together broken communities?

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This farming is not lucrative work, lucre-wise.  We struggle and we scrape.  But the rewards of this place on earth pile up: the steadfast friends, the redeemed soil, the fences and buildings, the bounty of food, the family, the nourishing and nurturing of community and children.  We have a humbling wealth of good people buoying us and making us more.

Having been greatly privileged, we accept with honor sweat and aching backs, our hearts hurting for those who have not gotten the breaks and those who are nearly broken.  There is an awful lot of work to do, so we are plugging ahead here at a place on earth and inching forward.

 

The same difference

May 14, 2016

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Welcome to 2016, Kentucky, Henry County, A Place on Earth. If you’ve been reading these newsletters for some time, or if you’ve been gardening for some time or paying close attention to the weather, you will not be surprised to hear that it is too wet, or it was too dry, or the wind blew too hard, or the deer or slugs or etc. While food at large has lost most of its story—it sits there like it should on a shelf or plate—here you will find that each harvest, each season, each bite is the result of an epic saga, told now for so many thousands of years of human history. The fields are alive with the sound of new, yet familiar, music. Here you will find good reason to love the food you consume, because no one, anywhere, at any time, has enjoyed the exact same stuff.

So it has been irremediably wet for three weeks now. We’ve done what we can mudding plants and seeds in, weeding where we can as best as we can, but the rain has come most every day. And whereas one can water when things are dry, we have yet to figure out how to unwater when things are wet. We stalk wee windows of opportunity like cats do mice, but there’s little more we can do. A year ago, faced with a strangely dry spring, we feared the coming drought of all droughts. There’s a wry humor that rules the universe, because just a few weeks later we were wondering whether the monsoon season would ever end. Ah, farming.

We vacillate from pole to pole, and, scientists warn us, we had better expect even more drastic, bipolar weather in the years to come. It’s a wild ride. We’ll relate to you the story of the seasons as time allows, but, just as we do our best, do your best to appreciate what comes as it comes. No one (even Kroger, though it seems such a sure thing) can guarantee those strawberries or tomatoes or sweet potatoes. But they usually find a way, come what may, hell or high water. Our greatest success is when you have no idea how impossible the journey was, how ludicrous the heroic acts were, how under-deserved or over-deserved the harvest was. Do know, however, that it’s not a given; we don’t necessarily reap what we sow.

I’d like to start the season (and middle and end it) with a large helping of thanks to those who share the work with us, most especially those who pitch in at this place on earth. So many unacknowledged actions go into keeping us fed and alive. It is easy to forget when food is just a product purchased, but for each calorie consumed there is some amount of sweat and blood shed. Perhaps someday human beings will be sustained purely by computer and pill. Until then, though, actual people give of themselves to make it happen.

And lest I leave out a huge population, I’d also like to thank the unseen and anonymous people around the world who toil in pain for the rest of us to eat. Soon we’ll pick strawberries for many hours in a day. Imagine, if you can, the people who spend every day hunched over, working as fast as possible, homeless, sometimes futureless, to fill up the nearly countless quarts stocked on countless shelves. They deserve dignity.

Finally, thank YOU for putting your money where your mouth is, for caring and connecting. Whatever the challenges that arise, we stand a much better chance of rising to the occasion when we share both the burden and delight. Let us keep enriching these relationships.

The Same Difference

Every year I write

and every year experience further informs the truth:

every year is different.

Except of course the uncontradicting paradox

that every year is the same in its reiteration of difference.

The great preacher of Ecclesiastes

(“nothing new under the sun”)

was right—but only half-right.

One could look through eternity,

back beyond the solar system and such,

and not find a perfect replication of any year,

or however time is told.

Same range of characters, same possibilities of weather, same patterns,

same motifs, motives and morals.

Unique arrangements.

Sometimes nothing is under the sun

and the sun shines stark and true.

Sometimes clouds are under the sun

and we get wet and weary.

Everything and nothing is new—

Ah, Love, to one another let us be true.