“Secret Crying Places”

August 4, 2016


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)


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


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.



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.


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.


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?


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


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.

The First Two

May 13, 2016


Crimson Clover, Over and Over

May 1, 2016



Keeping connected

March 28, 2016

It was an eventful and productive winter.  Our bathroom is remodeled, the new deer fence is erected, a brooder house for baby chicks is built, our wash station is renovated, the barn roof is repaired, dead ash trees are felled and sawed.  We made our first foray into maple syrup making, which was promising and is sure to be revisited in future winters.  I went to a sustainable agriculture conference and picked up numerous ideas and mingled with inspiring farmers from the southeastern states.  My first farming employer/mentor, Ellen Polishuk of Virginia, was a presenter, and I was able to bring her to the farm for a day and employ her consulting skills.  It was an inspiring afternoon looking over the land and this operation with her.  It feels as if some of the scales have fallen from my eyes.

Also, I’ve begun experiencing an odd sensation in recent months.  After five years, there are no longer human babies to care for.  Clark and Campbell entertain each other endlessly and even now and again find time in their busy schedules (they take their play very seriously) to join in the work of farming.  It’s as if I am becoming a focused farmer again, somewhat freed from the consuming, mostly delightful work of being there for babies.  Our family farm is maturing.

Now it’s spring: the greenhouse population exploding, seeds in the field germinating, strawberry plants waking, garlic growing, baby chicks turning into teenagers, the color green enveloping the earth with its most vibrant, virginal verdure.  An electric, hopeful energy imbues each bird song and seed unleashed.  For the first time since we started planting them seven years ago, fruit trees of all kinds are awash in showy blooms.  Will this be the year tree fruits arrive?

Food is everywhere.  In this time and place, a panoply of food choices exist.  Small farms, however, are an endangered species.  We appreciate you having chosen to source some of your food from us, from this place on earth, from us stewarding this place on earth.  We hope that your connection to us and this place makes for a more meaningful experience, that this CSA adds up to something more than just a package of food.  In a dizzying world consumed with consumption, we are privileged to work with and for this community, creating a space dedicated to simplicity, love, and conscientious consumption.  Whether or not you participate in this CSA or any CSA (it’s not for everyone), we hope that you find ways to invest your food dollars directly in local farmers.  Although the reality-tv-circus is never-ending, we only vote for political parties on rare Tuesdays.  We vote numerous times every day for what kind of food system we want: fair wages or exploited labor, recycling or pollution, farm or factory, family or corporation, good or cheap.  Purity is not the goal so much as mindfulness.  We can’t necessarily choose local phones, shoes, or cars, but we can choose local food, real farmers, and a thriving countryside.  Thanks for your vote.

Happy spring!  See you soon with green goodies.


March 24, 2016


Thanks-giving time

October 30, 2015

Extend the season
After a long, draining growing season and disappointed with several underperforming storage crops, I had just about decided against extending the CSA season. But there is still ample food to be found on this farm, and many of you have expressed your interest in getting more. So, let’s do it! Just as in years past, we will do three more Friday afternoon deliveries: November 20, December 4 and 18. We will have a pick-up location in the Highlands and on the East End. Cost is $100. Let us know if you are interested.

A change of pace
Every October, we conclude nine months of planting with one final crop. We break up a couple thousand bulbs of garlic, and each individual clove gets set into the ground to become its own bulb next June. This week, just before the big rains arrived, we stuck the last of some 12,000 cloves into the soil. In the coming weeks, we will cover this garlic ground with a thick layer of straw mulch and leave it alone for many months to let the garlic do its slow, quiet, irrepressible thing.
Where but a short time ago the stalwart crops of summer stood, the soil surface is now bare—but not for long. Bare soil is an erosion catastrophe waiting to happen, so we plant cover crops to keep this precious matter in place. Soon these fields will be covered by a vibrant green carpet, ready to weather the winter.
More work remains, of course: the deer fence project, stalled out for the last six months, needs to be completed; firewood needs to be cut, split, and stacked; the chickens don’t hibernate; a smorgasbord of little things, not urgent enough to attend to during the frenzy of summer, need to be addressed now.
But, with the wild saga of 2015 in the books, we happily enter into the season of slowness, contemplation, healing, planning, and gratitude.

Thanks-giving time
Thanks for joining us for another exciting CSA season. Thanks for your faith in us, and thanks be that we made it the distance again, that the promise of tiny seeds came true, that the earth provided for us, that the elements did not so conspire against us as to thwart our mission.
Despite the obstacles—which are predictably plentiful—it has been another year replete with brimming boxes. If I were running for public office, I might tout all my impeccable virtues that guarantee perennial greatness. The truth, however, is that we accomplish nothing significant without each other. This farm is a community effort, a product of so many selfless, unseen, unsung contributions. A Place on Earth CSA is 11 years old now, and every year we more and more embody the spirit of Community Supported Agriculture.
Bushels of thanks for all the helping hands, minds, and hearts that keep us growing, through sick children, flooded fields, broken arms, etc. Thanks for the various ways in which you have supported us and enriched and enlivened this community. In a world wobbling from great distress and disease, we are blessed to know the oasis of cooperation, compassion and consciousness that is this community. We not only produce physical sustenance; perhaps even more importantly, our souls are fed and strengthened by being surrounded by good people living good lives grounded in grace, generosity, patience, understanding, dissent, discovery. It is an honor to grow and learn to live more deliberately and fruitfully with you.
Of course our gratitude must go beyond the work and love that people lavish on this place. The world, though we ignorantly abuse it, is a marvel of non-human magnanimity. The dependable rhythm of the seasons is a gift. Life abounds underfoot and overhead. The will to live, flourish and reproduce inexorably floods forth. Rains, though sometimes vicious and sometimes achingly absent, rather reliably water in seedlings and germinate seeds. The certainty and mystery of the sun and stars light the way. We abide on a beautiful place on earth, on a beautiful planet, in a mind-bendingly beautiful universe. We are blessed to behold the billion births and deaths, the cycle of life that brings us food and compost, nourishment and sacrifice. Hunched over a patch of earth, inching down the row, head bowed to the ground, miracles abound, wisdom and delight for which no words can be found.
As we count our own blessings, our hearts go out to those destroyed by drought, razed by storm, drowned by flood, broken by violence. Our climate creeps towards chaos, and, though we were spared from destruction this time, we are no less vulnerable and no more just. As we celebrate abundance, we think of those suffering through scarcity. It hurts to think of having hungry children and no good food to eat. We can’t be satisfied with our own private plenty. We are all seated at one big table. Let there be enough for all.
Sometimes when planes or helicopters pass overhead or neighbors blast their fireworks, I try to imagine (as if I can) farmers who must cultivate under fear of bombs and landmines, in lands sickened by strife. Farming is hard enough as it is. I feel an unshakeable solidarity with the workers of the world and wish for us all a stable home, a lasting peace, a sense of dignity, a hope for the future.
Lastly, thanks be for the great reminder of fall: dying is good and right in its season. We flourish and shine for a limited time and, embracing death, make way for more and new life. No two years are the same, but, as they continually come and go, certain eternal truths remain. Working amongst plants and animals and dirt, farming allows glimpses of beautiful, immutable facts: “Life is good, and so too is death.”

And to all a good winter
Thanks again for your support this year. We appreciate your commitment to a saner, simpler, slower, more delicious world. The earth has been good to us, and, with your help, we do what we can to reciprocate. We hope you had a positive CSA experience and welcome any feedback.
Best wishes of health and happiness through the winter and beyond. Look forward to seeing you soon and starting back all over again before too long.

Surviving the Cyclops

August 30, 2015

The last potluck of the year

Join us September 19 at 3 PM for our fall equinox potluck.  This farm exists because of you, so you ought to see it if you haven’t already.  Bring a dish and we’ll enjoy fine farm dining.  Bring an instrument and we’ll make some fine farm music.  We treasure these gatherings and hope you’ll be able to join us.

Bidding summer goodbye

Farming is rarely anywhere near easy.  You’re never merely playing with fire but always playing with fire and air, water and earth, all of which may bite you.  It’s not exactly swimming with piranhas, but when they are all biting you at the same time, you are suffering in perhaps a similar fashion.

This has not been the easiest growing season ever.  Yes, harvests have been bountiful thus far, but the path has been paved in perils, and then, when the mighty rain has rushed, the path has been torn through, rutted and bare.

While at times the glass may seem far from half-empty, the tempests do pass.  Thankfully there is only one August in a year.  Each season is a venture as valid as Odysseus’s, a voyage into the heart of nature (sometimes darkness).  Inseparable from my singing of the song, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” is an enchantment with the beauty of life.  Seasons, good and bad, pass and become years revealing the potential in the pursuit.  Next season, next year can be much better, every year.  It’s an epic journey and would not be so without the Cyclops.

Perhaps spoiled by the last two years that were as favorable as we have ever experienced, the weather this year has been utterly exhausting.  It rained for about 6 weeks straight, including unprecedented July flooding, which was plenty to give preference to weeds, to make numerous plantings impossible, to send fungal diseases into high gear, to ensure that getting caught up would be a dream indefinitely deferred.  Now we long for a fulfilling and frustration-free fall and attempt to not get sucked into a well-earned cynicism.

As always, we’re unsunk because of our diversity.  If we only grew onions, we would certainly despair that they largely rotted in the ground.  The list of casualties is long and rather heartbreaking.  Perhaps your favorite crop has gone missing.  But despite the slings and arrows, we soldier on and survive by the grace of a wide variety of possibilities and CSA.  Your support is invaluable; it keeps us going, whatever the challenges, year in and year out.  We feel great gratitude for all the generous contributions in all their varied forms.


The egg shortage

It’s quite difficult to have the right number of hens and make them lay the right number of eggs.  There have been times when we’ve been inundated and eat eggs like they’re going out of style.  Other times, the supply is scarce and our family only eats cracked or oddly shaped eggs that won’t fit in the cartons we’re scrambling to fill for your egg shares.  I wish we weren’t all subject to the scarcity, but perhaps next year (barring another unplannable massacre) we’ll be back in abundance.  Until then, we’re trying to keep as many people satisfied as we can.

Words, words, words

Years ago, I did a lot of writing.  Not so much for the purpose of communicating as for processing, introspecting, making some internal sense out of a mad, seemingly senseless world.  Becoming a farmer and a parent has naturally made me less verbose.  If I’m not responding to crises or hunger or other demands, I might be simply appreciating the relative calm or dreaming of sleep, sweet sleep.  Another reason for my reticence is that the world appears to be more and more engulfed in words.  We all have blogs, twitters, facebooks, texts, etc.  Words come at us at all times, from all directions.  I’d almost sooner subtract from this logorrhea and replace it with contemplative silence than join the fray.  Don’t get me wrong: I still love to read and hold in highest esteem those who share insights into the human condition in a beautiful, well-thought-out way.

I write this as a sort of apology for neglecting this communication.  Part of my job is to keep you informed of the goings-on here.  I normally work in solitude—and I love this aspect of this life—but I do realize I am failing at my job if I’m not bringing you to the farm (virtually, of course) through these newsletters.  As much as I loathe the notion of sending out another email that just has to be deleted, I know that many of you are sincerely interested in what’s happening, what’s coming, what’s inspiring, what’s debilitating.  I lean towards “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all,” and thus sometimes fall into the trap of not sharing stories that don’t convey a rosy picture of harmony and happiness.  But at the same time I, like everyone else, need the strength that comes from commiseration and therefore need to get over my reluctance.

I’m already sure I’ve gone on too long with this discussion of inner turmoil and conclude with a vow to try harder to push more words, words, words into the world, no matter how tired or defeated I feel in that moment.

Thanks for keeping this farm family farming

If only you could see Clark and his amazing work ethic.  Still but 4 years old, he’s a marvel of determination and learning.  He knows the process as well as any of us.  He anticipates what needs to be done next and leaps at the opportunity to help.  He takes great pride in his abilities and strength.  He works with a hum and a smile.  Lately when he disappears, I find that he has made his way to the barn and is peeling garlic—because the job is not yet done!  Campbell, 2, has a great role model to emulate and has begun to wade into the work for certain small intervals.  Clark forcefully reminds Campbell the job is not done if he wanders away.


It’s these daily uplifting moments and these farm-raised phenomena that you are preserving.  High tide or low, it’s a life well worth living.  Thanks.

Human Versus Nature

July 12, 2015

A month ago, I was braced for a grim future of merciless drought.  Then–just in time for our solstice potluck—Tropical Storm Bill rolled through and broke the spell.  True to form this year, we have of course reverted back to excessive rainfall.  Three straight weeks.  Almost every day, often multiple deliveries a day.  Worries have shifted back to, “What do we do when the ground is never workable?  How long can this last?”

Although they lap over each other inexorably and recede into a sameness, every year is invariably different.  The weather presents varying degrees of challenge.  Rains fall opportunely or hardly at all.  As farmers, we are sometimes captains of the ship but always sailing headlong into the unknown, mighty, insensate force of nature.  We conduct symphonies of seed, soil and sun, meticulously managing a myriad of minutiae, but we also roll the dice, come up lucky or scorched, spared or submerged, assisted or thwarted.  Our position being so permanently precarious, we feel a deep compassion for and solidarity with the worldwide workers of the land.  At any given time, many of us, through no fault of our own (except perhaps for being crazy as Ahab), are picking up the pieces of our tornado-tossed, hail-squashed, and/or drought-withered livelihoods.  It may well be me next time.

So, lurching from one weather challenge to the next is what we do.  Although we do at times get in a groove and wax romantic about it, nature, in the form of weeds and pests and weather, is usually trying to undermine our human designs.  It can be maddening, as if the thing we are hunting is equally determined to do us in, as if futility is the very essence of farming.  But, paradoxically, this is also part of the unending allure of the pursuit.  We believe in being humbled.  There is indeed more in heaven and earth than can be dreamt of, predicted, or planned for.   We learn and learn about the mystery, we make science out of the facts before us, but the depth and breadth and mystery only augments and we fill fuller with awe.

The bounty we have enjoyed so far this year is a testament to the power of holistic farming, diversity, hard work and generous community.  Early unirrigated plantings of beets, carrots and beans suffered for lack of water, but later plantings are providing or prepared to.  Onions have been hardest hit by this bipolar weather.  They would prefer plenty of water early and drier weather near harvest time and have received just the opposite.  But so much beautiful food has flourished that it is ungrateful and ungracious to dwell on the casualties.

How many more weeks of waterlogged soils can we withstand?  For that matter, next time I find time to write a newsletter, will we be bailing out water or pumping it in?  What crops will be fried or foundering?  Will the whale maim the man or might the seas for a time go calm?  No one knows.  Any which way it goes, it is an epic adventure story, likely to keep us on our toes.

As we feast on our fortunes and fear our far-off failings, our hearts hurt for those who are right now hungry or hurting from some environmental disaster.  Sometimes it doesn’t just rain it pours on the just and the unjust and living becomes scratching to survive.  We are grateful for all of your various and generous contributions to this place on earth, making it more resilient to the challenges that await.  It is an inspiring and vital community that feeds off selfless sacrifice and gives off love.