Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Yesterday, we floated down the New River. I love floating the river. Once you sit down in the tube, there’s nothing to be done except float. You can’t do anything about anything. It’s the most profound relaxation I’ve ever managed to achieve. Forget all the meditation and breathing exercises. Just float. Slowly drift into the clouds. Become a cloud. The lazy river just nudges you along ever so slightly, so slowly. Concerns are heavier than you and seem to have floated ahead and out of sight, out of mind. A giggle escapes you, and another, as you waft along on the whims of the river.
This was my celebration of labor: getting away from it for an afternoon. But now it’s labor day. I hope most of you are chilling out, grilling burgers and hot dogs (or peppers and eggplant!), floating rivers, squeezing the last bit of relaxation out of summer. Every year, I forget that it’s labor day and try mailing something or placing an order with another business, etc. We always labor on labor day. It’s just that the tomatoes and peppers and kale and, well, weeds, don’t know that it’s a national holiday. And so we labor.
However, this year we are going to celebrate labor all week by only laboring from 8 to 4:30. Well, except for Wednesday and Saturday, but still. This is a profound test of our strength of will. You see, there’s always work to be done. Always. And we often find ourselves completing tasks, finishing up projects, sending emails, early in the morning and late into the evening. Not doing so while still on the farm feels like a monumental achievement.
But we’re growing all winter this year, which means the whole seasonal balance has been thrown out the window and the excessive laboring has to stop. So, no time like the week after labor day and my lazy celebration of it!
It’s still August. It’s chilly and cloudy and feels like October, but it’s still August. It’s still August and we’ve had kale and chard and collards right along with okra and tomatoes on our plates. Normally, our seasons here are like the items on a plate of children’s food: they don’t touch.
Green things happen during green things season in the spring and fall, colorful things happen during colorful season in the summer, and we never have BLTs all from the farm.
But this year is mixed up. Millers Creek has decided it would like to be more like Michigan and our seasons are touching! Mixing together all casually so that I don’t even know how to plan a menu anymore. And we’re having a salad with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers all from the farm! What, on earth, is going on and should I be alarmed or just enjoy the melange.
Learning from Ray and Cheryl of Plum Granny Farm (I didn't snap a picture at Fair Share Farm)
Farmers are an incredibly generous lot of people. Not just because they eke out such meager livings with their blood, sweat, tears, and backs in order to nourish their communities, but because they share their knowledge so openly with anyone who asks. They prepare elaborate instructional workshops for other farmers for free, they openly share their knowledge on forums and list serves and podcasts, and they give hours of their precious Sunday time to us simply because we asked. They walked us around their farms, explaining their systems, sharing their experience and knowledge with us. Do other professionals do this for free?
I think it’s because we’re proud of what we’ve figured out. We spend so much time and energy (and blood, sweat and tears) coming up with solutions, or efficiencies, that we are enamored (and maybe a little shocked) by someone else’s interest. We’re excited to show off what we’ve discovered. Or maybe farmers are simply an incredible generous lot of people. Either way, we’ve benefited immensely from this generosity. So a big shout out to Fair Share Farm and Plum Granny Farm for giving us your time and knowledge this Sunday.
I know we needed the rain. The road dust was beginning to collect on every surface and we were irrigating constantly. We had cover crop seeds in the ground threatening to make me run sprinklers on them. But cloudy rainy weather makes me LAZY! I stare at Chairman Meow intently, willing one of those switch-a-roo movie moments to happen to us. Where I’d get to laze around all day napping, eating, and licking myself.
But movie moments only happen in my imagination. Chairman Meow got to stay Chairman Meow and I got to stay the farmer, trudging out to the fields in full rain gear to tend the crops. I love my job, but anybody who loves their job will tell you they want to stay curled up in the bed every once in a while and let the work go on without them. Take a rain check, so to speak. Today was one of those days.
Basil downy mildew takes down the entire basil crop; despite multiple fences, the deer have been hammering the sweet potatoes
I remember when we sailed this boat 10 years ago. Oh the things we didn’t know, the mistakes we made that should have been fatal. But it sailed. We just kept tacking and jibing like I didn’t just look those terms up on the internet and somehow we stayed afloat. Call it beginner’s luck.
It was a sort of farming where you basically throw some seeds in the ground and they grow. You don’t keep up with the care of those seeds but somehow manage to coax a crop out the sea of weeds anyway. You let the weeds go to seed, you let the fungal spores regenerate, you let the pests mate and go about their happy reproduction business. Oblivious to your future farmer self, you call your farm sustainable.
But someday the luck runs out. You shake fists of indignation at your early sanguine self. You’ve built up weed banks that will loan you seeds for a thousand years, you have the best fed venison this side of a whitetail farm, you now intimately understand the expression “reproduce like rabbits”, you might as well start a fungus factory, and you just can’t throw a seed in the ground and watch it grow anymore.
Suddenly, you have problems. You reminisce about when other farmers would talk about problems and you could just shrug your shoulders with lack of understanding. Ten years later, it’s sympathy and a bit of commiseration.
There are times that I feel like I’m being watched. Not the kind of watched that gives me goose bumps, but more of a warm and fuzzy kind of watched. Like my stumbling through the world is most amusing, and my delight is worth entertaining. I know it’s the farm. It’s like my secret Santa. It lets me know it loves me by leaving me little gifts. Little charming aberrations. Little faces in things.
I appreciate these small diversions. Farm work can be difficult and hot and humorless in July in the south (I was once advised never to evaluate my career choice in July and August). I know it’s shocking, but it’s true. Sometimes, in July and August, under the cruel gaze of the sun, salty sweat burning our eyes and every little skin abrasion we can’t imagine how we got- it becomes difficult to keep the heavy work light. We’re afraid to expend any unnecessary energy with jokes or lightheartedness. But difficult jobs are made lighter when everyone is distracted by humor or fun or downright silliness.
Enter nature again, bearing gifts of funny shaped veggies. A tomato with a nose. An eggplant with a mouth. A potato with a nose mouth and hair to boot. We stop thinking about the hard work and how hot we are and play show and tell with each other for a brief minute. And those minutes add up to hours, and suddenly, the work is done! It’s time for popsicles!
Is it wrong that I love destruction so much? I mean, we expend so much time and energy building and maintaining the ephemeral world of a season that one would think I’d wish to hold onto it. Instead though, I cherish the demolition. I’m like a vindictive child smashing in my own sand castle before the sea can consume it. I get to destroy, not the deer or rabbits or insects or weeds. Me! Me! Me!
I love lists. I do. My nightstand is littered with old lists. There are lists that fall out of the laundry. My pockets are lined with lists. There are at least two lists on the table at all times, not to mention the ubiquitous lists on the dry erase boards in the packing shed. I even take pictures of lists. But today, the list took on a tyrannical tone that I didn’t much appreciate. It all seemed reasonable this morning. But I swear the list was adding to itself while we weren’t looking.
Or maybe it was messing with the time. Because my lunch alarm went off before my hunger alarm while we were still in the middle of a morning task. Then we found ourselves headed to our afternoon task, already well into the afternoon. Today’s list left us a bit bewildered, but I’ve got my eye on it now. Tsk tsk tsk list, if you ever try to pull one over on us again.
I used to like animals. No, I mean, I still like animals. I adore my dog and cats. There’s nothing cuter than other people’s baby goats. I love cat videos, and baby elephant gifs. It’s the wildlife I no longer like. I don’t ever remember being particularly anti-hunter, although I’m sure I saw “Bambi” at some point as a child and disliked the idea of killing animals. But I was never a hunter myself. But attempting to coax even a meager living off the land has turned me into a shotgun-wielding nightly produce patrol woman. Don’t fret for the wildlife too much though; this change in me has not improved my shot.
I sat for a while yesterday just watching the bees work the flowers. Such diligence! Efficiently, they move from flower to flower, gathering food while unwittingly completing nature’s work of pollination too. I wish I were that productive when I ate. The more flowers, the more bees needed. You are that productive when you eat. I mean, the more produce you eat, the more we grow, and the more we grow, the more help we need to get all that work done. You can see all seven of us down there from the road—flitting from task to task with the due diligence of bees, an integral cog in the transmission of food from farm to fork.