Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Shiloh and Kyle hauling in around 400 pounds of peppers!
Well didn’t that September just make a grand entrance. As if it were late, it came skidding in on two wheels, spraying gravel everywhere and nearly killing us all. Or at least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point crawling around in the peppers. I have attempted to not complain (at least too much) about the weather this year, considering all the craziness in last year’s weather, but something about the fact that it was also Labor Day goaded me a bit.
Nathan’s family stopped by this afternoon and I feared they might be acting on some legal orders from the humane society or something and we were going to be in trouble for making him work on Labor Day. I promise, though, he volunteered to work (and I never asked him if he regretted it given the heat index—some things are better left unknown).
The thing about running farm is that the crops have no idea it’s a national holiday! Nor do they seem to care. They (and the weeds) just keep on growing despite our attempts to reason with them over a 5-day work week. So we grit our teeth, put on hats, and welcomed September to our season with forgiveness for its crazy entrance. After all, it is September. It will be pleasant soon. And before we know it, we’ll have arrived at a season where we can actually celebrate holidays like normal people.
Vast cerulean sky swallowing okra
Knowing a pile of office work awaited me, Jason interpreted my working late in the field as judgment of his prioritization of different things when assigning tasks to the crew. But really, despite having a penchant for paperwork, today was just too enjoyable to sit in an office. Really, I was just having too much fun.
It’s beneficial to have days like today. Especially Mondays like today. Days when the sky swallows the horizon with its cerulean vastness and the thermometer reads “perfect” and gentle breezes brush against us like tender lovers. It’s beneficial to have days like today to remind us of why we love what we do.
It just was not one of those days where office work is the better reminder of that love (and there are those days). So yeah, my pile of office work still looms large, but I’m ending the day basking in adoration of a farm that, on some August days in hotter years, can sometimes feel more like drudgery.
I call this wanton weather. Not to be confused with wonton weather, although a nice dumpling soup does sort of hit the spot during weather like this, doesn’t it. Wanton weather makes me think about the weather. I know I’m a farmer and I’m supposed to be thinking about the weather, but this weather makes me really think. Like worry and fret kind of think.
We watch helplessly as disease rushes through crops in this ideal environment. We roll our eyes as trellises that we so painstakingly built topple over in the soggy ground. We nearly fall over while our feet are stuck in the mud. We find all the leaks in our rubber boots as we truck through standing water. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait for heat loving summer crops to ripen.
No, this is not the kind of weather that makes me love being a farmer. It’s the kind of weather that makes me wish I were a cat. I mean, look at them, all nonchalantly stretched out in their favorite sofa. All “no thanks, don’t think I’ll go out today. I’ll just sit around here in this warm and dry sofa until my soggy human comes to feed and pet me.”
Shiloh's parents working on the farm: Sandi (left) harvesting hard squash with the crew and Dean (right) weedeating.
To all of those who shamed me for calling myself old: I tried to take that to heart. If I'm not really that old, then I'm not really too tired to hang out with my friends on Saturday. How about a PBR on the porch then!
Well okay, but that quickly morphed into Shiloh asleep in a chair on the porch with a PBR perched precariously on her chest. Luckily, my friend David doesn't do that whole compromising picture for social media thing, because I believe I was quite the picture of old(ish). Ha! Old indeed!
Speaking of people who shamed me--my parents are visiting this week and are working their butts off (just to prove I'm not old, I think). So I'm keeping my rambling short.
The farmily harvesting cockscomb
I have a stopwatch function on my old dumb phone. I got to timing myself the other day assembling tomato boxes. It took me an average of 40 seconds. My record was 34 seconds. In a business like ours operating on such a thin fragile margin, those seconds end up mattering. We even follow a certain route to town because it’s 1 minute faster than another. Those minutes add up over a lifetime on the farm!
This stopwatch phenomenon is really a habit of Jason’s that I recently adopted. He spends a lot of time thinking about the best and most efficient way to go about things. Up until recently, I’ve just been amazed that we figured out how to do something at all that I’ve been complacent with how we do it. I’ve just really figured out the method to his madness. First, you have to figure out how to do it; then you have to figure out how best to do it. It’s part of becoming a better farmer.
Turns out, I’m a faster farmer when I’ve got that stopwatch thing going.
Jason pulling out squash plants (so we aren't tempted to harvest them one more time)
I’d like to argue with doctors for a minute. Or whoever it is that advises us to get more energy by exercising more. I’m tired. That whole 30 minutes minimum of exercise recommendation? Got that beat. But I’m still tired.
I blame it on the aging process. Something I never really envisioned properly. I pictured myself with beautiful long silver hair and wrinkles carrying a basket of lovely veggies harvested from our farm. I pictured my old self bent over a crop vibrant and full of energy. I did not envision being tired. And I most certainly did not envision being so slow!
It has been surprising me every time we fail to get our list completed and we have to work late. But that’s just it. Aging ambushed me! I thought it was supposed to happen gradually, gracefully. Instead, it’s like someone kidnapped my strong young body and replaced it with an aching slow one. Despite the fact that I’ve been getting more than 30 minutes of exercise a day. I suppose the “apple a day” thing isn’t true either.
Here's a picture of us harvesting potatoes in the rain to calm us down
There was a day at market a few years ago when a woman holding a small child suddenly stopped short and began frantically searching for her son. Naturally, we thought she was looking for her other son and soon the entire market had stopped to help search for the wayward child. As it turns out, she was looking for the very child in her arms. There was a collective sigh of intense relief after quite the adrenaline kick. Someone mentioned that she had a little too much going on.
Well, today I found out what that’s like. Not as intense as losing a child, for sure. I just temporarily lost $4500. Sitting down to my office work this evening, I opened a letter from our current bank adjusting a deposit down $4500 dollars-the amount of the cashier’s check from closing an account at an old bank, saying "non-negotiable item in deposit". Insert adrenaline here. I pawed frantically through my recycling and banking materials looking for the check stub that I definitely possessed at some point. Because, surely the bank doesn’t make mistakes. It must be mine!
What happens if I accidentally deposited the stub and threw away the check since it’s a cashier’s check and not one drawn on an account? Should I go dig through the trash too? What if I threw it away somewhere else? What if? What if? What if? Did I just lose the farm $4500? Scramble, panic, scramble, panic. Wait a minute….what if? Log into online account and look at deposits between the old bank account closure and mistaken deposit.
Collective sigh of relief after quite the adrenaline rush. Turns out, I already deposited the cashier’s check a week before I attempted to deposit the stub (which, in my defense, is an exact copy of the check, except with “NON-NEGOTIABLE, FOR CUSTOMER RECORD ONLY” written on it in red!). Think I had a little too much going on that day? Or maybe I just needed to create a little more excitement this time of year.
This isn't even our farm, but of course I haven't managed to get a picture of our farm from above when people are working, and I rather like this scene of this field corn in the valley.
From the road, we resemble worker ants. Five of us: crawling over the surface of the farm, hovering here and there before moving on. Sometimes, all five of us are in one spot, sometimes, we’re all in different spots. I suppose we’re not all that unlike ants--bustling around for food and survival. Or bees. Bees moving from crop to crop, gathering pollen to farm honey so they can survive the winter. We’re constantly moving, tending and harvesting crops so we, too, can survive the winter. It’s a cool thing to witness, actually, if you ever have the time to just sit at the top of the hill and watch us work sometime. Pure Thoreau euphoria. If only I had witnessed it before we named the farm after the creek that runs through it.
This is actually Saturday evening dinner but you get the point (Sea Scallops with caramelized fennel and onion and french fries with caprese salad and strawberry basil bellinis)
We went to visit a friend’s farm this Sunday. Against the Grain Farm outside of Boone. Holly and Andy. They’re a farm couple but Andy works full time off the farm so Holly’s doing most of the management by herself. It made me appreciate partnership. Division of labor. Playing to one another’s strengths.
Last Sunday, for example, Jason and I made a deal. I would pick squash and zucchini by myself while he made us brunch. That bargain resulted in us both getting necessary work done and enjoying a crazy delicious brunch. I’m talking peach cream cheese turnovers made from scratch that morning and home cured bacon. Sunday brunch is serious business around here.
Sometimes I wonder how different the farm would look if I managed it alone. I can’t even imagine the disarray. Or more likely, what my diet would consist ofJ I might have to become a raw foodie just because I wouldn’t prioritize cooking and eating the way Jason does for us. Which is good since its part of the reason we got into farming in the first place. You know, a humble and challenging way to eat with the freshest and best ingredients we can procure. But it takes partnership to make that dream a reality.
Nathan hauling cabbage from the chaos (the weedier end of a field)
Many people who’ve come out to the farm make the same remark: “I don’t know how you keep on top of it all!” The best response to that is, well, “we don’t.” I mean, we are an incredibly diverse farm, getting more and more diverse every year as we add perennials. We do our very best to manage it all, but the truth is, we lose some things every year. It’s the nature of the beast, so to speak. You might have noticed, for example, a dearth of beets from our farm this year. Case in point. Or you might have noticed we’re not raising hogs this year. I just plum never got around to picking up any piglets! Got too busy, there was no convenient time, and the whole project just got left behind in the wake of managed chaos that our farm is.
Some days, there is great satisfaction in managing said chaos. Today was one of those days. Most of the satisfaction came in the form of mowing. Jason and I went on a mowing frenzy this weekend. For perhaps the first time ever at Tumbling Shoals Farm, mowing and fence weed-eating ARE NOT on the perpetual “to-do” list. At least for the moment. The thing about managing chaos is that it’s a lot like “whack-a-mole.” You cross one thing off from your list as another pops up and while you’re crossing that off from your list, the other things pops back up, and there is no end until winter and cold and my feet up in front of the wood stove. But I don’t let that detract from the satisfaction of getting in a good whack at that mole.