Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Tully enjoys the coolness of the residual snow on a 70 degree day: typical spring
This is what’s cruel about springtime: no matter how it treats you, you can’t stop loving it.
-Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
It’s a never ending cycle. Folks have been counseling against it for ages, yet, we farmers just keep coming back for more. It’s a terrible addiction; we know we deserve more than this cruel lover gives us. But there’s this terrible hunger for fresh vegetables. Let’s face it, we’re never going to give up spring. As much as we moan and complain about battling the wind and row covers, about pushing the unexpected snow off from the hoop houses, about frozen fingers and frantic desperation to protect little baby plants, about 50 degree temperature swings all in one day, about wind burn and sun burn and sore muscle burn, the truth is, we still adore springtime. The first push of green from those tiny seeds in the greenhouse, the excited and relieved surprise of finding new life when peeking under a row cover in the field, the saturated azure of the clear day, even the confusing wardrobe decisions. These things keep us falling back into the arms of this cruel lover year after year in spite of our own exasperated sighs.
Farm fashion: I think I pretty much nailed it, don't you?
I remember reading an article once about second career farmers. All the folks the reporter interviewed had just left other jobs to farm. They all more or less cited a move toward and quieter and simpler life as their motivation. I suppose I’ve been doing this too long to remember if I ever held a romantic view of the farm life. No, who am I kidding. Of course I once held a romantic view of organic farming. One that likely involved more sitting on the porch and far less aching backs. One that involved more lemonade in the shade and far less sweat and grime in the summer; more L.L. Bean sweaters and hot tea and far fewer mismatched layers and wind-burned faces in the winter. But here I sit, firmly entrenched in the dirty, sweaty, achy, mismatched and wind-burned reality, counting my blessings anyway that, thanks to you, I get to do this every day.
Apparently, chickens hate the snow! This one tested it out then perched in this tree all morning.
Okay, I admit it. I’ve been a bit envious lately of people who have jobs. It’s just that I thrive on feeling productive and useful. Our season is beginning—it’s time to get productive, but with the weather, that productivity is limited to the office and the greenhouse. And there’s only so much we can accomplish in those two tiny spaces. After two relatively warm days and a slew of dry cold days preceding them, we went out expecting to till some ground and get ready for planting. Nope. Denied. The ground was still frozen stiff. Back to the office we went. The taxes are all completed ahead of deadline, the records finalized, the seeds ordered, old email files sorted and cleaned up, the office cleaned, organized, and re-organized. We’re so organized that we’re becoming disorganized! I just noticed that some of the file folders I created and filed (organized) have been re-created and filed by Jason! See? It’s like someone asking you what time it is seconds after you’ve looked at your watch, only to realize that you have no idea what time it is! Rinse, repeat.
Do you remember that Richard Pryor movie from the 80s? Brewster’s Millions. About the guy who had to spend a million dollars within a year and actually found it challenging. Each January, as we spend our spend our days purchasing our seeds and supplies for the season, I am reminded of that movie. Brewster should have farmed. Seriously. I feel like a one woman economic stimulus package this time of year. Forget champagne and caviar though; it’s seeds and potting mix and fertilizer for us. I have to admit, though, that it’s kind of fun. Rampant purchasing seems to add to the annual optimism we farmers suffer from. We roll through town in our ancient beat-up trucks and baggy overalls throwing down dollars like a hip-hop song, with a sanguine surety that this season is going to be great.
Jason weeding strawberries in our second strawberry house!
Happy New Year from Tumbling Shoals Farm! Time to make those resolutions! Truth be told, the only New Year’s resolution I ever kept was to never make another New Year’s resolution. Yep. Still sticking to that one several years later! But resolution season happens to fall into our production planning season, so I reckon a couple resolution-ish things sneak their way into our planning. Like, we really are going to keep the deer fence baited this year to prevent the astounding amount of crop damage done by those pesky creatures. Or, we’re going to keep up with the tomato trellising so they never get unruly. Or, we will write down everything we do on the farm each day!
This year, on top of resolution season falling into planning season, I’m also reading this book about how habits work and (hopefully) how to make new ones (The power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business). Look out husband and employees, you are going to be one big experiment in cues and rewards!
The last harvest on a cold November day
Thanksgiving. I love this holiday. I mean, how often do we take the time to sit down and focus on all the goodness in our busy lives. Not often enough, I’m sure. Which is why I love an entire day dedicated to giving thanks. This holiday also marks the end of the growing season for us, which means a lot of rest, relaxation, and light duty indoor “work” for a month or so. It seems like the perfect moment to give thanks for you. You, who reached out and helped in any way possible when Jason was injured. You, who stepped up and supported us when the season was looking so rough. You, who stuck with us until this cold end. You, who keep us going with your kind words of encouragement. On this day of giving thanks, I’d just like to reiterate my appreciation for you. Thank you.
Shiloh and Kitty Amin working on the newest member of the Tumbling Shoals Farm "fleet"
You might not believe this of me since I do my best to keep my feet firmly planted on the solid ground, but I have a few soapboxes that I occasionally stand upon. You may have enticed me to do just that once or twice (ever ask me why we are certified organic? Best advice: don’t ask). I spent this past weekend mingling with fellow farmers and associated ag advocates (groupies) and I noticed something pertaining to one of my soapboxes.
If you probe around in the lives of most farmers of any scale, you’re likely to find that someone on the farm holds an off farm job. Sometimes for the money, sometimes for the insurance, sometimes both, but either way, the vast majority of farm families require an outside job to live sustainably. Why is that? Clearly, the demand is there-- everyone has to eat; so it stands to reason that farming should be a viable career choice. Yet it appears that it’s not. Is it us, the consumer, just not paying enough for food? While it’s true that we don’t pay enough for food (we spend the least percentage of our incomes on food than any other developed country in the world and we spend the least percentage of our incomes on food than ever before in this country), I believe it goes deeper than that. I believe the farmers themselves are partly to blame. They don’t ask for what they need to make a real living. They, themselves, don’t see farming as a viable career choice. For years, this fact has bugged me.
But I noticed this weekend a shift in that paradigm. Finally. I’ve been attending this conference for 12 years, missing it only once. For most of those years, the focus was primarily on production—the “how to grow stuff” variety of information. In the last few years, however, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in focus to more business themes—the “how to make a living” variety of information. I couldn’t be happier to see this change. Finally, farmers seeing themselves for what they are: entrepreneurs. Finally, farmers demanding the tools to help them make farming a viable career choice. This shift in paradigm will go a long way toward developing and strengthening our regional and national food security because more and more young folks will choose to enter this profession. Plus, honestly, it feels pretty cool to feel like I’ve been listened to whilst on my soap box :)
My concept of November: recliner, wood stove, snuggly cat and seed catalogues
My body and mind are at war with my to-do list. They are protesting-whining even- that it's November and they're still working. It's cold! It's dark! they cry. But somehow, I drag them unwillingly through the day's list. It's just a matter of principal to them. November=the lazy season. It still is. One can hardly say that working 10-3 is working hard. But still, my mind and body fight me every step of the way. Isn't it time for reclining in front of the wood stove and gazing longingly at seed catalogues?
Dry aging "carrots" (venison seasoned with vengeance)
Until recently, I’ve never thought of myself as a vengeful or spiteful person. But then, there was discussion of attending the Watauga County Farmers’ markets through the month of November in the cold!! And I thought back to those early Hickory markets in April, when I rousted myself out of bed at 4:30, leaving a pleasantly sleeping Jason in bed, to stumble down the hill, load the truck and make the trek to market alone. And I thought (vengefully and spitefully), “Jason should know what it feels like to leave a soundly sleeping partner in bed while I get up and work.” (I would like to note here, that I did, in fact, get up and attend last Saturday’s Watauga market with Jason, but it was probably so that I could see myself as less vengeful and spiteful).
And then the deer descended on our carrots. Our friend Joel came to our rescue and eliminated four of them. And we found ourselves dancing in delight at the fact that there were four less deer around to damage crops. We’re sure beyond a doubt that venison seasoned with vengeance will be the tastiest venison ever.
Deer are a factor on our farm. A fact of life we have become accustomed to. We think we know their habits and their hierarchy of tastes. First sweet potatoes, then beets and chard, then strawberries, etc. Turns out they like lettuce a lot too. But never, never have they messed with carrots. Until we made them mad. We dug the measly sweet potato crop and mowed the vines, then we covered up the chard that they had been enjoying quite heartily. And we put deer netting on the sides of the strawberry tunnels so they couldn’t get in there to eat those either. Honestly, we left them a lot to eat. There was still the remainder of the lettuce planting that they took out earlier, after all. But no, we took away their favorites. So, in retaliation (I can only imagine), they decimated the entire beautiful carrot planting. I happened by there the next day and had to go ask Jason if he’d already harvested the carrots. They were pulled entirely from the ground. Some remnants were scattered around. It looked like a stampede had run through those beds. Even the drip irrigation tape was scattered as if someone had been in there harvesting. The best carrot stand we’ve had in years, completely gone. Hours later I was still picking my jaw up off from the ground. Wow, I just didn’t see that coming.