Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Kelsey and Trey hanging with us in the extreme heat to trellis peppers. Thanks guys!
I’m just going to go ahead and admit it. Last week was a tough week to be a farmer in the southeast. We tried, somewhat in vain, to maintain morale, but heat exhaustion is cumulative and the struggle was real. The heavy air came in from the rain and mercilessly tried to choke us. There was no sympathy from the sun. It ganged up with the humidity and beat us even after we cried “uncle.”
But we arrived here to August, somewhat in one piece, ready to take on the tomatoes. Did you catch that? It’s already August! It’s sort of the pinnacle of our season. It signals…well, something. All it seems to signal these days is more tomatoes to pick. But we’ve been here before. We know August is the top of the slide into more angular sunlight and big blue skies and evenings that make you want to sip prosecco on the porch. August: adjective meaning inspiring reverence or admiration; majestic.
Yes, we have arrived. Not exactly the august arrival to August that we intended—completely on top of things and bursting with energy—but all the same, we have arrived. Exhausted and limping, we still intend to conquer the world.
Soul soothing with the farmily this afternoon
We just got back from the river. It was hot today. And we hustled. We’re down to a skeleton crew on Mondays without Eli or Sage. But the river called us and we seized the moment. Carpe momento? We don’t have entire days to seize, but we’re learning to seize the moment.
Yes, there was work to do. There’s always work to do. This is what I’m just beginning to figure out. I mean, we’re nearly 10 years into this farm and we’re just figuring out how to do it sanely. There will always be work to do. But some work can wait. And a half hour of stretching will make you feel so good! And an hour at the river will be so refreshing. And five minutes to pick that bouquet of flowers. And twenty minutes to juice those reject carrots. And forty five minutes to sip a prosecco on the porch. And fifteen minutes to pet the dog or cat…
This is what keeps farmers sane. Seizing those small moments makes the mountains of work so much more approachable.
Just having a moment of relaxation with Chairman Meow
I feel relaxed. I’m sure I shouldn’t because it’s July, we’re about to be in tomato land while planting fall stuff and we’ve got some major projects coming up that include some planning, and we’re back down to a 6 person farmily, and there’s always the weather to worry about, but I can’t help it: I just feel relaxed.
I think it’s because we didn’t get around to our Sunday field walks that lead us to our weekly plan (because I was busy doing my Monday work so I could give Jason a half day off for his birthday this week). So, since all the week’s tasks aren’t written down there for everyone to see, it’s like they don’t even exist! And it’s so relaxing.
Wow. It’s that easy. Don’t write it down, and it doesn’t have to be done! This, my friends, is a revolution in stress reduction! Can I market this somehow? (Because not doing all the week’s tasks might mean we don’t have veggies to sell). I mean, it’s a world of difference. Usually Monday has us running and working late and here I am at 5 p.m. talking to y’all! I’m having a breakthrough moment here…I think I need to go celebrate. :)
Here we are on our nation’s day of Independence. Because Monday is not a day we can take completely off, we celebrated yesterday by floating lazily down the New River. Emphasis on the lazy. Just floating: eyes to the sky, toes dipping into the water, oozing along like oil. Little droplets occasionally melded together, occasionally drifting apart. Without paddles, nothing to do but live in the moment of the river.
I am tempted to find a life lesson in such an experiment. Living life without a paddle? But the truth is, I like research and information and plans and lists and all the paddle-esque things that guide us through our everyday lives and careers. I like being on top of things. It’s just that, every now and then, it’s nice to take a day to simply ooze. To let go of any need for control and trust the river to get you there in its own good time.
ALL HUMANS ARE OKAY! But Vanny DeVito met his demise in Tumbling Shoals Creek this past week
We’ve decided to thrive in challenging situations. Yep. It’s on our list. Want to know what’s no longer on our list? Getting a spare wheel and tire for Harrison Ford (the Hickory market van, who has never had a spare tire since we’ve owned him). But I happened to notice while Vanny DeVito was upside down in the creek that he has a really nice spare tire, now available. Boom! Check it off the list!
See how easy that was? Just total one van a get the part you need for the other. Easy as pie.
But seriously. We learned something from Vanny DeVito, who got dragged back out of the creek and set back on his feet, started back up and limped back to the farm by his own engine. I mean, farming is a lot like this accident. Inevitably, there are setbacks, but being a farmer is about taking those setbacks and making the best of them (free spare tire! A thing checked off the list!), and perhaps learning a thing or two along the way.
Farming takes tenacity. It takes grit. Sometimes, it takes sheer will to thrive under formidable conditions.
I’ve been known to admire some muscles here and there. You know, you glance back at someone lifting a heavy object and appreciate their bicep, or you admire the abs on an Olympic swimmer on television, or even the quadriceps or calves on a runner. Or okay, let’s admit it, you’ve admired triceps at the cross-fit gym (but only through the window—you wouldn’t want a cross-fitter to get a big head!) But never, in all my muscle admiration, have I ever said, “would you look at those hamstrings!”
That’s the farmer muscle. I know bending over so much sounds like a back exercise, and it is, but nothing works more around here than the hamstrings. I mean, try it! Fold over umpteen thousand times in one day and you’ll notice that it’s your hamstrings that are hurting the next day.
They’re subtle; they’re usually covered up by shorts or skirts or pants so we don’t tend to notice them, but man, do farmers have them. Well, at least farmers on Tumbling Shoals Farm. So, just because, here's three cheers to farmer hammies!!!
Jason whipping the landscaping into organization
Two social scientists, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, introduced the “broken window theory” in the early 80s. I’ll paraphrase the theory. Broken windows beget more vandalism and other petty crimes. So if you fix the broken window promptly, it is a lot less likely that more windows will be broken or more vandalism will occur. If you clean up the streets promptly and daily, people are less likely to throw their trash in them. Let me say it in the positive: clean streets beget clean streets and neighborhoods that people feel safe in.
We employ a similar theory in our lives here on the farm. The appearance of disorganization and chaos begets disorganization and chaos. If the house is messy, our whole lives feel messy, and we’re more likely to approach farm management sloppily. So we try to make the bed every day, keep the “office pile” relegated to one big magnet on the fridge (sometimes it takes two), clean up the kitchen as we go, etc.
We try to keep our fields relatively “clean” of weeds (hey, I said “relatively”!), the field borders mowed on a somewhat regular basis (hey, I said “somewhat”!), and the packing shed neat and organized. Everything in its place.
We feel strongly that the appearance of organization and cleanliness leads to real organization and cleanliness. Besides, there’s a huge amount of satisfaction involved in the appearance of organization. Or perhaps it's just me.
Kelsey getting the "don't wipe out" lesson before riding a motorcycle for the first time
In motorcycle safety class, they teach us that wherever your eyes look, your body and motorcycle will follow. This is to get people to avoid looking down at the ground while making tight turns so that they don’t wipe out, but I find this to be a valuable life lesson as well.
For years, Jason and I toiled away at our various jobs while working toward starting our own farm. As long as we kept our eyes on the goal, our trajectory kept us moving in that direction. And here we are in our 9th season here at Tumbling Shoals Farm and we constantly create new goals to look at so that we don’t wipe out. We keep our eyes on goals such as farm and crop improvements, efficiency improvements, customer service and quality improvements, quality of life improvements, etc.
We’ve learned though, that a goal is not an abstract idea just floating around inside our heads. Because how do you focus on an abstract idea? Nope. We’ve learned that in order to keep your eyes on something, it must be a solid thing with a concrete plan.
We teach a cash flow workshop every year and we always harp on this idea: if you plan for it, you’ll make it happen (usually). We tell our students, who are in the very beginning stages of planning for their own farm, not to leave wages for themselves or their employees out of the plan, or they’ll never actually be able to leave that off-farm job and be full time on the farm. You’ve got to plan for it or you won’t have anything to focus on and you’ll wipe out.
Sage with lightning hands!
When my mother visited this past spring, she brought her laptop so I could see some of her travel pictures. But on it were some old pictures of Tumbling Shoals Farm. I found myself perusing these old photos and thinking, “I’ve got to get her some new pictures!” Just a few years ago, our farm looked very different. We were younger and dumber, as it turns out.
So then I looked back at the blog for several years ago. Back to our second year here. I was managing alone and I had one part time employee. Jason still worked “off” the farm and traveled a lot. I looked at a blog from around this time of year and it was all about how I couldn’t get things done. I was barely keeping afloat (literally! 2009 was a year of the flood) and I struggled to figure out efficiency, “I swore off the word ‘efficient’ this weekend. I knew I was risking institutionalization for obsessive-compulsive disorder if I said it one more time.“ (Me, 2009)
It gives one a sense of perspective when one looks back at the past. I mean, look at how far we’ve come. Look at all that we’ve learned. Look how much better farmers we are! We grew to understand efficiency, figured out how many people to employ and how to train them toward an efficient end.
It was a well-timed trip into the past. May is our busiest month ever and it’s a short route toward overwhelmed. So it’s nice to look back and realize how far you’ve come.
I picked me a bouquet of wildflowers today. I didn’t have time to do it. I needed to rush off straight away after the work day to tackle my office pile. But I did it. I have no regrets. I mean, what’s the point of living out here on the farm if you can’t even enjoy a bouquet of wildflowers every once in a while?
This is the myth of organic farming: the romantic idea that we are strolling around the farm barefoot, picking wildflowers to put in our hair and smiling at our kale. It’s a myth we’d like you to believe so yes, we totally do that. Well, the smile at the kale part.
Usually though, we’re not strolling around the farm barefoot, but driving around in our gator because it’s faster and more efficient than walking and time is, well…scarce. But every now and then we remember to stop and enjoy the finer points of country living. Like a bouquet of wildflowers and a fine meal from the farm.