Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
And just like that we’ve landed right smack in the middle of stripping season. October (the best month ever!) has made its grand entrance and forced our wardrobe hand. If we didn’t know how to win strip poker before, October (not her stripper name) will teach us. Mornings require hats, gloves, and roughly 14 layers, but just until the sun arrives above the trees, then maybe the hat can go, soon followed by the gloves. Then, slowly but surely, you lose the poker hands until you’re down to a t-shirt and pants (hopefully) by the afternoon.
But don’t get too comfy! That sun gets lazy in the late afternoon and you’ll start winning hands and need to re-apply layers one by one until the evening when you’re back in roughly 14 layers. Which is probably good because otherwise you might be tempted to be a sloppy stripper and leave all those layers laying about all over the farm which would make mornings a bit, uh, chillier.
Jason said to me today, “I feel like I’ve been accomplishing some athletic feat and now I’m supposed to rest and recover.” I pointed out that I felt that way too, but that I had accomplished an athletic feat (if you count dancing at a wedding well into the night after being up since 4 a.m. and working farmers market and athletic feat).
It is this feeling, and not the lovely weather, that clues us into the fact that it’s nearly October. This is the time of year that our bodies let us know how old we are (they exaggerate a bit, I’m afraid). It is also the time of year that our bellies are the smallest and our muscles are the strongest, that our boots need replacing and our sleep needs increasing. You see, it’s not just the vegetables that are seasonal, it’s our lives and bodies too.
It’s also the time of year when half the farmily leaves us and destruction becomes our major activity. Which means that it never becomes a fire to put out. Planting has to happen when planting has to happen or you won’t have crops to harvest. Same with watering and weeding. But destruction, well…that can be put off another week, another month. Who cares really if the old rotten tomatoes sit there on the trellis a little while longer when putting it off means quitting after only 8 hours and the weather is perfect and you have some prosecco chilling in the fridge?
This is the time of year that we understand again that sometimes an ideal world is not having everything done, but having time to sit and sip on the porch a while. When we realize that the word “pet” is also a verb. And that we are not, in fact, professional athletes (or 20-something). This is the season of slowing down, just a bit, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Shiloh and Jason left Saturday markets in the competent hands of the farmily this weekend and traveled to Long Island for an old friends wedding!
Battening down the hatches just in case (and to avoid any regrets later that we didn't do everything we can)
I’m sorry all you cool weather lovers, but I was distinctly not ready to give up summer’s caress. I did not get enough prosecco on the porch, river floating, or just plain sitting outside with good friends. Part of that is self-inflicted. We worked way too many hours this summer. It felt necessary at the time, but we’re beginning to think regulating one’s working hours is more a state of mind. As a farmer acquaintance near Asheville said, “I’ve discovered that it’s more of a conscious choice rather than an opportunity that comes up. There are a million things to do on the farm today, but today I’m choosing to take some time off to rest and enjoy the nice weather and an opportunity to do a whole lot of nothing.”
But in previous years, we had more time. September can hold onto summer like a desperate lover, and I can recognize my earlier lifestyle mistakes and slow down, ignore the million things to do on the farm and enjoy the nice weather. Exactly a year ago, I was porch sitting with friends in a sleeveless shirt, skirt and bare feet well into the evening. This year, porch sitting was in full cold gear including a blanket, and soon migrated inside by the fire. The fire! In September!
Still though, it was porch sitting. And enjoying the company of good friends. And doing a whole lot of nothing. So I guess it’s not too late to recognize our earlier lifestyle mistakes and slow down…it just might not be enjoying the nice weather on the porch.
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!