Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
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.
Kyle harvesting sunflowers
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.
Lizzy and Lacey pounding posts for our pepper trellis
There is this Andy Warhol hipster hang-about in the book I’m reading, The Flamethrowers, who meets a waitress in a diner in Hoboken who is actually a sociologist studying the lifestyle of people in jobs like waiting tables at a diner in Hoboken. It’s like she’s playing the part of a waitress. Like a performance, except for research. In Sociology, we call that a “participant observation.” She says, “I infiltrate to study this world.” The Andy Warhol hipster hang-about is curious and decides to play the part too and gets the job the sociologist leaves when her research is finished, but then she becomes “authentic.” The lifestyle part she is playing infiltrates her.
There have been days when I feel like that is exactly what happened to me. Did you know I have a degree in sociology? Yep. And did you know there is a whole branch of sociology called “rural sociology”? Indeed. There used to be a lot of days when I felt like I was just playing the part of a farmer in order to study the lifestyle, jargon, etc. Or maybe those were the days when I hoped I was just studying this career and lifestyle in order to write a book about it and teach a class in rural sociology.
I sometimes find it hard to answer the common question of “how did you get into farming?” Sort of by accident? I guess I just played the part of being a farmer until the lifestyle infiltrated me and I became “authentic.” The same way I learned French, or became the farm mechanic, just “fake it until you make it”.
Nathan and Kyle planting ginger on a lovely afternoon in June
June. Named after Juno, the Roman goddess of childbirth and fertility. The weeds that escaped our hoes in April and early May have all grown up and are having children of their own now. Usually, June rolls in on a saucy heat wave, announcing her presence like a child demanding your attention, stamping her feet and screaming “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” But Juno must be otherwise distracted at the moment, because June just sort of slid into the raucous party through an already open door and sat down. I hardly even recognized her. Sweatshirts in the mornings and evenings, no desperate Popsicle breaks, even the squash seems to be confused and isn’t growing so fast. A subtle June will have us all complacent and unprepared for that blast of July that is sure to come, but since there’s nothing we can do about that, let’s just enjoy the sweatshirts while we wait.
Lizzy, Kyle and Nathan putting up tomato trellis
I remember in the Peace Corps how we would always be trying to “out-suffer” each other. As if points were awarded to those of us in the most remote, difficult to travel to and from places with the least amenities available. I had cold beer in my town. I never won these one-up (down?) contests. It seems I’m still in the ferry of tortured souls that makes it ashore. Because I keep hearing references to 16-hour days.
I started thinking about it after (what felt like) a particularly long and grueling day. 16 hours really? Said day, I quit working around 7:30 utterly exhausted. I mean I was spent. But I got to thinking about it, and realized that I would have had to keep working until 11:30 p.m. to call it a 16-hour day! I had “only” worked 12!
Jason and I don’t usually punch the clock until 7:30 on our normal non-market work days. We get up at 5:30 but that doesn’t count right? I mean, normal 9 to 5 workers don’t “punch the clock” when they get out of bed. If I don’t want to commit crimes against humanity, I need to get some sleep. The only way for me to work a 16-hour day would be to begin work as soon as I got out of bed at 5:30 and keep working right up until 9:30 (which is already a half hour past my bed time). I’m only awake for 16 hours (hopefully)!
I can only imagine that, with a few weird outliers, most people aren’t working actual 16 hour days. Not that they’re not working a lot, too much, whatever, but (in my humble opinion) 12 hours is enough. If points are, in fact, awarded to the most suffering, 12 hour work days are enough to rack some up. It is definitely not my goal to rack up those points though. In fact, as soon as we make it through all the current “firefighting” over the next few weeks, I plan on losing a lot more of those one-up contests.