This is the week we’ve all been preparing for. Our farmily is complete this week and we all move to full-time work. We jumped right into teamwork to cover our last two high tunnels to prepare for pepper planting this week. Then all of the tunnels will be completely full and our outside fields are filling up fast with cool season crops. Kelsey seeded our first warm season outdoor crops today in the greenhouse and we’re off and running.
This week kicks off the rush of the season. Both Charlotte and Boone farmers markets begin this Saturday and so every week adds more and more harvest time to our busy planting and crop-tending schedule. Since Jason and I have been slowly entering the realm of whitewater kayaking, a kayak metaphor seems appropriate.
It’s as if we’ve been paddling down a placid river and have suddenly encroached upon a waterfall followed by a long series of (insert whitewater lingo here) super-fast and challenging rapids that will last until at least September. It will be chaotic and slightly terrifying, with one challenge after another with no reprieve, but we’ve paddled this route before and managed not to die, and we know more or less which lines to follow down the course. Every run is slightly different, of course, but we’ve practiced and we know how roll when we get in trouble. And there’s the promise of celebration at the end!
I’ve never considered myself an adrenaline junkie before, but market farming is not so placid—the season moves fast and furious—so maybe I’ll have to reconsider that image of myself.
We speak of "grounded" as if it's next to godliness. But I've always been grounded. I'm so grounded I'm half buried in dirt. Sometimes I yearn for some head in the clouds--some dreaminess. Some floating. Ground is stable, which has many benefits, but is also boring. It grinds the imagination down.
It's days like these that make me wonder: Did I live my most interesting life when I was young? While I'm extremely proud of what we've built here, and what we're still building here, I still get a hint of wanderlust from time to time. Just a whiff. A craving for adventure, for intrigue, for stories to tell. Being consistently content is great, but boring.
It's these moments when you're no longer a tourist in your backyard. When everything becomes "normal" and you forget to notice the astounding beauty around you. You know you're supposed to, but you're like that person trying to catch the autumn leaves at just the right time-- you're just waiting for something to happen that's out of your control, and then you'll jump into action.
What is in my control is the opening of my eyes. Or closing and re-opening them to notice the wonders all around me. To follow my curiosity. To create stories right in the here and now. And occasionally, to stick my head in the clouds and dream.
The sense of freedom washes over me and it is both terrifying and liberating. I mean, sometimes it would be nice to have a model to follow—a clear set of instructions. But it’s liberating to thing with imagination: “We could do this or be this. It doesn’t matter if no one’s ever done it that way before, we can do it.”
I can attend workshop after workshop, webinar after webinar (well, as many as my terrible internet allows me to attend), and pick up new and useful information. But I’m still applying it to our unique system and environment and culture here. And it will still likely look a bit different than the place from which I garnered the information or idea.
These are the things I ponder as I try to imagine and plan for the future Tumbling Shoals Farm. We have such a dynamic and competent team right now that I find myself working to create a succession plan in which they take over the farm. At times, I wish I had a good manual to follow, but there just isn’t one that I know of, and so I’m both free to create (and burdened with the task of creating) a plan of our very own. All while doing my best to also enjoy the current time with these dynamic and competent people.
Winter and early spring are the most time affluent periods of our farming season. Hence, this is the time we take to do equipment—of all sorts including our bodies. We rest and sleep and vacate, all part of maintenance, yes, but also we head to the gym, do more cardio, reconnect with our social networks and families, and we work on what I like to call “side quests” like learning new skills or just pursuing hobbies that are completely related to farming.
Just like the oil changes, filter replacements, and grease that keeps our equipment going, the human maintenance is what keeps the farmers going. Our main season can get kind of intense (working 6+ days/week for 8-9 months) and unsustainable. So we do our best to balance it out in the three months of slower time that we take to do our own personal maintenance.
That slow times speeds up a bit next week as more of our crew returns to work again and the planting schedule really kicks into gear. But we’re ready. We’ll continue to do our best to keep some of our maintenance/side quest routines in order to ease back into full swing (I will continue to learn how to roll my kayak until I get it, for example), but we feel refreshed and ready to take on the new season.
The seasonality of this work is one of the things I’m most grateful for. I recognize that most people have a more sustainable schedule and have a bit of time for maintenance activities regularly, I have become accustomed to this yearly balancing routine and have come to prefer it. Knowing the break is coming in December keeps me going at full speed when our crops (and weeds) are growing the fastest and the most markets are up and running at full tilt.
A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to pay little attention to what others were doing and just focus on my little corner of the world. I don’t mean callously, but more like less judgmental. I can recall the exact moment. Why, I realized, was I spending energy worrying about what others were doing that I perceived as wrong? What good was that putting into the world? And what if my perception of wrong was, well, wrong? And even if my perception wasn’t wrong, why did I think that was my job to sort it out?
And so I quietly descended from my high horse😊 and turned inward to my little corner of the world. It’s harder to pay attention and thus, judge, from solid ground. Plus, not paying attention gave me more energy to work on my own, uh, manure, and work on doing the absolute best we can in our own lives and work.
I chose this path because of the wasted energy, the negativity, and because of my own sanity, but the unintended result of this is that the farm—where we spend so much of our time—has become more of a bastion, a shelter, a big ball of love. Seriously, the farmily has a giant beating heart that is pumping it’s love outward into the community, and the community pumps it back. People want to be here; I want to be here. This, I think, must be what they mean by “fulfilling work”. We feed families, yes, that is our mission, but we also feed our own souls by doing the work in such a warm symbiotic environment.
I don’t like the cold. Thus, I tend to have very harsh feelings about winter, especially the whole working outside in the cold part of winter. But as with everything, there’s a silver lining. Local food may be harder won in the winter, but it’s also sweeter. I won’t bore you with the science of cold temperatures on the natural sugars in veggies, but the resulting effect on the taste buds is sensational.
I’m sure this can be a metaphor: harder won things are worth working harder to win them? Perhaps (although don’t ask Mallory, who had to take two consecutive hot showers last week to warm up). All I know is that ever since we made the decision to keep growing food through the winter, my taste buds have warmed me up to the idea. I say this, of course, as I sit inside my, um, “corner office” (which is actually a closet) inside a heated and insulated house. So there’s that. But the sun is out, there are still some gorgeous leaves on the trees, and we're setting up a temporary winter produce wash station in the heated greenhouse and, well, I'm headed south for a bit.
The first heavy (“killing”) frost, no matter when it arrives, is the harbinger of our annual semi-retirement. This used to mean switching gears from farmer to pickleball playing, gym going, yoga class attending, playing at city folk. More recently, however, we’ve discovered the power of credit card miles and have been exploring realms further south. And we’ve got these young whipper snappers here that want to keep growing in the winter!
So the first heavy frost, which didn’t arrive until late last week, now means a sudden scrambling to get all the soil testing done, crop analysis and next year’s crop planning completed, seeds ordered, structures winterized, pack shed moved to heated space, and fields turned to cover crops, and make sure all our inside beds are filled for winter production. Gone is the downshifting, the sleeping in, the slow progression toward hibernation. Instead, this fall frenzy of activity.
At least mother nature was sympathetic this season. She swooped in, froze everything, then left to give us a gorgeous week of t-shirts and azure skies—a little breathing room to work long days to get everything accomplished before the cold returns for real.
Sometimes you just have to put everything aside revel in the joy and laughter of each other’s creativity and silliness. Sometimes, you just have to play. I find Halloween to be the perfect time to do this. It’s a celebration of each other, of levity, and of the slowing down of life (where we can actually concentrate on pulling off a fantastic party).
We can so easily become bogged down beneath the burdens of responsibility and obstacles etc. ad infinitum that we forget how to crawl out from underneath and breathe. So setting aside an official time to do so, say, for example, Halloween, is actually an important life task, see? Now I don’t really care about the history or the meaning or the evolution of the “holiday” of Halloween, I’m only interested in some set moment in time to clamber out from under the weight of the world and giggle. Or even guffaw. Because we all deserve a guffaw.
Did you know that we live in a beautiful place? I forget sometimes. I’ve been here long enough that I’ve forgotten to be a tourist in my own backyard. Everything has become “normal” and I forget to notice the astounding beauty surrounding me. I know I’m supposed to, but inertia takes over and I keep putting one foot in front of the other, never pausing to notice.
Autumn leaves are nature’s way of tripping us out of our chronic torpor. Fall is like a toddler stomping their feet and screaming “look at me! Look at me! LOOK AT ME!” We can’t help but notice. And noticing does not go un-rewarded. Colors crawl slowly down the mountain like waking on a lazy Sunday, tiptoeing into our beds before jumping up and down yelling “wake up!”
And so autumn becomes the noticing season. You can tell by the sudden appearance of weekend traffic jams in Wilkesboro-people are noticing. Seasonal changes seem designed to make us pay attention. The first appearance of green in the spring after the greys of winter, the fall leaves after we’ve become immune to green in the long-winded summers, all these shifts, year after year, stop us and force us to look up to pay attention to the beauty around us.
I read this the other day: “How wonderful is it that we laugh because our bodies cannot contain the joy”. I love to laugh. Who doesn’t? I love the random acts of funny that people create just for the amusement of others. This, I believe, is the only true altruism. Have you heard of improv everywhere? They’re a group of random people that create amusing live acts mostly in New York City just for the amusement of other people. And how about all the funny memes all over the internet that are created just for our laughter. The creators don’t even get to see us laugh! But they create them and send them out into the world anyway. Humor connects us.
I have had complete strangers send me pictures of faces in things, and distant acquaintances send me puns. I love that people far away from me see an amusing thing out there in the world and think of me and want to share a moment of laughter with me. Humor can cross distances both physical and political. I mean, kitten antics are funny in any language and no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. So, let’s all take a moment together to let the joy escape us in magnificent laughter. What have we got to lose?