Farm News

This is Not Hard

Last Saturday morning I did something I’ve never done in 10 years of farming. I got caught transplanting in a downpour and had to stop. The whole time, I kept trying to remember when this had happened before, but the truth is, it really hadn’t! I looked at my soil soaked gloves and knees and boots. I looked at the five remaining flats of tightly packed lettuce leaves reaching hungrily for more space and light. I looked west at the darkening sky. I looked down at the soft, vulnerable earth.  I picked myself up out of the aisle and retreated from the field.

Our water year average precipitation thru April is 30.6 inches of rain. Thru the end of March, this year, we’ve received 44.6 inches of rain. So you might think that as I packed it in and set those lettuces flats back in the greenhouse to wait out the weather, I was grumbling and discouraged.

But you’d be wrong.

 

 

This is the year that has taught me that when it rains, I need be grateful it is not raining hard. And when it rains hard, I’m to be grateful it’s not windy too. When it is windy, I’m grateful it’s not gusting. When it is gusting, I’m grateful it doesn’t last long.

The day the windstorm picked up one of our little field poly houses and wracked it crooked, I saw pictures of a friend’s greenhouse in Montana that’d been leveled by — of all things– a heavy silage tarp that slammed into it compliments of a capital G gust of wind. That made me grateful my field house could be repaired.

This is the Spring I’ll remember with thanks giving. For all the rain, for all the erratic storms, for all the ways I’ve had to adjust or patiently regroup, I’m not perennially discouraged because you know what? This is not hard. None of “this” is hard. Challenging? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Unsettling? Yes. But not hard.

I’m safe, I’m loved, I’m well fed. My house is intact and I’ve a soft bed. Through each passing storm, power outage, and rain delay, I take account of my blessings. I walk the field, the barn, the seeding house, the high tunnel. Life is streaming forth everywhere I turn. Barns and greenhouses are intact, and the animals and plants relying on them are safe and dry. Robert Frost’s “A Prayer In Spring” starts, “Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;/And give us not to think so far away/As the uncertain harvest; keep us here/All simply in the springing of the year.” 

The more I take less and less for granted, the more I’m reminded of my good fortune.

**

Thru one big storm in March, I nervously kept planting peppers in the seeding house. The rain and wind gusts were so loud I had a hard time concentrating. In a moment of anxiety, I unwisely began fixating about the poly “roof” above me. Two layers of 6 millimeter plastic is all that thinly separated this crashing, blowing, pelting rainstorm from me, the thousands of small, irreplaceable plants representing three months of work and thus my ability to fulfill my commitment to each of you.

I paced. I went to the door and peered out. I closed the door again and tried to reassure myself that every storm sounds louder under barn and greenhouse roofs.

Then, my saving grace came. I looked down at my hands. In a new light, I saw the power of a few small seeds I was holding. My heart steeled and softened at the same time. I remembered.

I remembered my purpose. I remembered I had no control over the storm or the durability of the plastic roof at this point. I was compelled to go straight back to my work. In that moment, my job was to keep on seeding new life, and in the process, rekindle the kind of never-say-die gutsy hope I most admire in other farmers.

Time and again, when I toe the edge of what seems an unsteady cliff, I look to Nature and suddenly find beneath myself a scrap of solid footing. Bridges I did not know could exist span out before me. Motivations, ideas, small acts of perseverance galvanize within me. In some unexplainable way, my work keeps me in conversation with teachers who do not speak Human and a powerful tenacity that does not need translation. I guess that’s one more layer of gratitude to add to my list.

Oh, and did I mention I have clean, hot, running water?

This is the Spring which is pushing my boundaries and testing my creative capacity for adaptation. This is the Spring which has stripped away the superfluous and forced me to question what and why and how and ask, what if?

This is the Spring that isn’t allowing me to settle for complacency.  Out of sheer necessity, I’m learning to dig deeper, think more powerfully, and experiment more courageously.  2017 is teaching me how to be a more patience, resilient land steward. The petty frivolousness has been washed away.  I’m less focused on the ancillary, ragged edges and more focused on the heart of my work.

This year, I will not be burdened with expectations of big successes.  I am determined to just keeping work toward little wins.

This is not hard.

It’s the mantra that keeps me centered, open and working every day to bring good food, grown with love out of our fields and into your kitchens. ~AJ

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Farming for Bees and Soil

Our CSA is split into two groups which pick up on alternate weeks. To keep things straight, we’ve named these ‘half share groups’ after two of our favorite plants. You might be surprised to learn our favorites aren’t actually crops we grow for sale, but plants we admire deeply for their contributions to the success of our farm ecosystem.

Clovers in general are an absolute necessity to sustaining healthy soils and thereby growing great vegetables.  We use Crimson Clover extensively in our fallow (un-planted) beds as a way to protect against erosion, increase the organic matter of the soil and to capture nitrogen, one of the most fundamental elements for producing food.  It is a fantastic fact that clover fixes atmospheric nitrogen. This means the plants are able to capture nitrogen from the air and collect it in nodules along their roots.  When the clover completes its life cycle, this nitrogen is released into the soil and available as food for our growing vegetables. Chemical based farming relies heavily on a petroleum and energy intensive processes to manufacture anhydrous ammonia which is then sprayed onto fields to supply nitrogen for crops. But clovers, like most all legumes, move nitrogen to the soil quietly, freely, and beautifully.  Clover is an ideal partner to the strategic and patient farmer, and not only because it fixes nitrogen.  Clovers are a much needed food source during spring for our pollinators.  Clover roots till deep into the soil and break up hard layers that would stunt our vegetables’ growth.  Clovers are also a nutrient dense source of food favored by our pigs.  That’s an impressive resume if you ask me!

 

Phacelia, pronounced [fuhsee-lee-uh], is also known as ‘Bees Friend.’  This complex and beautiful plant is a powerhouse, providing abundant nectar and pollen for a wide variety of pollinators and beneficiary insects, all while smelling decadently like honey.  Also spring blooming, phacelia seed was once difficult and expensive to source, so we have slowly built up a seed bank to expand the amount we grow each year. We’re grateful to see now it is available in good quantity from quality regional seed houses like Wild Garden Seed. Phacelia is tough and survives arid dry conditions.   It has tender stems and is easy to turn under, breaking down quickly to provide a clean seedbed for the next crop. We use phacelia in our brassica (cabbage family) beds because the predatory insects it attracts reduce aphid populations that prey on our fall crops.  Phacelia easily reseeds itself and has become a much welcomed addition to our spring high tunnel beds, turning unused corners into rich smelling, self-regenerating, and astoundingly beautiful insectaries.

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Cilantro Carrot Slaw

bin of red carrots
Cilantro Carrot Slaw
 
“This quick and easy slaw is an excellent way to showcase multi-colored carrots. Our testers loved it on fish tacos; its also great with grilled chicken and fish. You can also make this slaw recipe with beets, kohlrabi, or radishes instead of carrots. It’s also delicious with mint or parsley in addition to, or in place of cilantro.”
Recipe by:

Ingredients
  • 5 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • ½ cup diced yellow onion
  • ½ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions
  1. Shred the carrots and celery with a food processor or box grater. Toss with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Notes
~ Recipe by Dax Phillips

 

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Restorative Work

seeds sprouting in fall

I have a winter confession – a really unpopular one. I love the rain. I love the grey skies, I love the dim and quiet dampness of our Pacific Northwest climate. I love the intensity of an afternoon squall, the indescribable music of wet energy on the metal farmhouse roof. Furthermore, I love the sincerity of the landscape. In winter the trees and shrubs, hillsides and meadows all reveal their distinctive character. The past summer’s raucous vibrancy has been quieted. One falling leaf at a time, the opportunity for over-stimulation is quelled. All things are stripped of glamour; basic truths endure. Yes, it easy to thrive with sunshine, bright colors and constantly flourishing fields which propel me forward. But winter farm life, it turns out, has a way of fueling my life too.

In ‘dreary’ late November, I am buoyed forward by the happiness of a successful year. I have around me the riches of the season — sacks of onions, brightly hued winter squash, cans and cans of tomatoes, and moreover, the gratitude of all the families my work has touched. I am filled to the brim with thoughts of your kitchens, your dinner tables, and your meals that have been blessed by Good food, grown with love. These delightful remembrances and a secure winter storehouse intermingle with the physical tiredness of my body. I always feel as if I’ve reached the end of a nine month long wilderness hike. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m also ready to sit down for a while and revel in success!

But it is not because my work ends that I look forward to the cold, dark days. It is because the nature of my work changes. This shift teaches me new skills, challenges me to pace myself, and offers me the chance to shed that often abused multi-tasking mentality.

After planning such intricate schedules and tending to the constantly changing needs of so many crops, I am thankful to switch gears. I am eager to undertake slow, simple, immediately gratifying tasks. Summer is a season of fully committed days, so it is a pleasure to have small, discrete rainy-day projects I can start and stop on my own schedule.

Flushing of water lines, organizing and storing supplies and sharpening and repairing tools gives me space to unwind, stretch out, and relax. I may be the only person in the world who looks forward to cleaning out an old barn. However, each tool I unearth, each rusty hinge I recycle, each corner of my farm where I get to spend a winter day adds to my delight. Slow, easy work is healing, helpful, cleansing. To notice, tend, and love in such small ways is an often overlooked, yet immensely meaningful contribution to the greater good. I know how these little tasks all set the stage for next year’s success. Restorative work is a luxury I most often enjoy in winter.

When the days grow short and dreary, we think that life outside our homes is dull. But life is still alive! Ecological mystery surrounds us—we only need shift our mindset. Austere can be fascinating. Stark can be beautiful. Winter does not need define us—we can define winter. A good raincoat, warm socks and the right attitude is the place to start.

The more I get outside, the more restorative work I take on with a measured, easy pace, the more I come to love the rain, the dampness, the uninhibited restful nature of winter. Simple, meaningful work, great food, time for contemplation and time for rest – these are the hallmarks of my winter days.

As Thanksgiving draws near, I give thanks for the recuperative power winter offers me. I remember that no matter the weather, there is always a lovely world outside. Just because it does not look as inviting as summer, does not mean it is not beautiful. The door is always open. I need only release my expectations, drop unhelpful comparisons and be willing to truly value the everyday miracles surrounding me.

Inevitably, at least once each winter, I’ll find myself caught in a prolonged deluge of rain. That’s when I give into the best of the season. I decide right then and there to fully celebrate the accomplishments, connections and joys of the passing year.  I close my eyes. I turn my face skyward. With a smile, I just let go. ~AJ

A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back – but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you. ~ Marian Wright Edelman

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Almond Parsley Pesto

flat leaf parsley growing in the sunlight
Almond Parsley Pesto
 
Sunset Magazine notes: “An intriguing spin on the Italian classic basil-and-pine-nut pesto, this sauce complements all sorts of roasted or grilled vegetables and meats.”
Ingredients
  • ½ cup raw whole almonds
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley (leaves and tender stems)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon red chile flakes
  • ⅓ cup finely shredded parmesan cheese

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spread almonds in a single layer on a rimmed baking pan. Roast almonds until golden beneath the skin and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
  2. In a food processor, finely chop garlic. Add almonds and whirl until coarsely chopped. Add parsley, olive oil, salt, and red chile flakes and whirl until parsley is finely chopped. Add parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.

Notes
Adapted from a recipe by Angela Brassinga featured in Sunset.

 

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In Search of a Newt

autumn leaf on the ground

 

On Sunday I caught myself folding laundry just a little less hastily than normal. It was surprising to discover in my hands a new sort of patience for the task. With so many months of relentless farm work nearly behind me, this menial job suddenly had become a moment of pleasure. It may seem silly, but the simplicity of the situation made me downright giddy.

For some reason, I then remembered Eisenhower’s Matrix —the classic time management tool that prioritizes tasks based on their importance and urgency. With respect to laundry, I mused, Eisenhower’s Matrix only works so far. Depending on your philosophy, laundry starts in the delegate or decide category. Unfortunately, this isn’t the White House. So the number of assistants I can simply delegate such a task to is a sum total of zero. In the decide category (in which you schedule time to do the task yourself), my classic approach was to mentally throw the laundry in the “Take a number, the line starts way over there” bucket. Neglected, it often languishes until a critical point is reached. Usually that critical point is NCU (no clean underwear). Per Eisenhower, at NCU, the task moves instantaneously to the most critical category: important and urgent.

I’m on a roll, so I might as well air all my dirty laundry. I have never been the one who folds clothes with military precision. My shirts do not hang all in one direction and my socks often co-mingle un-attached in the drawer. None of my towels align precisely at the corners, and my sweaters are rarely stacked evenly on the shelf. At some times of the year laundry that is clean is the only attainable victory. In the peak of the summer season, folding is bypassed; the clothesline acts as my dresser.

Clearly laundry, it turns out, is at the bottom of my “priority” hamper. So last Sunday, when I experienced a moment of enjoyment from the task, and subsequently was mulling over Eisenhower’s techniques, I though more about time and priorities. As I reached for a few more clothes hangers, I began to think how I habitually determine certain tasks to be wasted time. The implication of this value judgment? If I don’t like it, or I consider it a frivolous but necessary inconvenience, I callously rush through it. The rushing is fueled by the belief that I need to be doing more important things, and when I am doing important things, I won’t rush.

buddy system comic socks in dryer

I began to take notice of the possibility and power contained in all these little moments of ‘wasted time.’ I saw how often I rushed thru the household tasks because I deemed them less valuable than the big important works of managing a farm. This value judgment seems correct – pigs need fed, thirsty plants need water: both are more important and more urgent than matching up socks, and yet in a flash I recognized the fallacy.

By rushing thru the unimportant tasks, I set a dangerous precedence. I energize a hurried mentality that without consciousness can permeate everything I do. Haste spins up this cycle. Oblivious, I begin rushing through the important tasks too. Totally unaware, I find I am constantly racing headlong toward a future that I perennially deem greater than my immediate experience.

Then, quickly came the realization that I had this choice regardless of the time of year; being present has nothing to do with the pressing nature of the workload. I thought to myself, “You know, even in July, I have to clean my clothes. Spending an extra five minutes on laundry is not going throw a big wrench in any schedule.” In fact, quite the contrary occurs. Taking a mere ten seconds longer to turn a long-sleeved shirt right side out? In a tiny but powerful way, that makes me feel right inside and out.

This mindset goes part and parcel with accepting that the farm (and my life) is a work in progress. It’s utterly defeating to think as I fold clothes, “How many more times will I have to fold these clothes?” By contrast, when I plant tomatoes each year, I never, ever, think to myself, “How many more years will I have to grow tomatoes?” Yet watering, transplanting, weeding, pruning, training, and harvesting tomatoes is infinitely more work than any minuscule time I spend hanging sheets on a line to dry!

If I prioritize little chores as less important and proceed to rush thru them, it sets the pace for everything that follows. For each task, in turns feels less important than the “bigger” things I’d rather be doing. It’s like a habit, which unattended sets me on autopilot. Now, I don’t expect I’ll ever fall in love with folding fitted sheets or matching up pairs of socks. But I think it wise to give each task its due time. If I haven’t practiced some small measure of steadiness with a mundane task, how will I have the competency to stride with a measured pace into the bigger endeavors of life?

**

On Sunday evening, my young nieces and I went walking in the canyon behind the farm. Patches of the forest path were covered with the classic sign of fall: one section of the trail was hidden by the mossy bright green of alder leaves, another by maple leaves in an impressive rainbow of orange shades. We spotted a little newt and squatted to inspect the vivid colors of its skin – the reddish brown back and carroty colored belly. I broke the spell first, and stood up, then immediately wished I’d let the girls, who were still fascinated by the little creature, continue watching him for as long as they were enthralled. Once again, my rushing habit had programmatically overridden the gift of the immediate experience. But this time, I’d noticed it.

Fortunately, Nature gave me another chance. A little gust of wind blew more maple leaves from the treetops so they came careening down around us. We looked skyward, giggling. It started raining. I laughingly said, “It is a beautiful day for a walk!” Nearly three-year-old Mae chimed in, “It IS a beautiful day for a walk!” Julia, at 5 years old, agreed. She paused, adding thoughtfully, “I hope the leaves do this next year.”

What a powerful, openhearted statement. She was full of gratitude and appreciation for the richness of this one common moment. Yet in her innocence, she was not racing forward to take any of tomorrow’s gifts for granted. I felt determined then, to find a way to live each day without the waste of haste.

From here on out, the leaves of fall will serve as a reminder that each and every day is a beautiful day for laundry. Each and every day is a beautiful day for a walk. Clean clothes to fold, Ike’s power of priorities, and the three of us, there on the forest floor, with the help of a woodland creature: this is the unlikely tribe that taught me about tiny, measured intentions, that taught me how to give up rushing. Surrounding me, I see now a multitude of diminutive minutes that indeed, are one big rehearsal lesson. The pace at which I walk through the little moments informs how gracefully I navigate the big ones.

You know what? I want such grace. So I’ll practice in petite ways. For starters, I’m planning to ask two little girls to go again with me, in search of a newt. ~AJ

“Life is determined by a lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece. ~ Nadia Boulanger

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Roasted Black Futsu with Jasmine-Kale Rice

Japanese Futsu Squash
Roasted Black Futsu with Jasmine-Kale Rice
 
Recipe by:

Ingredients
  • One medium black futsu squash, washed, scrubbed, quartered and cut into slices (like apples), skin on
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to coat squash
  • Salt & pepper
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup jasmine rice or other fragrant variety like basmati
  • 1½ cups water
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking with the rice
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 1½ cups of kale (or arugula or other winter green), finely chopped
  • dry toasted pumpkin seeds (from your pumpkin, of course!)

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and arrange squash pieces (skin on) in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper. Sprinkle paprika, cinnamon and cayenne on both sides. Transfer to the oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the squash has softened, flipping the slices halfway through.
  2. Meanwhile, measure the rice and water into a large pot with a tight fitting lid. Add cloves, fennel seeds, and olive oil to the rice and water. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. In a small skillet over low heat, add the (rinsed and dried) pumpkin seeds. These will toast up quickly and can burn if you don’t watch them closely. Stir them often until lightly browned, then remove from the pan and set aside. (Alternatively you can toast them in the oven, but remember to keep an eye on them, and turn often.)
  4. When the rice is done, remove pot from heat and quickly stir in the chopped kale and raisins before putting the lid back on. Let sit for up to 5 minutes.
  5. Serve rice alongside slices of black futsu and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The squash skins are tender and very edible. You do not need to peel them off.

Notes
Adapted from a recipe by Green Girl Eats

 

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A Beginner’s Bounty

garlic growing under hay

For eight years now, I have planted my garlic in a very specific way. I climb on the tractor and till up one full length of our field. Then it’s a race to break apart, sort and sow thousands of garlic cloves. Before dusk comes, leaf or straw mulch must be spread over the entire area to protect the exposed and fragile soil. As one might imagine, such a project makes for a long workday. This year however, the deluge of October rains washed away my method. The soil has been simply too wet to till.

Farming is never, ever the same! I cycle between the confidence of my experiences and the humility of facing many unknowns. So many of the variables we farmers must navigate are imbued with a headstrong sort of energy that frequently defies the easy repeatability found on a manufacturing floor. Soil, seed, weather, water and our environs all collaborate but not always consistently. Really the only stagnant thing about farming is the human’s mindset—it’s never the work itself.

Which is why I’ve learned when such uncontrollable variables thwart my plans, it is best to humbly re-evaluate my purpose. When I have to start over, I like to go back to the basics. I try to tap into the bounty of a beginner’s mind, where anything is possible because nothing is mired in assumptions.

With respect to the fall rains, on one level, our goal was to overcome a soggy seeding challenge. But on another, our ultimate aim is one of land and community stewardship. As farmers we are tasked with sustaining a very important public service. If I get soil care right, we all have a chance at eating. If I get it wrong, garlic will be the least of our worries.

 

So, it is pure delight (read: on my List of Top 5 Joys of Farming) when a beginner’s method successfully overcomes a challenge in a way that is far superior to a previous ‘learned’ approach. When this sort of thing transpires, i.e. I not only recognize the invalidity of my approach, but I actually find a way to cease doing it? This sends me giddily OVER THE MOON.

In this fashion, we solve our garlic dilemma. Two shifts made the difference. First, we realized the tractor was entirely unnecessary. Second, we worked small. One after another, we did the next little, right thing.

Blessedly, early last week it stopped raining. On an afternoon walk through our field Brad and I pulled back one corner of the black plastic that had covered our summer cucumber bed. I plunged my hands in, squeezed a palm-full of soil and dropped it from a foot high back onto the ground. The soil crumbled apart nicely instead of sticking together in a big heavy clod. This was promising! Brad removed a fifteen foot section of the plastic mulch and hand raked the soil with our old, simple four-tine cultivating hoe. I gathered up only two of our six garlic varieties and a cart full of wheat straw shocks. I began breaking apart bulbs of the hardneck garlic named Music, while Brad removed the occasional aisle weeds and loosened the soil. Worm after earthworm appeared from under the old mulch. We rejoiced – knowing then how completely damaging and unnecessary tractor tilling would have been.
In two hours, we’d planted fifty feet of garlic. Over the next five days, in between rain showers, it would take only two more afternoons to complete our work. There was no rush. We could start and stop easily. At each juncture of this journey, I remained a beginner. Each next, little, right thing I experienced through fresh eyes. Bit by bit, we gave ourselves to the task, savoring the time it took, not belaboring the fact that it took time. This garlic planting was not grand, not overwhelming, not dominating. It was not tractor engine loud, fast paced or exhausting. Forced by the weather, I gave up the ways in which I had been told it should be done. I let go of so-called expert opinion and efficiency-at-all-cost. I started over. An intrigued novice, I had the luxury of awareness.

In the quiet of those few autumn days, I broke open each bulb while watching Brad carefully preparing the brunette-colored soil. I witnessed this beautiful work unfolding. Earthworms, soil structure, farmer health, community stewardship, all remained intact. A golden light reverberated off the glowing maple leaves and filled the sky with a richness that summer often lacks. I spent a few hours in an October farm field with the Loves of my Life.

autumn leaves

Lesson after lesson, my profession keeps on handing out learning assignments. The 2016 garlic was a reminder in the value of beginning again, of starting small, of doing the next right thing with full awareness. Good Food. Grown with Love.

Susanville, Polish White, Red Toch, Music. As I inked the garlic names onto wooden stakes, I marked the moment as one that rekindled for me the pleasures, power and purpose of my journey. ~AJ

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

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Allicin: Garlic’s Superpower

chopped garlic on cutting board

Meet Your Food

In Eating on the Wild Side, Author Jo Robinson explores the tremendous antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, anticlotting and anticancer benefits contained in the humble garlic clove. All of these healing properties stem from allicin.

“Raw garlic contains the ingredients needed to make allicin, its most active ingredient, but not the compound itself. Allicin is created when two substances in garlic come into contact with each other. One is a protein fragment called alliin and the other is a heat-sensitive enzyme called alliinase. In an intact clove of garlic, these compounds are isolated in separate compartments. They do not commingle until you slice, press or chew the garlic to rupture the barriers between them.

In 2001, a group of food chemists “discovered that heating garlic immediately after crushing or slicing it destroys the heat-sensitive enzyme that triggers the reaction. As a result, no allicin is created. It takes only two minutes in a frying pan to reduce garlic to little more than a flavorful ingredient. If you microwave fresh chopped garlic for just thirty seconds, 90 percent of its cancer-fighting ability is gone.

You can cook garlic and reap all its benefits if you make a simple change in the way you prepare it. Chop, mince, slice or mash the garlic and keep it away from the heat for ten minutes. During this time, the maximum amount of allicin is created so the heat-sensitive enzyme is no longer needed. Then you can sauté, bake, or fry the garlic and still get all its medicine.”
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Garlicky Fingertips

garlic plants growing

This is the week for garlic planting. At least that is what the calendar states. The saturated soil and pouring skies are singing a different song. So we farmers will acquiesce; it’s one more chance to practice something I call ‘the patient pause.’

The patient pause isn’t a stall out. It’s not a giving up or admission of defeat. Rather, the patient pause is a moment of reassessment. It’s a reminder that when I feel stuck, the stickiness is only a feeling. In actuality, I have a choice. Re-evaluating one’s situation represents a choice with substantial consequences.

The patience part of the pause is critical. Anytime one starts mucking around in self-inquiry, our stuck-in-a-rut ways of doing things can come irascibly roaring to the forefront. With respect to the garlic, it seems stupid to ask, “Why do we bother planting garlic?” But as I patiently wait out the rain, I pause to consider this very question. The patient pause is a chance for me to re-commit myself to the valuable effort, time and investment I am about to make. Is my standard operating procedure still worth it?

dried garlic ready for planting

To plant garlic, one must break apart the bulbs, select the largest cloves, and tuck each individual, correctly oriented, into the cold soil. As we grade for size, our hands probably touch 3,500 cloves of garlic in order to select the 1,600 most valuable for planting. Depending on the variety, the breaking apart of cloves is sometimes easy and sometimes hard. No matter what, it is our hands that carry the heaviest load. Gloves or no gloves, days after garlic planting, my garlicky fingertips will remind me of their industriousness.

How incredible, I think to myself, to have two gracious and strong hands. Year after year, my palms and fingers labor in concert to make new life possible. It is only hands that possess the miraculous, agile strength it takes to separate bulb after bulb, yet be so gentle as to not to bruise or break the tender life inside.

The patient pause re-affirms for me that I am making the right choices with my time and skills. But more often than not, it also drops me down square in the lap of gratitude.

To many outsiders, my profession—in fact my whole ‘simple’ life—seems unduly mundane and restrictive. But the world I choose to inhabit is ultimately a liberating one. I have the responsibility and the pleasure to shape each of my days. I am not cornered into maintaining systems that no longer suit me. I am not saddled with preserving a status quo.

I love my farm. Even when my work is hard to love, I love my work. Despite every rigid requirement weather and soil ask of me, I still carry the gift of choice. In fact, it is the precious why and the gritty how which create the structure of my life. Amidst all the touted busyness of business, I hold most assuredly to the formidable beauty of the patient pause. ~AJ

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