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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A Tomato Story

heirloom tomatoes

In 2009 I had the unique opportunity to meet a phenomenal plant breeder named Tom Wagner. Tom was interested in continuing his breeding efforts but he needed more field space than his home in Everett, Washington would allow. Local food advocate Glenn Grossman coordinated a ‘grow out’ project in which Clark County farmers planted and tended some of Tom’s seeds for him.

The wonderful thing about Tom’s work is that he is chiefly interested in breeding tomatoes (and potatoes) for enhanced flavors, colors and nutritional value. Many plant breeders are focused on agri-business driven goals of storage length, or durability, at great expense to the health of the plant, genetic diversity, and the taste of the fruit/vegetable. The year Tom gave me seeds, his project also focused on the following traits in tomatoes:

  • Late Blight resistance
  • Green flesh
  • Bi-color flesh
  • Black and Brown coloring
  • Frost tolerance
  • Insect resistance
  • Early Ripening
  • Odd color combinations (pink and green)

Tom gave me five tomato seed packets, each contained just a few seeds. He had hand written on each packet the ‘names’. I say ‘names’ because none of the seeds he gave me were entirely genetically stable, i.e. the characteristics of the parents of the tomatoes seeds may or may not be expressed in the new generation of tomatoes. It was totally unknown what each plant would look like, and importantly what the fruit would taste like. This is why Tom needed so much field space to continue his work. It may take hundreds or even thousands of plants to find only one or two that have the characteristics a breeder is looking for. Back at my greenhouse I quickly planted: 132608GH, F2 Green Zebra/Stupice, 713309, Glacier/Green Zebra and 13309.

Tom’s tomato plants grew robust and after transplanting, they thrived in my field. By late August, I was completely astounded at the variety of colors, flavors and plant structures that emerged from those few tiny seeds. Previously, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the concept of genetic variability, but Tom’s tomatoes were exotic to both the eye and the palate. Being surrounded by so much single species diversity in which many different genes had found expression in a common form was an extraordinary experience.

One can read about the diversity of a wild place, or flip through the pages of a seed catalog but I am here to say: it is not the same. Until you stand in the middle of genetic abundance one simply cannot imagine the depth of Nature’s toolkit. Tom’s tomatoes taught me that diversity exists on an order of magnitude far greater than my self-limiting human mind had thought possible.

Tom returned to my farm in the late summer and walked the row, sampling and selecting certain fruit he knew held the key to another iteration of his work. I watched him with the plants and I listening to him discuss his lifelong passion. It was then I became so grateful that individuals like Tom were continuing a tradition of breeding for taste, for nutrition, and for plant health. When Tom was ready to leave, I asked him if he would mind if I saved some seeds myself. He seemed quite flattered; that was an excellent idea.

One year tumbled into another. In 2010, I made an effort to plant Tom’s varieties and then, as a novice, I saved seed. Lacking any “names” for the tomatoes that grew, I simply wrote the year and a description of the color and size on each packet.

From then on, I saved and planted a few more of Tom’s tomatoes that were especially beautiful, complexly flavored, and that produced abundantly. The seed packets multiplied. Finally, in 2013 Brad and I took all those saved seed packets and we grew a few of each described color/flavor/size combination. This turned out to be over 80 tomato plants, each producing riotously and diversely. Much to my delight, some consistency had emerged over the last five years. For instance, a plant from a seed packet that I had labeled ‘yellow/green & small’ actually produced a fair amount of little yellowy/green fruit.

It was a late summer morning in 2013 that Chef Mike Campos and I spent a memorable few hours together. We went plant by plant, fruit by fruit, tasting every last one. At the end of the row, from all those plants, all those tomatoes, we emerged with a few outstandingly flavored tomatoes and two mild stomach aches! We culled out the plants that looked ‘cool’ but tasted bland or the tomatoes that were abundant but unimpressive in the mouth. The experience was one I will remember for a long time because it left me philosophizing about the taste of a tomato.

What does a tomato taste like? Before my connection with Tom, I thought I could tell you. But five years after he shared his seeds with me, standing in the middle of that row of indescribably unique and varying abundance, tasting flavor after inimitable flavor, I realized something. This thing we call a tomato or a tree or a human? Tomatoes or trees or humans all have discreet, fundamental forms, and yet each tomato, tree and human is simply unto its own.

We can identify a tomato, a tree, a human, but each of us is indescribably different from every other tomato, tree or human. A tomato is never just a tomato. A tree is never just a tree. Humans are never just humans. Our experiences and our environment shape and define and create us, they allow us to expand or force us to contract. We are more permeable to our surroundings than we know, and yet at the same time we are distinctly, genetically, unalterably our own true self now and forever. What does a tomato taste like? It depends on the stories hidden inside the tomato.

On Sunday, Brad and I headed to the field to harvest heirloom tomatoes. We returned to the packing shed with ten incredible flats. One flat contained entirely only two ‘varieties’ of tomatoes. “Green/yellow/pink & big.” “Chocolate & big.” If I close my eyes, I can still envision the hand-written label on my novice seed-saving packets. I stood there for a while, looking at that one flat, feeling full of pride and pleasure. Those tomatoes held the eighth generation of my seed saving efforts, and probably at least the tenth generation of Tom Wagner’s foundational breeding work. How can I explain what each of these tomatoes represents? What stories lie within each fruit’s seeds, what bounty and luck and work and pluck do all those tangy sweet flavors contain?

It seems unbelievable to me that eight years have passed since I took part in Tom’s tomato “grow out” project. These tomatoes mean a lot to me, which is why I wanted to share this story. I know. It’s not flashy or overly thrilling. But I hope the simple mundaneness of the work it is a testament to the fact that we are a culmination of how and what we spend our time doing and being and thinking and believing.

I don’t expect these oddly colored tomatoes to win any awards or earn me one cent. I don’t even really feel compelled to give them a proper name. But nonetheless, I am proud. I am proud that I worked, I cared, I continued to save seed even when I was dead tired. I sowed and weeded and I cared, even when I didn’t plan on selling one ripe fruit, even when no one else on the planet knew what I was doing or why it mattered. Even when I didn’t know if it really mattered, I still cared enough to try. I held out hope that one day, we’d have remarkably delicious tomatoes, grown in our beautiful soil, tailored to our climate. I held out hope that regardless of the outcome, the work mattered. The caring mattered.

Don’t overlook the greeny/yelheirloom tomatoeslowy multi-lobed tomato that isn’t uniformly round. Don’t pass by the little chocolate one with the netted scars on the bottom. I can vouch: no tomato is just another tomato. Their seeds contain stories, their unusually colored skin contains hope and love and a good deal of patient, ongoing work.

My experience with Tom’s tomatoes instilled in me a compelling lesson. Every bean, every cherry, every glass of milk, slice of bread or grain of rice? Each intrinsically carries its own set of stories. What, and where, and how did each come to be?

Maybe, if we can begin look at each plate of food and likewise each human face with this mindset of curiosity, this alone will unearth the smallest of kindnesses. In new and poignant ways, we might teach ourselves to care, to care abundantly and diversely. ~AJ

P.S. Why do we store our heirloom tomatoes upside-down?

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What exactly is an organic farm?

Do you ever feel like a nervous college kid sweating out the moments before a final exam? There are definitely environments and experiences in our world that challenge me to overcome deep feelings of hopelessness, restriction or pessimism. Which is why I count myself doubly blessed to have at my doorstep a virtual wonderland of possibility.

No matter how long my work day or how intense the ‘scarce resource’ discussions, my farm is always the place I turn to for reassurance, comfort and inspiration. My very favorite part of my workplace? It is never, ever the same. Just as we never, ever experience the same day twice, my farm life, work life, ‘play’ life is diverse and independently evolving.

The mere thought of all the clever, fascinating, useful creations, discoveries, ideas and tangible wealth that could be seeded, developed and harvested at a farm fills me to the brim with enthusiasm.

Any time I return from a less-than-hopeful environment or experience, it doesn’t take long for me to walk amidst the dusty barns, or our secret hidden meadow before my ambition and optimism are rekindled. From the path along the nettle-lined creek and formidable cedar tree ‘guards’, to the rows of amazing vegetables, I feel positively blessed. My organic farm is a curative, questioning, learning, and seeking place filled in every nook and corner with resources, space and ripe possibility.

From my porch I can take just a few steps to reach one of the numerous places I love. From there, I can create, experience, test, play, rest, learn, taste, discover, listen, run, touch or ponder. From the plants and insects and soil that never give up, to the stillness of little moments and the sweetness of unending motion, this beautiful place infuses me with a sense of limitlessness and motivation. In every interaction with my farm, there is both opportunity for philosophy and gratitude, for connection and enlightenment, for appreciation and vibrancy that enriches my life.

What exactly is an organic farm for me?

Laboratory, workshop, studio. Sanctuary, home, playground. Manufacturing ‘plant’, outdoor market, pop-up restaurant. Church, library, university. Art gallery, symphony hall, and this Saturday, for the first time ever… a flower stand?
Cynthia Mercer of Flower Friends

Cynthia Mercer of Flower Friends

I love being an entrepreneur at this unique place called an organic farm. But there is a special kind of joy one experiences by helping another courageous soul incubate their dream. Brad and I are delighted to announce our partnership with CSA member and budding florist Cynthia Mercer of Flower Friends. Her vision is literally blooming. Disillusioned by the sad facts of the chemically intensive and unfair labor practices rampant in the commercial cut flower industry, Cynthia is determined to do things differently. With our help and her tenacious work ethic, Cynthia is learning to grow organic cut flowers on our irreplaceably rich Ridgefield soil. Even better? Many of the beautiful blooms are also edible. Gorgeous dinner tables and salads anyone?

Last week Ellen, one of my long time CSA members, put her vegetables in her car, then made a special point to come back and wait patiently as I finished up another conversation. When I turned to her she said, “You know, I followed another car down your lane today and it struck me, your farm is really becoming a community!” With her hand on her heart, she added, “I want you to know what that means to me.” I reached out and hugged her, all the while listening to a pack of giggling kids feeding clover to our donkeys out ahead of me and two families exchanging their favorite farm recipes in the packing shed overflowing with abundance behind me. From apples to zucchini, from whole grain, artisan bread to thoughtfully crafted flowers, you are right on Ellen, this organic farm is nothing short of a beloved community. ~AJ

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Lambert

We lost our smoother-than-silk Maine Coon tomcat on Sunday.

Lambert arrived as a stray two years ago.  The first time he padded over to Brad at the sound of cat food rattling in a dish, his oversized purrs and paws went straight to our hearts.

Before we could coax him into the farmhouse, he lived in the barn, sleeping in a pile of dusty hay that looked like it might have been an old chicken nest the way he had it smoothed down all around the edges.

The guy had class even when his chips were down.  He kept himself immaculately groomed and showed nothing but a sophisticated confidence in his conversations with us.  It sure didn’t take long for him to warm up to soft beds, cream in a dish and ample chin rubs.  Best of all?  Clearly, he knew how to relax.

Lambert

Mom and Dad helped bury him beneath our grand Apple Tree.  Nieces Julia and Mae thoughtfully brought home-grown flowers, hand decorated, for comfort and cheer.

He left us too soon.  I like to think he got a promotion.  His gentle spirit must be needed elsewhere in this great, wide world.  ~AJ

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Our Centenarian Apple Tree

Last Saturday, out early on my morning chore round, I was startled to discover a big change in the field. A sizable arm of our more-than-century-old apple tree was on the ground. The limb had apparently broken off sometime in the night. I suspect it gave way because an old injury had hollowed out its center, so much so that it could no longer support the weight of this year’s ripening apple crop.

This is not the first main limb to give way. However large the branches appear when standing underneath, looking up as they arch into the sky, it does not quite prepare one for the enormity of their presence on the ground. (Anyone who has ever split firewood from ‘just one tree’ knows this truth!) Over the course of the day, several others, with some alarm, raced to tell me of the scene. We all sensed a feeling of loss; this magnificent tree was not as indefatigable as we assumed. For years on end, her quiet stoicism had lulled us into believing change danced around her, not within her.

My curiosity with the rotted limb led me to re-learn a few forestry fundamentals. The trunk, or stem, of a tree supports the crown and gives the tree its shape and strength. The trunk consists of four layers of tissue. These layers contain a network of tubes that runs between the roots and the leaves and acts as the central plumbing system for the tree. These tubes carry water and minerals up from the roots to the leaves, and they carry sugar down from the leaves to the branches, trunk and roots.

Heartwood. Xylem/Sapwood. Cambium. Phloem/Inner Bark. Although I never wish such things to happen, when they do, I harbor within me a secret luckiness. I can now actually feel the anatomy of this tree. I can now reach so many previously untouchable places. I can now connect unfamiliar names to personal places. Now I have inspiration to shed a few small ignorances, to learn more truly about this literally longstanding friend of mine.

As a tree grows, older xylem cells in the center of the tree become inactive and die, forming heartwood. Because it is filled with stored sugar, dyes and oils, the heartwood is usually darker than the sapwood. The main function of the heartwood is to support the tree.

Even in the decay, in the dark hollowness of missing heartwood, I see life. At the base of the splintered limb, I find a small pile of soft ‘rubble.’ The substance is finely ground with a texture of moist, black coffee grounds. Immediately its richness resonates with me. Humus! Humus is the dark organic matter that forms when plant and animal matter decays. Amazing. Twenty-four hours ago and twenty five feet in the air, a limb was dying, and at the same time creating the building blocks of fertile soil life.

The xylem, or sapwood, comprises the youngest layers of wood. Its network of thick-walled cells brings water and nutrients up from the roots through tubes inside of the trunk to the leaves and other parts of the tree. As I read, my hands touch the soft paper page, then, like new field guides, my fingertips walk across the landscape of the rough broken sapwood, which is hardening as moisture recedes from its cells. I pause, thinking of the irony of learning the layers of this tree from words printed on pages of her fibers. But I don’t dwell long. The brilliant orange on the underside of the inner bark catches my fancy. I press my nose to the soft, still moist surface, breathing in a sweetness that is earthy. I smell the freshness of hope.

**

This apple tree has reigned over farm life for a span of time I can’t quite comprehend. Just in my short years here, she’s blessed a wedding, comforted the loss of a extraordinary farm feline, hosted countless delicious picnics and suppers, kept me more than once from succumbing to heat stroke and taught many what a full bodied, complex apple really tastes like.

Brad returned from the field the other day and surprised me with a square nail, clearly hand forged, that he had uncovered while transplanting. Surely, this great apple tree knew the owner? Surely, this apple tree watched the horses come through the field. Maybe the machinery that nail belonged to at one time rested under the shade of this very tree? So many memories she holds quietly. I realize now, I might never be closer to the true stories of this farm than when I stand in her shade, circled between her thick roots and rustling leaves, listening with my imagination.

**

As I continue on with daily farm life, I am continually struck by how differently the apple tree’s profile looks now. I think about the lettuces I was transplanting near the shade of that limb just the day before. I think guiltily of the tractor bucket I roughly jostled against the branch while maneuvering in a tight space. The profile I’d grown accustomed to was gone now. All that weight carried for so many years, finally unbounded by gravity.

I stand westward and study her new outline. I work to absorb the lessons. How does one learn to adapt, to shed heaviness counter to others’ expectations, to give of yourself for the necessity of new life?

I begin to see lightness in the new silhouette of the tree. It is as if she has gained slenderness and height. I focus more completely, and soon I am able to see the density of healthy growing apples in her tall arching limbs. I hear the barn swallows chattering and swooping up and over her crown. I notice the comfrey we planted at her base last spring, now nearly as tall as I am, its flowers humming with pollinators. My sadness of loss transforms slowly into acceptance, then into a subtle form of peace. This is why, again and again, I show up.

**

Many years ago, when I first took over farm ownership, I consulted a tree-pruning expert who was well versed in the care and longevity of aged fruit trees. When I asked if we needed to be pruning and ‘managing’ the tree, very professionally he said, “If you are interested in the highest fruit production, then yes. But pruning for longevity, in this case and in my opinion, is unnecessary.”

“She’s taken care of herself a long time,” he said, pausing to look directly at me, “without our meddling.” He was adamant that it was disrespectful to attempt to prop up, support or extend the life of this tree just to maximize fruit production. Better instead, the wise gentleman instructed me, to let this centenarian live out her life freely of her choosing.  -AJ

P.S.  If you study the photo above, you’ll find not just the sharpness of loss, but also the blurred fluttering of new life taking flight.  A fledgling kestrel is learning to fly – right from the safety of the grand old apple tree.

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Wild Birds on Organic Farms

Western bluebird with cricket. (Photo by flickr user Kevin Cole. https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevcole/2435128647)

Researchers from Washington State University will be out to April Joy Farm next week to inventory bird species and talk with us about brassica pest management.  We are looking forward to this partnership and learning more about our farm!

 

Do Wild Birds help Organic Farms?

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Motivating Stories

Saturday, June 11th CSA Week #3

 

Dear CSA Family,

Our season is off and running! It has been nice to see so many familiar faces and a pleasure to welcome new friends to the farm. On Saturday evenings after we have safely handed off all the week’s produce, Brad and I sit down to supper. We munch on our salad mix and wonder how many other “April Joy Farm salads” are being enjoyed that very evening. We plate up wilted turnip greens and think about what delectable dishes are gracing your dinner tables, who might be chopping kohlrabi sticks with their kids, and how many farm-fresh meals are being shared with friends and family. It is both a source of pride and pleasure to know our work makes a difference in the lives of our neighbors.

Sometimes, we don’t have to imagine what culinary delights stem from the weekly CSA shares. Many of you have shared your food pictures, stories, new recipes, and suprising tasty discoveries. Thank you for taking the time to tell your farmers what the CSA program means to you. It makes weeding in hot weather and committing to a seven-day-a-week work schedule more of a pleasure! To know how much our hard work and Nature’s gifts are appreciated is always a source of motivation.

In the fields, it is apparent that summer is on her way. Big green beans, blush-colored tomatoes and summer squash are appearing before our eyes. After many months of planning and tending, we’re always grateful and relieved to see the literal fruits of our labors appear. The last of the sweet and hot peppers have been transplanted to the field. This week, the final round of melons and sauce tomatoes are ready to go in the ground. It’s a funny truth however, that amidst all the beginnings of summer, we find ourselves thinking of fall. Our winter squash and cauliflower seedlings are growing fast and very soon we’ll tuck in soil the seeds of broccoli, cauliflower and hardy collard greens.

Inherently, farming keeps us connected to the whole cycle of the seasons. We celebrate the gifts of today and at the same time, work hard to make choices and take actions that sustain and support the healthy joys of tomorrow. We commit to the stewardship of place; for better or worse, we are here to witness the outcome of our impact. Through summer and fall and beyond, we’re thankful for our work and thankful for your support.

Many happy meals to you and yours,

Your Farmer, AJ

The violet and white flower in the photo above is common vetch- which often uses neighboring plants (like last year’s swiss chard stalks) as a trellis.

“Let’s face it, the universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and chaotic. It is dynamic. It spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity, not uniformity. That’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful, and that’s what makes it work.”

― Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

This Week’s Pick Six

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Befriending the Common

SATURDAY, June 4, 2016 CSA WEEK #2

Dear CSA Friends,

As a farmer, I have the unique pleasure of developing close friendships with a diverse group of… plants. Did you think I was going to say people? From apple trees to zucchini bushes, I greatly enjoy getting to know the characteristics, personalities and temperaments of many different crops. Humans develop and deepen friendships with each other, and likewise over time my plant relationships have expanded with respect and knowledge for the miraculous leafy ‘neighbors’ that feed, shelter, cloth and heal us humans. I have learned not only what the edible parts of many plants look like, but also how each plant carries itself through all stages of growth.

Just as the certain curve of a nose or the characteristic broad arc of a smile allows to us recognize siblings or connect parents to children, plants of the same “family” sometimes share common traits. Because I have held carrot seed, seen carrot seedlings, harvested full sized carrots and smelled the flowers of the carrot plant, I can easily spot her cousins, the Apiaceae family. I thus come to know celery and cilantro, chervil, dill, fennel and parsley by their lacy leaves, slow growth habit and beautiful, delicate flower clusters.

Just like blossoming family friendships, the more I learn of plants, the more my admiration deepens. My fascination and reverence for all these photosynthesizing kin extends to common, often much maligned plants. One friend in particular, the lowly dandelion, has been so unfairly vilified it puzzles and astounds me.

Dandelions are truly extraordinary plants! In The Teeth of the Lion, the Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion, Anita Sanchez explores the myths and truths of this most ubiquitous plant. Here’s ten reasons I respect the dandelion.

Chemical manufacturers have characterized dandelions as ugly and weedy. They have made us feel shameful if we ‘allow’ their presence in our lawns. This is a plant that has been systematically targeted by herbicide companies simply to sell weed-killer. Notice your immediate reaction to the thought of letting the dandelion thrive in your yard or on a pot on your porch. Sound crazy?

Tug a little on the origins of your beliefs.

Just because our greater society believes this to be a useless, weedy plant, do you?

If we can have the motivation to explore how we reject or invite the natural world into our lives, we open ourselves up to the possibility of a more peaceable coexistence. We stop making enemies where there are none.  We stop taking for granted wonder and beauty simply because they are common.

Dismantling our assumptions requires us to tease apart truth from the judgment of societal ignorance. Once we learn who our true friends are, we can begin to make quiet, simple choices that speak to our highest values.

Your Farmer, AJ

 

Excerpt from “What the Plants Say”

Weed, it is you with your bad reputation that I love the most.
Teach me not to care what anyone has to say about me.
Help me to be in the world for no purpose at all except for the joy of sunlight and rain.
Keep me close to the edge, where everything wild begins.

~Poet Tom Hennen

This Week’s Pick Six

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1: Nature’s Apprentice

Saturday, May 28, 2016 CSA Week #1

CSA Friends – Welcome!

Have you ever witnessed the behind-the-scenes activities of a road show or an art exhibit? The set up and take down, the bustling, diverse workers, the dramatic transformation of one small stage or space over a short period of time? A year on an organic farm is akin to such a production. This one stars Mother Nature and features a colorful supporting crew of agrarian characters of all shapes and sizes. Your regular visits to the farm this year will give you a glimpse of one such ecologically inspired creation.

Often times my work makes me feel partly like a roadie, partly like a stagehand and mostly like an artist’s apprentice. In January, seeds arrive and the “canvas” is readied. In February, out come the 7 foot metal posts to build bean and tomato trellis. In March, we stage for transplanting the aromatic stocky stemmed tomato plants with fine thin hairs radiating like delicate antennas.

All summer such work continues. One moment, one seed, one stake, one plant, one weed, one harvest at a time, we study and connect to the ‘art’ Nature and her weather patterns craft. As devoted assistants, we do our best to nurture her offerings. Like good apprentices, we concern ourselves with healthy soil, plant placement, lighting, temperature, and of course, supplying good, cool drinks of water as needed. Each day, we put our hands and heart to the soil, trying not to control or dominate, but instead, watching for the drama to unfold, or listening for the melody of the season. We take copious notes, attempting to choreograph the ordinary and yet absolutely mysterious creational process. How does the Earth miraculously transform the building blocks of life into delicious, nutritious fare, and freely for our taking?

In winter rains we haul the posts backs to the bin near the barn. We do so, knowing, if providence allows, our same hands, those same posts, will meet again the following spring.

April Joy Farm is one big food – centered experience that travels on the river of the seasons: from soil, seed and field, to hands and hearts, to Home.

Home, where chopping a spring scallion or finding our fingertips stained with the brilliance of rhubarb, we touch and taste and smell and feel new gratitude for the Artist’s tireless work.

Because of each passing experience, each nourishing meal, we become aware of the extraordinary masterpieces we once held so unthinkingly in our hands.

We begin to question what a compassionate partnership between the natural ecosystem and human desires truly entails. We discover deep joy in celebrating the art of every day life.

We trust over the weeks ahead, you too will begin to hear snatches of the sweet and most assuredly surprising tune our Nature, the ultimate Artist, is forever composing.

Your Farmer, ~ AJ

To stay in one place and watch the seasons come and go is tantamount to constant travel: one is traveling with the earth.    ~Marguerite Yourcenar

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