Farm News

Haircuts and Chaos: Happily at Play

photo of a chicken hunting and pecking

Even if I didn’t have a calendar handy, I could walk out into my fields and know that it is mid-July. A motley crew of plants (crops, volunteers, and weeds), are sprawling, climbing and tangling in an energetic race toward fall. The orchard grasses are tall, thin and wiry. The mature weeds are brittle, snapping off at nodes when pulled. This time of year, my fields look as if they haven’t had a decent haircut in months. Come to think of it, my bangs sure need trimmed too!

Ask any farmer about summer weed management and you’ll get an earful of advice. I think Becky Madden, an organic Vermont farmer, sums it up nicely: “For me, weed control – especially in July – is a lesson in achieving balance between intelligent effort and humble acceptance.”

Ah, humble acceptance. July is the month I confront my desire to have everything go back to being springtime orderly, precise and ‘according to plan.’ July is when I encourage myself to set down expectations of what a healthy, vibrant organic farm ‘should’ look like, and remember that diversity is the name of the game.

photo of pigweed in the field at april joy farmThe pigweed acting as a nursery to a recent ladybug hatch, the volunteer cluster of sunflowers capping the end-rows of chard and parsley, the false chamomile bunching out in bright yellow borders amongst the drying wheat, and the rattling dry vetch seed pods tangled in oats by the lettuces – these ‘experiments’ are not valued in human-centric sense of the word efficiency. But year after year, I become more appreciative that Nature continues to happily play in our produce fields.

So it is always in July is when I remind myself that my fields are like a highly productive artist’s work bench. Good invention, brilliant discoveries and beautiful connections come from being in the flow, not from restrictively clean desks where nothing is out of place for fear of messiness or ‘getting dirty.’ Diversity, unfurling in the full throttle of summer, plays a critical role in stabilizing the greater farm ecosystem. I don’t have to fully understand the how’s and why’s to respect the fact that it works.

Diversity, creativity and other forms of self-expression, like meaningful work, are inherently connected. I’m learning that such connections are an important aspect of the “organized” chaos inherent in vibrant, active, healthy systems. It reminds me of my awesome childhood, the fourth of five kids. Our house was always busy and rich with fun and funny happenings. Whether we were getting chased by Billy the goat, inventorying our dandelion family ‘collections,’ stirring up a batch of mud to hold together our creek dam, or riding bicycles barefoot around the gravel driveway, we were five messy, energetic, experimenting, always learning kids.

What I don’t remember about those long days spent mostly outdoors was if I needed a haircut. I laugh thinking of that- what a silly, irrelevant thing to worry over in the midst of the bursting-to-fruition-summertime-life.

What I do remember amidst the chaos and creek bank nettles and fresh plum eating and grass stains and homemade slip-n-slides is one thing: Throughout the course of our experiments, discoveries, and projects: I was happily at play.

And speaking of happy…

Not only are our fields full with connections, creativity and many things on the cusp of “fruition”, wonderfully, so is our farm business. Just as our farm crops grow and change every year, so does our ability to contribute to our community. Next week, I’m planning to share several “behind the scenes” happenings we at AJF are excited to be on the forefront of. These include: an AJF Farm Apprenticeship Program, a multi-year grant to study soil health and the achievement of another environmental certification. Like our tangling, climbing, interwoven field of plants, these projects are also connected in more ways than one. So, rest assured, between fantastic new farm opportunities and tending the bounty of summer produce, I will find a way to remain happy. July is the time I say to myself: forget the haircut, embrace the chaos, go outside and PLAY! ~AJ

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