Farm News

Standing In the Heat of the Kitchen

photo of heirloom tomatoes on a blue farm crate

Our mornings bloom cloud-covered and cool, making this late summer heat illusive. But by 10 a.m. the mottled, smoky skies—which carry the message of northern wildfires—belie the swollen, rising temperature. Then gravid afternoons, heavy and inflamed, burst alive with a hazy fervor I must will myself to work in.

I find I need a certain amount of toughness and skill to successfully navigate this bright, dry, intensely robust season. It also helps to have had a lot of practice. (In fact, I count my blessings every year I get to ‘practice’ again.) The reality is, come the drying winds and triple digit temperatures, my physical work remains physical, and there isn’t much of anything I can do about it. This means I have to change tactics, and one of my most effective strategies is actually all mental. It has to do with how I prepare and plan for the physical work itself.

In Spring, the ideas flow effortlessly. With great enthusiasm, I can map out an easy twelve months at a stretch. I can think in big blocks of time and organize my days with albeit a ‘relative’ certainty. It’s like is hiking the bottomlands, close to water and shade, where the ground is flat, free of scree, and gentle on the knees.

But by late summer, I’m sun-scorched, feeling the weight of the fully loaded pack and staring upward at the boulder-strewn, switch-backing trail leading to the top of Mt. Winter-Fireside. There’s no turning back, and no alternate routes. The world narrows to the metaphorical mountain and me. This is when the mental training and rigor of a life lived close to the ground pays off.

photo of two children on a farm petting a cat

Two eager learners attend Mabel’s class on kindness and trust.

I begin now, to traverse each short section of my farm ‘trail’ with a discrete beginning and end, instead of the long master ”To-Do” list born of hopeful spring days. My summer self is like an wary wild critter – too easily spooked by the loud rustle of an unfolding long-range map. So instead, and quietly, I go back to the basics to keep from feeling overwhelmed. Each block of work time, I set an overly-reasonable short-term goal, and then, without pause, I tackle the trail of my work.

Step, by step, by step. I do not open the door of my psyche to any unhelpful voice wishing to linger or re-negotiate my choice. I move to action quickly, before my mind can trigger a landslide of “hot-tired-hard” excuses.

This time of year, I fold up my well-referenced ‘master plan.’ I trust my instincts and my experience to carry this farm and I exactly where we need to go. In the merry-go-round abundance of a diversified crop farm, the enigmatic summer harvest ‘schedule’ nearly demands this mode of work. Anyone who has ever had a successful garden can understand. August harvesting is nothing like the discreet, tidy task of crisp spring or budding summer where we ogle over the first green tomato or tiny wisp of bean, so grateful the magic of produce is literally coming to fruition.

August harvesting is a sprawling, ongoing flow of buckets and knives and hands moving, picking, carrying, up and down rows, eyes catch the possibility of ripeness, fingers evaluating weight and tenderness, then heft or rigidity acting as the final judge.

We bring down three bins from the field and load up four more. We finish one picking, stop to close a gate, and spy the tell-tale color of another blush of ripened fruit. Brad and I give thanks to our fields, our plants, our farm, and then we give thanks again, and yet again, for every harvest, for such health and wealth and unbelievable yielding of Life on our behalf.

My Life—my August Farm Life—pound by sun-ripened pound, adds up to a weary happiness I could not, would not trade. The bottomless pot of tomatoes cooks down into a heady, thick sauce on the stove; my horizon of planning becomes a purposeful practice in the art of reduction. Both yield a savory reward, but also require standing in, as Harry Truman use to say, “the heat of the kitchen.” ~AJ

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