Farm News

2015 CSA Week 20

Cat in the Kale

Hurdles & Puppies

Every farming year presents different hurdles: crop losses, pest troubles, plant diseases, erratic weather patterns. Sometimes the hurdles are serious and funny. This year even our insatiably curious adolescent chickens are testing us. Despite our best efforts, they continue to escape the chicken yard and explore the farm at large. This is a serious problem when they start eating our transplants. But we laugh every time we find them “roosting” for afternoon naps, a mere one foot off the ground, inside our huge, old rhododendrons.

Farm life hurdles never seem to come just one at a time. We might as well be sharing our house with a litter of puppies. You can’t just focus exclusively on one, or things will get out of control. So we do our best to give proper attention to all the wiggly situations. The whole process makes for an active, meaningful, and sometimes exasperating life. When a workable solution seems impossible, (like with the chickens), I have no recourse but to question what it is exactly I’m trying to accomplish. That million dollar question, “what exactly am I trying to do?” leads straight into an examination of assumptions. As you can imagine, that’s when things get interesting!

All the constant needs of a farm require us farmers to be ambitious learners and continuous adapters. Hurdles, assumptions, and ambition: the whole system is fodder for a rich experiential, (and often experimental) life. Just like sharing your house with that new litter of puppies, you can’t be entwined in farming without at multiple points: bursting with pride, falling down, being bewildered, wildly howling, needing comfort, and laughing with delight.

It’s one thing to invite a litter of puppies into your life for a year. But farming is more equivalent to caring for a multitude of litters at time. Tons of new cute faces! Adorable spots! Pendulous lanky ears! Mischievousness galore! Each year, every year, we sign up to jump a slew of unknown hurdles. In the thick of it all, we have no choice but to re-examine our purpose, to be challenged, engaged, to uncover erroneous assumptions. The whole of it can be absolutely exhausting, funny, revelatory, fascinating and occasionally overwhelming.

Direct, simple, and frugal solutions to our situations can be elusive. Unlike raising puppies, there are no concise and practical off the shelf manuals for farming at our scale, in our climate, with our soil, crops, markets and goals. We’re constantly piecing together ideas, knitting up solutions, investigating possible changes that might help keep all those “puppies” healthy and happy and out of trouble. When I stop and truly think about how many uncertainties, how many unknowns we’ve successfully hurdled, I am surprised. Then I remember we’re not in it alone. I remember how much Brad and I depend on the farm itself to inspire, comfort and mentor us. I remember why and how it is we keep smiling, keep growing, keep showing up, every day.

Here’s the thing about life at a farm.

The answers I seek to all these wild challenges, the strength, inspiration and encouragement I need to keep going, the counsel and courage to buoy my spirits are nestled right down along the same farm rows as the challenges themselves. No matter the situation I am in, walking out the door and into the tapestry of the farm provides what I need to skillfully navigate the situation at hand. I can be severely frustrated by a roadblock, celebrating a change of great magnitude, exhausted from a taxing project, or mourning an unexpected loss. I can be steadying myself for a new challenge, or contemplating how to juggle too many priorities. I can be upset at a flock of unruly chickens or slowly, painfully uncovering false assumptions, and guess what? A pack of gold finches will squeak good-morning right over my head, swirl around me on the way to the sunflowers. The most exquisitely colored carrot will appear from the soil. I’ll be surprised at the densest concentration of earthworms I’ve ever seen. I’ll hear a faint thrumming and follow the song to a volunteer patch of mustard flowers where thousands of honeybees are foraging, as industriously as they can, the food they need for winter.

I leave behind even my walking stick. My knife is in my pocket, but that I have forgot. I bring no car, no cell phone, no computer, no camera, no CD player, no fax, no TV, not even a book. I go into the woods. I sit on a log provided at no cost. It is the earth I’ve come to, the earth itself, sadly abused by the stupidity only humans are capable of but, as ever, itself. Free. A bargain! Get it while it lasts.  ~Wendell Berry

It is of no surprise that I come to thin a bed of beets and find the most tangled weeds I’m pulling are in my brain. By the time I get to the end of the row, just the right insight might have surfaced. Or I’ve started to feel a little more settled, comforted, inspired, or maybe just calmed.

Especially when I am disheartened, my head bowed over a simple field task proves to be revelatory, cathartic, thoughtful. My hands are occupied, put to good use, and my mind is sensitively engaged and generously disengaged all at once. I can work through, think through, be through with whatever I have come up against in my life. Like a great reservoir of hope, the farm is a source of knowledge and inspiration that surround my troubles. I need only give myself to a small project in her midst and with patience, change happens.

Slow, softly, methodically, plant by plant, row by row, season by season, I am uncovering layers of irrelevance and triteness in my thinking. My cloudy sense of self is being filtered through stronger and stronger sunlight. In Mother Nature’s fields, there is no disapproval. There is no reason to act, no reason to pretend, no reason to be anything other that just as we are. Just as I am.

This gift of farm life cannot be overstated. Intermingled, tangled within all the challenges, the hurdles, those blasted assumptions, just like that sweet pack of puppies, the farm makes no judgments. It cares not for the holes in my wool sweater. It notices not the tangles in my hair nor the jingle of a pretty necklace. The farm is accepting of who we are, where we are, and how we are. Like a good friend who listens more than talks, the support one can find among a passel of tomato plants or down a long stretch of garlic bulb planting, 6 inches by 6 inches, by 6 inches, is unexpected, is significant, is the fundamental basis for a healthy spirit. The farm makes no judgments, so slowly, I realize the futility in holding so tightly to my own critical superficiality.

Out here at the farm, we jump hurdles often. Some challenges, like the weather and chickens are visible to all. But there are many difficult hurdles we tackle without anyone in sight, over time, with much effort. Again and again, it is because of the beauty and brilliance of the farm that I have the courage to examine my assumptions, to face audacious trials, to keep experimenting. In the creative process of problem solving at the farm, there is no table of judgment, thus no anxiety of self. I can start from exactly where I am, just as I am. Again and again, no matter what farming asks of me, this foundation of acceptance opens the big barn door of wholehearted solutions.

The next time you’re mired in a hurdle of your own, don’t sit in your version of a stuffy, florescent lit, highfalutin’ high rise corporate board room. Pick up that wriggly wiggly puppy and go outside. Find a place to sit or walk or work where Mother Nature hasn’t been over-run. Give yourself to the simplicity of a minute task and maybe, just maybe that unruly ball of tender mischievousness will lay right down for a peaceful little nap.

Your Farmer,


More about Borage

You might notice on your drive into the farm we’ve mowed a few fallow sections of the vegetable field, but left irregular patches of plants here and there. Those patches Brad so carefully left contain concentrations of a very beneficial herb named borage. Sometimes called Star Flower or Bee Bread, the flowers of borage are edible, tasting pleasantly of cucumbers. Pollinators rely on the borage flowers, which have a long blooming season, as a food source. This hardy annual reseeds itself, and its leaves contain high concentrations of calcium and potassium. Farming lore instructs one to plant borage near your tomatoes. It is believed that the calcium and potassium in decaying borage leaves lessens the chances of tomato blossom end rot.

P.S. Apparently, we humans aren’t the only ones who spend time pondering out in the fields. Kitten the cat was lost in her thoughts when I snapped this week’s photo. Maybe she’s keeping a close eye out for all those puppies!