Farm News

Diversity Works

photo of seedlings pushing up through the dirt

In any given year, Brad and I source seed for about 200 varieties of plants. This year we added more than forty varieties to our crop list. Before you get too excited about all those new flavors, I have to come clean: just a few of them are vegetables.

The rest? We’re talking about things like Elecampane and Blanketflower. Eupatorium and Milkweed. Pleurisy root, Comfrey and Springbank Clover.

That’s a lot of additional seeding, watering, transplanting, weeding and tending. What sense does it make to devote over 16% of our market crop field to plants that we don’t intend to sell? Remember, this is soil that has been carefully weeded, amended, and groomed specifically for growing food for over a decade. Why take this substantial amount of our prime farmland out of vegetable production? From the capitalist’s perspective, it seems like a poor business decision.

Good thing I’m not a capitalist. I’m a steward. My central goal is not financial gold, but a healthy community. I’m not chasing the dollars. No, I’m focused on a more rewarding pursuit. In the name of integrity and stability, I’m chasing diversity.

It’s taken me a good ten years to become comfortable with eggplant, chard and pole beans. I’m not saying there still aren’t mysteries to learn from the tomatoes and basil. However, I have a familiarity with these market crops. I’m conversationally fluent you might say, in growing plants to feed humans.

But when it comes to growing plants that feed pollinators, I’m a novice. Last year, I couldn’t have told you the difference between Puget Sound Gumweed and Early Figwort. But thanks to support from the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program and Xerces Society, I’m on a steep learning curve to improve the working conditions and food supply for the vast number of pollinators that are laboring, mostly sight unseen, to sustain themselves, support plant communities and in their crucial way, feed the world.

Pollinators need to eat, and not just in the summer. Our goal is to have at least three different plants flowering from early spring until early winter. Early spring bloomers, like Dandelion and Douglas Meadowfoam for instance, are especially critical because that’s when food sources tend to be scarce and pollinators are starting to hatch out. Early spring is also the time our honeybees have used up the last of their stores of honey. They are hungry, and on any warm, dry day they’ll be out looking for food. (Please remember this in the spring before you mow the lawn for the first time. Dandelions are an important food source for our friends.)

Paige Embry, in her book, Our Native Bees, notes that there are over the four thousand North American species of native bees, along with birds, bats, wasps, flies, beetles, moths and butterflies that act as pollinators. Four thousand. With the forty new plant species we’ve added this year, I’m hoping to recruit some winged farming partners to take up residence at April Joy Farm. I’m hoping the Goldenrod and Asters, the Echinacea and Astragalus, along with the Comfrey and Yarrow and Angelica will make a difference.

I have seen first hand that every time I break free from the monoculture mindset in which hyper-efficiency reigns supreme, whole communities—connections and collaborations I could not have imagined—take root and flourish around me.

Thus, my distinct style of farming rests upon a foundation of inclusivity, because as challenging as the complexity it invites, I know in my heart of heart, diversity works.

There is a certain ethos that successful people from all walks of life employ: from improvisational comedians to dispute mediators, from educators to entrepreneurs to parents. Their secret is simple. It’s to approach life with a “Yes, and…” mindset. Instead of finding all the reasons why something won’t work, they work at finding the value in every offering the world sends their way. As Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution says, “It’s a total philosophy of creativity.” ” ‘Yes, and’ creates, while ‘no’ stops the flow.”

In my farming life, I say yes to diversity. Yes to creatures great and small, yes to learning about extraordinary plants, yes to the work and care and extra effort to help our winged community gain a foothold. Each week, I love visiting all these new plants, witnessing their growth, and watching for new insects to miraculously appear. These new plant families have already added so much joy to my life, and over time, will hopefully result in thousands of new farm pollinators. Yes, and… can’t you picture it? From March to November, imagine how all these flowers will light up our fields with beauty. ~AJ

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photo of purple and green succulents

It’s never the same. Week after week, I walk the same foot path, pick up the same hoe, carry the same harvest crates from field to wash sink. As repetitive as these motions may be, every day, every moment seems different, new, full of possibility. This is how I know I must be in the right line of work. The small details delight me, as does the amazing changes that sometimes happen seemingly overnight.

Yesterday we hung long sections of wire bean trellis, weeded onions, reveled in baby chickens who rushed to greet us with insistent peeping. We unloaded a delivery of feed grain, toured the farm with a chef, put the donkeys out to graze. We watered seedlings, shared our weeding philosophy with an apprentice, and noticed Grace, our beautiful slate blue Orpington had gone broody. So we tucked another egg underneath her to build up the little clutch. Life keeps turning toward life, we keep turning toward the joy found in each new round of familiar tasks. We sow, we tend, we harvest. But moreover, we care. We witness, we give thanks, we keep learning.

May this week’s harvest fill your table with health and joy. Meal after meal, it’s good to remember, when we show up with intention, no breath of our life is ever the same. -AJ

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Chore Time

Photo of Oregon White Oak sprouting

Come spring, our morning and evening chore routine grows from about thirty minutes to over an hour. In addition to the year round care of donkeys, sows and poultry, we find ourselves tasked with the tending of the newest members of the farm. Thousands of seedlings need watering, just-germinated pea tendrils and lettuce need covered to protect them from hungry rabbits. The clutches of chicks need small grit, a high protein snack and fresh refill of water in a cup that is just their size.

photo of a fuzzy caterpillar in the grassAs the bookends to our very-full work days, one might think this added chore detail is drudgery. (Of course, I too have at times wished for a magic supper-cooking genie.) But walking the field and visiting the barns at dawn or dusk has quite the opposite effect for me. Being alone and in service to this precious place is a grounding ritual for which I am grateful. This is the window of time I savor – for every step can bring me face to face with something extraordinary. In the milky light of the dawn or dusk, I am for once able to set down any concept of time and simply allow myself to soak up the fascinating, tender world right before my of hen and chicks in a bucket

That I am fortunate enough to bear witness to indelible moments that could not possibly be imagined or replicated, that come once and in a flash and then are gone again, is certainly one significant way I measure the richness of my life. I have my weary moments, but truly, it is hard to begrudge the extra time spent tending this magnificent place.

I farm because I love that one must pay attention, not day by day, but moment by moment. If you don’t, you’ll drown in the waves of rollicking seasonal change. I love that no living being here is in stasis, that the opportunity for metamorphosis is one footstep, one chicken coop door, one trough of clean water away. I love that no creature or plant is ruing past mistakes, lamenting their imperfect body, harboring old hurts or stockpiling expectations. In the presence of such industrious grace, almost effortlessly, I slip past the tightly guarded border of ego. All that matters seems to fall in place, all that does not falls away.

Someone once asked me why I don’t have wooden stakes with plant variety names at each bed in my field. To me, that’s like asking my family to wear name badges every day of the year. I farm because I love the intimacy of the work, the complexity and diversity of the relationships. I love the challenge of not knowing only by name, but by sight, sound, touch, and by a warm and growing association through familiarity hundreds and hundreds of plant and animal communities. There is nothing so powerful a bond as these shared experiences. In my case, this is the heart of my mission: good food, grown with love.

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Radicle Role Models

a photo of seeds sprouting in the dirt

A seed is born with a small stem, a single tiny root, and a scrap of pale white foliage. This complete physical structure is tucked and folded within and upon itself. At germination, the seed’s cells are not dividing, but absorbing. Specialized cells imbibe water, triggering enzymes to awaken. Food stored in the thin, outer membrane is consumed. The plant takes its first breath. Pushing toward the universe, this tiny, tender root, this radicle, emerges; the tightly held boundaries of identity are no more.

The primal work of a seed is not creation but expansion.


It seems the work of farming and farms themselves offer up a world-class education aimed at breaking boundaries by expanding one’s sense of identity. Each season spent in this classroom, I carry home a bounty: inexpressible, unquantifiable, but undeniably real. I do not consciously sign up for school in early spring, and yet every winter dawns and I look at myself in the mirror with more kindness, more compassion, more happiness than the year before. One moment I know nothing of the breathtakingly complex agrarian family, but the next, I carry the knowledge inside me like a seed, ready to breathe of its own accord. I cannot explain all its many scientific terms, but I continue to touch regenerative forces, I witness collaborations, I can now leaf out the map of cycles. I know who is a cousin. I know we are all cousins. I know I belong.


My farm is my mentor. A creek, a haymow, a mouse nest, a meadow of alder. The consoling belly of a broad-minded sow. A sea of inky purple onions. A black sky, a hard rain, a field of rattling wheat. Singing frogs, singing soil, mothers and fathers and children. For every curiosity or confusion, for every impasse or revelation, there is somewhere, someone in the Household of Nature* I can push toward.

As our time together comes to a pause, I offer you my gratitude. Thank you for pushing not away, but toward connection. Because of your continued support, I have been given the gift and the privilege to have entered a second decade as a farmer. The longer I farm, the less I obsess over outcome and the more I allow myself to celebrate the mystifying process. My confidence and trust in the work itself is blossoming. I can promise you this: I remain full-hearted, an engaged agrarian and writer, a steward of land and of words.

My wish is that each of you, in your own way, have the opportunity to absorb what all radicle role models have to teach: we are born whole. Our first work is not to do, but to be. The primal experience is one of expansion. We are meant to swell with the power of our innate gifts. Let my farm be your mentor too. Every germinating seed emanates this truth: Be nothing but your divine self first. Reach toward the world, and trust that whatever creativity resides within you will grow. ~AJ

*Rudolf Steiner used the term ‘Household of Nature’ in his 1924 lectures on the Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture.

May you always
fall asleep with a dream
and wake up with a purpose.

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Creative Processing: Part III

a photo of a handmade quilt in blues and pinks

Part Three: A Farmer’s Quilt

This essay is the conclusion of a three part essay on creative processing. Read Part One and Part Two.

The quilts I love most contain fabric from worn out work shirts, outgrown kids clothes, and other such scraps that were once a part of every day life for my ancestors, the Jones family. Similarly, the farm blocks I love most are patchworks of joy. These quarter acre plots are full of raucous diversity, where marigolds and squash zigzag down one line while thin white garlic skins peek above horizontal stripes of russet colored wheat straw. From a distance, the wispy fronds of dill sing in the wind while brilliant snatches of glossy red peppers dance along the borders. In each bed, down each row, plant by plant, loving details emerge.

Blooming wildly are my stories of seeds saved and sowed and tended. So much work. So much patience. So much joy. Anyone who has ever been warmed by a handmade quilt can feel that it is more than just simple triangles or squares arranged—no translation is necessary.

Quilting and farming have something else in common. Both forms of expression require significant math, data collection, geometry, research and analysis. These are the same fundamental skill sets upon which all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs are based, all lovely languages and ways of seeing which can greatly improve our work as farmers or quilters or human beings.

Each one of us has access to an enormous amount of information- billions of potential ‘triangles’ we could find and place in our quilt. Creative processors are able to choose, organize, and coalesce the precise information triangles that are right for their work. This is a very individualized activity requiring passion, practice and diligence. No two of us will find, choose, arrange and stitch together the exact triangles in the exact same way. Just as there are infinite personalities in the world, there are millions of ways of converting data into an advancement.

There are thousands of resources and hundreds of growing guides available for each of my crops. Without creativity- i.e. the confidence and respect for my individual way of expression, it would be overwhelming to develop my crop rotation. If I stick only to the facts and ignore the individual needs of my land, my self and my community, the inundation of data and ‘advice’ would be insurmountable. Thus, creative processing is a skill set I wish all new farmers could develop. If system thinking represents my infrastructure, creative processing is my lifeblood.

How we allow information to impact our work is greatly influenced by our personality and our experiences, so a critical part of creative processing involves discernment. Computers are processors. Humans are creative processors. Devoid of personal attention, of a single human’s hands touching and molding it, a quilt is simply a blanket. Farmers need to know how to work with information, but also about themselves, their land and their style of processing. This is the heart of it. The data informs you, and you transform the data.


My grandmother Florence Dobson Jones was an extraordinary quilter who described herself in her book, A Charm Quilt, as a “Scrapper and a Piecemaker.” I wish I were too. Maybe though, in my own way, I inherited her eye for patterns and colors, her penchant for finding the value in remnants she so creatively repurposed, and her sincere love for piecing, practicing and practicality. As I spread one of her charmed quilts over my bed, I noticed the precision and consistency of her hand work. She was such a professional!

photo of a quilted bag with a dog on it

And then I came across a little bag she made and laughed out loud. I realized how extraordinary it is that even though Granny was exceptionally talented, she never took herself too seriously to just sit down and play. She had made a ‘doggie bag’. Ha! It’s full of whimsy- no square is perfect, which is what makes it absolutely perfect.

I never thought of my Granny as a creative processor, but that’s exactly what she was—a fabric farmer bent on spreading comfort, joy, and nourishing love with her handcrafted, sincere way of transforming the world around her. Granny was open minded, engaged and avidly productive, pouring her unique self into every one of her creations. But she also allowed herself to be transformed by her projects and her community. She wasn’t after perfection, but connection. This is the essence of all creative processors’ lifelong work- creating meaningful, inimitable connections. Not one, not two, but hundreds, thousands. Handmade quilts are a physical embodiment of the integrity we gain through diversity. Granny’s quilts sure came in a diversity of colors, shapes and forms. I am betting that her idea of a quilter would too.

Which begs the question: What are your triangles, squares, needle and thread? What scraps are you willing to hand stitch into connection? Remember, no one else can sow your quilt; no one else is You. ~AJ

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Savoy Cabbage Slaw with Applesauce Vinaigrette

photo of savoy cabbage
Savoy Cabbage Slaw with Applesauce Vinaigrette
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon applesauce
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 4 cups savoy cabbage, sliced as thinly as possible
  • 1-2 medium beets*
  • 1 Granny Smith or tart apple
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Make vinaigrette: In a bowl, mix together mustard, salt, vinegar and applesauce. Slowly whisk in olive oil a little at a time until dressing emulsifies. Set aside.
  2. Make salad: Put cabbage in a large bowl. Using the shredding blade of a food processor or a box grater, shred the beet(s) until you have 1 cup. Set aside.
  3. Core apples and shred in food processor or with box grater until you have 2 cups. Put shredded apple into a bowl filled with lemon juice and 2 cups water, to prevent apple from browning.
  4. When ready to serve, gently squeeze water from apple, add to cabbage and toss slaw with vinaigrette. Add mustard seeds and toss again. Add the shredded beet and lightly toss. Sprinkle walnuts on top of slaw. Season with salt and pepper.

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Jeremy Fox

*Radishes can be used in lieu of beets.


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Creative Processing: Part II

photos of colorful produce, figs and onions

part two: The Winter Cover Crop

This essay is a continuation of last week’s musings on creative processing.

Eventually, the mixing and matching of fabrics and shapes subsides and the quilter heads for the scissors, needle and thread. It’s time for action. In late September, I head to my fields with seeds of various sizes, shapes and colors in tow. There, the remnants of summer crops and plant residues are in various stages of decay. What comes next? It’s time to sow winter cover crops.

My farm quilt is heavy because it is composed of multiple layers. If soil is the backing, then my winter cover crops are a thick batting. Cover crops are plants that protect the soil from rains, add or hold nutrients, loosen compacted soil, and improve the habitat for macro and micro-soil dwellers. These are crops planted for the express benefit of the soil; no part of the plant is harvested or sold. Eight months from now, no one will see them, but just as the feel of a quilt is largely determined by the thickness of the batting, the cover crops I now sow into my quilt will have a substantive effect on the yields and health of next year’s market crops.

How does one choose the right cover crop batting? I must think spatially to ensure relationships and adjacencies are mutually beneficial over time. Rye grain and hairy vetch lend body and structure, feeding the soil with large amounts of biomass. The rye binds soil nitrogen to keep it from leaching away and quickly colors the land with a dusty, spiraling green. (You can see it now, a soft fuzz of grass-like leaves germinating in the fields closest to the gravel lane.) Hairy vetch unfurls thick vines and compound pinnate leaves which climb the rye stalks rapidly and dot the spring fields with deep violet, tubular blossoms from which the bees drink heavily.

Instead of the traditional plain white batting, my batting is multi-colored and multi-textured. Visually, I am sowing a constantly changing tapestry of art. Practically, I am deciding what crops can or cannot come next.

For example, the three inch tall curling green rye of November will metamorphosis into five foot tall fibrous tan stalks by June. So while rye and her good friend vetch provide excellent soil protection and organic matter, they require additional time in the spring to break down such a significant amount of biomass. This is not a problem if I don’t need to transplant crops until late June. But what about my early spring lettuces and greens? Field peas are slower growing, but pull nitrogen right out of the sky to feed those hungry spring transplants. Oats act as a nurse crop. The bright green seedlings emerge quickly to cover the bare fall soil, thus blocking sunlight from germinating weeds. Then, in the hard frosts of late winter, the oats die back, giving slower growing peas space and sunlight to flourish. These partners both have a smaller growth habit and tender stems. Thus they are easily incorporated into the soil with only one pass of the disc. Once turned under, the plants release their nitrogen stores and provide a soft, rich seedbed for my earliest, slower growing crops.

So in one way, winter cover crops are the activity that puts our fields to rest for the closing year. In another way, their sowing represents a beginning- the first act we perform in the coming year’s farming cycle.

photo of new plants growing in a field

In one block, I’ve sowed oats and peas. All winter and spring, the peas will work their green magic by pulling nitrogen from the sky to sequester it in a network of roots that appear as bright pink polka-dots connected by gleaming white threads. Next spring, we’ll turn under the oats and peas and hand plant undulating hills of potatoes. Those plants we hope will grow lush and green, hiding their underground treasures in shades of purple, red and cream. In late summer, we’ll un-stich these hills by hand, then iron smooth the wrinkled ground in preparation for rye and vetch to grow all winter. The following spring, we’ll turn under the rye and vetch, hoping rye’s allelopathic properties will help suppress future weeds and vetch’s extensive biomass and blooms will feed our soil and our bees. Then the cycle will begin again: a new year’s quilt, but rotated. Never the same square twice. If potatoes occupied Block 4 this year, perhaps we’ll ‘stitch’ them into Block 5 next year. Can you see now, how my winter cover quilt is one hidden, but important element of this perpetual quilt of systems and cycles?

My winter cover crops are partially hand seeded, and partially sown by machine. My grandmother made handstiching look effortless, but she also relied on a treadle powered Singer. My machine is a little red hand-cranked broadcast seeder. Without the din of any engine, I can hear the pleasant tap-tap-tap the seeds make as they land on the receptive soil. I wonder, did the rhythmic motion of the foot pedal and the sounds of the Singer similarly delight my grandmother?

My footprints across the blocks, followed by the ridged steel of the cultipacker, act like a presser foot to ensure the soil stays taut against the newly sown seeds. Sufficient seed-to-soil contact is important for germination; we all need shelter and stability. It feels good, giving protection and cover back to the land that has fed us all season long. It feels right to be blanketing my earth, tucking her in with a heavy, handcrafted winter cover quilt.

Now, there is only one thing left to do: secure the layers together. Real quilters use a special frame and heavy thread. How will my seeds and soil become united? I leave this most important work of connecting layers to Nature. I imagine she’s partial to hand tying; raindrop by raindrop, she’ll call awake her seeds. These new living beings will then send their roots deep and wide, holding the soil and entwining each other with the comfort of a newfound integrity.

My work done, I wait eagerly to welcome home the lively, quilting rains. ~AJ

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Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Lasagna

photo of three butternut squash
Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Lasagna
Easily a side dish if you leave out the meat, and plenty flavorful even without the cheese.
Recipe by:
Recipe type: Recipe by Hillary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett

  • 1 large or 2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced ⅛” thick
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter or fat of choice, cut into pieces
  • 1-2 large bunches of Swiss chard, chopped
  • 1-2 cups cooked ground sausage
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 1½ – 2 cups grated cheddar (optional), divided
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Layer a third of the squash slices on the bottom of the pan; season with salt, pepper and a little chopped butter. Top with half the chard, add a layer of one half of the sausage, a big pinch of thyme and more salt, pepper and butter. Add a third of the cheddar cheese. Top with half of the remaining squash, then all the remaining chard, salt, pepper, butter and thyme, and all the remaining sausage. Add half the remaining cheddar, then finish with the last of the squash.
  2. Carefully pour the broth over the dish. It’ll seem very full, but don’t worry, it cooks down. Cover tightly with foil and bake for an hour.
  3. Carefully remove from oven and take off foil. Top the lasagna with the remaining cheddar and the Parmesan. Broil until the cheese is melted and golden.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash


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The Best Roasted Potatoes Ever

photo of a bunch of yukon gold potatoes
The Best Roasted Potatoes Ever
Thanks to CSA member Beth for sharing this recipe idea with us.
Recipe by:

  • Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite sized pieces*
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, duck fat, or beef fat
  • Small handful picked rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Small handful fresh parsley leaves, minced

  1. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F/230°C (or 400°F/200°C if using convection). Heat 2 quart water in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Add 2 tablespoon kosher salt, baking soda, and potatoes and stir. Return to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until a knife meets little resistance when inserted into a potato chunk, about 10 minutes after returning to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, combine olive oil, duck fat, or beef fat with rosemary, garlic, and a few grinds of black pepper in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Cook, stirring and shaking pan constantly, until garlic just begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Immediately strain oil through a fine-mesh strainer set in a large bowl. Set garlic/rosemary mixture aside and reserve separately.
  3. When potatoes are cooked, drain carefully and let them rest in the pot for about 30 seconds to allow excess moisture to evaporate. Transfer to bowl with infused oil, season to taste with a little more salt and pepper, and toss to coat, shaking bowl roughly, until a thick layer of mashed potato–like paste has built up on the potato chunks.
  4. Transfer potatoes to a large rimmed baking sheet and separate them, spreading them out evenly. Transfer to oven and roast, without moving, for 20 minutes. Using a thin, flexible metal spatula to release any stuck potatoes, shake pan and turn potatoes. Continue roasting until potatoes are deep brown and crisp all over, turning and shaking them a few times during cooking, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
  5. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add garlic/rosemary mixture and minced parsley. Toss to coat and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

*German Butterball potatoes are a great choice for this recipe.

Recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt:

Photo by Hai Nguyen on Unsplash


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Creative Processing: Part I

a photo of purple, light green and dark green lettuces

PART ONE: Quilting My Fields

In preparation for the colder weather, this past week I pulled down the flannel sheets and bright heavy quilts from the top closet shelf and my thoughts turned to the accomplished quilters in my family. Alas, I wish I could say I was the next protégé. But I don’t own an iron, I don’t have an extensive supply of fabrics and my sewing skills are rudimentary at best. What I do have is a deep appreciation for the women in my family who practice this art. Their creative, organized minds and skilled, deft hands have brought tangible comfort to my life and a pragmatic beauty to my farmhouse.

Even though I am not a quilter, this is the time of year I fancy myself one. For October is when I begin to piece together next year’s crop plan— the farmer’s version of a quilt. I rely on a pattern inspired by soil, seeds and the seasons. My fabrics are the living system of edible plants that express endless colors and shapes, textures and structures. And the heavy duty thread I depend on to stitch everything together is creative processing, a skill set my family’s quilters artfully embody.

Creative Processors have the ability to collect, organize and uniquely connect many disparate ideas or “pieces” into cohesively beautiful and beneficial outcomes.

For quilting and farming, some of the inquiries are the same: what, how much, what size and where? Such questions are both a delight and a challenge because there are thousands of individual pieces to consider. From shades and hues to varieties and flavors- fabric stores and seed catalogs have more in common than you might think.

Sewing a quilt begins with identifying the size and layout of the quilt itself. Will the pattern be a double nine-patch? A thousand pyramids? A bowtie? Rising stars? My vegetable field is divided into blocks just shy of a quarter acre apiece. Each quarter acre is then subdivided into twelve beds of equal size. Some of my beds are entirely one crop, but frequently the beds contain several crops. I wonder what quilt pattern name would best describe these long rectangular strips- Stacked rectangles? Some form of Jolly bars? Maybe I could just make up a new name- something like ‘Log cabin lumber’!

Once the physical structure of the quilt is established, a quilter must undertake the work of collecting the specific fabrics for each individual block. Likewise, I begin by identifying every vegetable, fruit, herb and flower I want to grow and allocating the appropriate number of beds for each one.

Then the real fun begins. I’m not sure how quilters work through the process of arranging their fabrics and connecting them to certain geometric shapes. I use a sheet of paper that has an outline of my field with each individual block and bed identified. Then I grab a pencil with a good eraser because I am tasked with artfully finding a home for each of the nearly fifty crops, (and in the appropriate quantity), that I want to include in my farm quilt. It’s creatively fun, and seriously daunting: there are so many relationships to think of, so many ways to enliven the overall effect or to keep certain ‘fabrics’ from clashing. As I move and place each piece, I think in triplicate. What are the specific needs of this plant? For what period of time will it occupy a given space? And, what are the gifts this crop could bestow to the greater farm system? Layered over these three questions is a two-part question: Is it physically practical and logistically feasible? Labor, weather and soil conditions are crucial aspects I must always keep in mind.

Identifying unique plant life cycles and habits, researching mutually beneficial relationships and understanding the energy, nutrients and assets each element can contribute is work that I wholeheartedly love. It’s like one big puzzle over space and time: pulling together all these various parts, and working to leverage them into an even more powerful kaleidoscope-type arrangement. I love finding new ways to organize and connect each piece to improve the health of my soil and help my plants develop into a bigger, more vibrant and nourishing landscape.

Now, creative processing is one of the absolute joys of my profession, but it’s not just an organizational skill set. Next week, we’ll take up the scissors and thread, (or maybe the seed and cultipacker) and begin to hand-piece the first blocks of next year’s farm quilt. ~AJ

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