Find me in the flood

Find me in the flood

I wake at six o’clock to a steady, soaking rain. Yes. Not yes because I’m excited to be out in the cold and wet all day, slogging around in my mud-caked boots, or because I’m particularly ready to jump out of bed in the pitch darkness of late November. It just sounds good. It sounds right. It sounds like late November should sound in the Willamette Valley, finally.

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How to make compost

How to make compost

There are ten thousand ways to make compost, which is one reason I love it so much. The idea is simple: put organic materials in a pile, turn it every now and again, and wait. Small life forms, most invisible to our eyes, will do the rest. It’s the best example of how we can work with nature to co-create richness, how we can foster life without controlling it, how a garden takes a small amount of initial energy and multiplies it into more than we could ever create on our own.

And it can be kinda gross. Which is cool!

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When "so much" feels easy

When "so much" feels easy

And all of a sudden, the season is nearly done and I haven’t written in a month and there is still. so. much.

So much to catch up about here, so much to finish at the farm before I drop it for the winter, so much recovery, so much gratitude, so much to mull over, talk about, try to improve. At times in the midst of the season, when I’d be chest-high in crates of peppers to sort or swirling amongst fifty eager people doing ten different projects, the “so much” felt like too much, and I would long for the winter, when I could reminisce with romance while my back rested and my skin faded back to its usual pasty hue. Sometimes, farming throws at us just too much to truly enjoy.

But then the markets end for the season, and every day is no longer completely consumed by harvest and processing….

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Ready for winter

Ready for winter

I’m still blown away by what all can happen on the farm in a week. Rains in the forecast. Blissfully sunny days. An unexpected frost over the weekend. A few sizable volunteer groups. We push, and rearrange projects, and let harvest fall off while we focus on the fields. We woefully sort all the peppers that got zapped by the light freeze, take turns on the tractor to turn in the blackened plants, water the last bits of parched soil to get the moisture right for tilling. We spread manure, chicken pellets, fish meal, or lime over neat mounds or entire sections of flat fields, till it all in, and have to remind ourselves that it’s fall— that these delightfully neat beds ready for planting are not the first of the season, but rather the very last.

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Plowing flowers

Plowing flowers

“Odder than plowing flowers,” someday, will be a proverb. You’ll say it when you’re ripping down old wall paper that could eke by for another few years. When you’re cutting a friend’s hair that’s grown beautifully to their waist. When a spring ice storm splits open your full-in-bloom cherry trees. You’ll say it when a friend puts to sleep their cat that doesn’t seem that old or decrepit, and when your teenager cleans out the fridge and tosses a few bags of veggies that were still salvageable. It’ll be the perfect utterance when you’re sorting through all your children’s artwork you’ve saved over the years, and somehow, bittersweetly, choose which pieces to let go.

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In sight

In sight

A week, a journey through another food shed, a rain, a flurry of breakdown, and just like that: I can see the end. Only three more market weeks. Six more CSA packings. Eight more apple trees to strip. Three and a half greenhouses to flip into winter crops. Another acre of crops to till under, and four acres to cover crop in a frenzy before the rains come. Seven beds of garlic to sow. Five sections of black plastic to lay out for next year’s early plantings. A few tons of potatoes to wash, a dozen tours to give, and a couple hundred volunteers to train.

Piece of cake.

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Onion skins and rotting tomatoes

Onion skins and rotting tomatoes

It’s been really hard to focus on the present these past couple weeks. It’s a lot to think about, to be part of a nation where elected leaders squabble across partisan lines rather than attempting to address the root causes of sexual assault and gender inequality, to give up a treasured relationship over my abstract desire and optimism to have children some day, to be wondering where I want my farming path to lead toward. It’s all been weighing heavily on my heart and mind, and I’ve noticed it: out in the cilantro bed, day after day, my brain running through news clips rather than savoring that overwhelming aroma. Swirling salad mix in the wash tubs, replaying rough conversations about interpersonal incompatibility rather than feeling the icy water reach my forearms, letting my thoughts override my eyes’ delight at the shimmering reds and greens below me. Trying to keep up pleasant conversations with coworkers and volunteers after spending an hour on my own, brooding over a president’s recent speech that reinforced rape culture. It’s just a lot to think about.

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Appreciation day

This is why I do this work. It’s for the production, of course: the thousands of pounds of potatoes popping out of the ground that will be eaten by all kinds of people with all levels of resources, including wealthy families, unhoused people, and those with nothing but crumbs and an old can of green beans in their pantries. The meticulous attention to quality for sale, cleaning and processing, weeding and row covering, transplanting an entire greenhouse in an hour. I do it for the pride of production and satisfaction of efficiency, the rewarding feeling of physical exhaustion at the end of a long day. But there’s more than that.

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Hard work

I actually worked today.

Yes, I actually work every day that I’m at the farm. But a lot of it’s the same kind of work, almost all day every day these days: Squat, kneel, or bend at the hip to scan and choose bright fruits and vegetables to harvest; chop, pull up, or twist off said produce and bunch, rip off leaves, feel for soft spots, or fill hands with as many little prizes as possible; fill crate or tote or bucket with the bounty, hoist it against my hips, and carry it to the cart or truck; set up tables or wash tubs to sort, bunch, bathe, or spray; carry full totes to the coolers. Apart from the glory of the still-alive produce I get to admire, taste, and smell all day, my physical work is essentially squatting a lot, lifting and moving around heavy oversized boxes, and levering my torso up and down, up and down all day.

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Melon mornings

Melon mornings

“You’re having a melon morning!” I joke as I walk back toward the tool shed. I’ve left Casey near the farm stand with a pallet of cantaloupes, Israeli melons, and watermelons to wipe clean and set aside fifty more for our CSA boxes this week. First thing in the day, he got the pallet ready with empty crates and I drove it out to the melon patch, him running behind the dust and clatter of the tractor. He caught on fast to harvest: the skin color shifts from green to yellow on the green-fleshed Israeli melons, and the fruit easily falls off the stem with a small amount of pressure. We hunched down the rows, me in the cantaloupes, him in the other melons, and harvested a few crates of watermelons— which I insisted on choosing since they’re sticking to the vine even when they’re ripe— together. After a chaotic return among the hubbub of a large volunteer group of Willamalane (Springfield Parks and Rec) staff, Casey had a bucket of water, a rag to wipe down the melons, and a clear idea of which sizes to keep for CSA.

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Farm Fest

The annual Farm Fest on Saturday was a hoot— the only day of the year that I get to hang out on the farm, not feel like I need to be doing anything in particular, and really chat with people. I spent the morning harvesting more flowers and making bouquets while the stand got set up, youth farmers set up infrastructure for the music, seating, cider pressing, and kids’ activities, and Jen coordinated the chopping and displaying of a couple dozen varieties of tomatoes for tasting. Attendance was a low, steady flow of regular farm stand and CSA customers, people with little kids running around, FOOD for Lane County staff and board members, and folks who just happened upon it for the first time— a now regular occurrence at the markets.

The cider was shockingly (as it tends to be, despite trying it every year) flavorful and thick— a distillation of all that sunlight-turned-sugar with a strong dose of pome flavor. The tomatoes were shockingly bright, tart, sweet— numbing my tongue after a few tastes and then reinvigorating it every time I went back with a fresh pallet. Zing! The farm stand display barely fit on even an extended line of tables out front— the season is abundant and we’re in the exact moment of overlap between summer and fall crops, when eggplants and strawberries shine beside the dried onions and winter squash.

To share it all makes me proud, and to see how much people appreciate it and are wowed by the farm makes me grateful that I’m such an integral part of it.

Let the beauty of what we love be what we do

-Rumi

Ashes to ashes

Ashes to ashes

They come, they sing, and they go.

And there’s a period in between that no one likes to think about: that period when they’re fading, succumbing to pests or disease or simply old age, leaves thick and gnarly, defenses raised, bitterness overcoming sweetness in their tissues. It sounds like a bummer— and it can certainly feel like it sometimes, especially when it’s premature— but it’s just as much a part of this cycle as the freshy fresh tender baby time. I’ve celebrated the first tastes, first harvests, vibrant colors, bursting sweetness of summer for months now, and in many ways it’s a relief to lay attention on the decline, if only for a few minutes as I drag a tiller through an old bed of sunflowers in the dim evening light. Ashes to ashes, petals to petals, dust to dust.

Well hello, great Fall.

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It's all history

When I think back over another week that’s flown by without any writing, I try to think of the one thing that a day would be remembered by: a conversation? a new harvest? a challenge? a storm? By this time of the year I tend to think we’re cruising on auto pilot— that every day has become somewhat predictable and blurry under the steady stream of harvest— but it’s not true. Each day in my history continues to feel distinct, new things pop up, old things remain beautiful, and the blur of early autumn harvest time is punctuated in real time and in memory.

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An onion life

An onion life

They were born in February and March.  Single, grass-like cotyledons springing up from the cold, moist potting soil in the nursery.  Thousands of them, soft and supple, forming a carpet of growing tips that I used to run my hand over as I walked through the winter greenhouse to check on all the babes.  I love the way they come out folded over-- creased right in the middle of that single fine stem-- and hang on to their black seed coats for a while, giving them a brief ride toward the scattered daylight.

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A young farmer

Christopher's slurping from the side of a green melon as I get up from my lunch time resting spot in the orchard.  He's gnawing on it from the side, looking out over the youth farmer gardens.

"Is that melon from your garden?" I ask.

"Yeah, it is!" 

"Sweet, that's awesome."  He nods, keeps gnawing, looking kind of unsatisfied.  It looks a little underripe from the deep green of the exterior.  I was headed back to the picnic tables to start getting ready for the afternoon's projects, but I decide to linger for a bit.

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Photojournal: Nature's first green is gold

Photojournal: Nature's first green is gold

Early mornings are becoming more golden as the summer wears off.  This is a short photo journal of a Saturday morning of harvest for the farm stand.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 

-Robert Frost

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Delivery day (for the CSA geeks)

Delivery day (for the CSA geeks)

The farm's Community-Supported Agriculture members have a choice between shopping for items at our farm stands or picking up a collection of produce that we select each week.  Normally, Jen packs the CSA totes each Wednesday while I help finish the harvest for it.  She's on vacation this week though, so Ted packed boxes and I did the deliveries.  In previous years I've delivered more often for various reasons, but this might be my only chance this season to share how it's done... so get out your CSA geek glasses and let's dive in to the nuts and bolts!

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Autumn teaser

It rained over the weekend.  Lightly and little, but the ground was wet when I woke up on Monday morning.  We all had different reactions to it this morning, equally confused by the sun's heat beaming down on us after an unusually chilly morning.  Is it coming?  Is summer already passing?  I have a hard time believing that, even when glancing at the extended forecast (sunny upper seventies to low eighties, nights around fifty degrees for the next ten days) that seems remarkably cool for a time of year that usually bakes us.  But the mornings feel crisp, the morning dew has returned, and yellow leaves on the trees are beyond what drought would cause.

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A week in brief

A week in brief

This is why I've been forcing myself to write every day: because when I set out to document and reflect on an entire week that's somehow slipped past me, the task seems impossible.  There are so many details and conversations and colors and projects that happen in one hour, let alone one day-- and forget one whole week!-- that to try to encompass the whole will be woefully inadequate.  Nonetheless, I guess, I'll persist.

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