Argiope graces the farm

Argiope graces the farm

As always on Thursdays, my head was deep in Market Zone for most of the day.  Loading totes, displaying produce, checking off countless boxes ping-ponging around in my head to make sure that the farm stand sets up smoothly, beautifully, and on time.  Check.  Then in the late afternoon, as the interns overhauled our debris mountain into a working compost pile with Ted's guidance and a pair of sprinkler hoses, I found the Wild.  Something I never even imagined existed in this place.  At once terrifying and mesmerizing, she caught me in my tracks.

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Staying in love

Staying in love

It's the middle of August.  The broccoli is done, for the first time since it came on in June, for about a month.  Spinach has been missing for while, each planting succumbing to premature bolting before we can get anything out of it.  Bok choy seems like a long-ago dream by this point.  Radishes, salad turnips, green onions, cilantro, kale-- all those enthusiastic harbingers of spring harvest season have come and gone.  In their wake we're left with corn, eggplant, and celery.   Red and yellow peppers, finally ripening to fullness in the greenhouses and fields.  Heirloom tomatoes finally glowing in mismatched collections, melons almost ready to burst, Asian pears ripening to yellow, bigger than in years past.

And exhausted as I am by the harvest, blinded to the vividness of each tomato by the sheer abundance of them, I still find myself giddy on a regular basis. 

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Carrot daze

Carrot daze

It's rare that I get to have my hands in the dirt on a single project for more than a few minutes.  I'm running from one crop to the next, harvesting a dozen or two bunches here and there, checking in on small groups scattered around the farm and coordinating whatever washing and processing needs to happen up front.  I love that rhythm, of never getting stuck in one project too long.  It can also feel frenetic sometimes, and even isolating since my conversations are usually cut short by the next task at hand.  

So on mornings like this, when we're just staff and interns and a short list of long harvests, I sink in.  Literally, in this case. 

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Agriculture in the news

NPR has been pumping out agriculture-related news recently, which is exciting not only because agriculture gets a lot less press than most other topics, but also because this batch is generally more encouraging than I would've anticipated!  Read on...

Oregon berry growers using a new technology (lasers!) to ward off flocks of destructive birds.

A terminally ill former landscaper won a landmark court case against Monsanto, the agrichemical giant and maker of the ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate (aka Roundup).

Dairy farmers have mixed reactions to new tariffs, which could hurt their bottom line.

And how the Milk with Dignity program in Vermont is raising quality of life for many dairy farm workers.

There was also a great local news story on friends Rosie and Adam's Little Wings Farm and the challenges and opportunities for young farmers.

 

Medicinal plant workshop with the crew

"Useful non-commercial plants of the Youth Farm, aka Weed Walk"

An annual workshop for the Youth Farm crew about plant medicine

(In much better words than I could conjure up on this hot afternoon)

1. I am not an expert.  I have been studying herbs intentionally for about seven years, in varying degrees of intensity and in various ways (reading books, taking workshops, class series, and experimentation with myself, friends, and family), but I've only scratched the surface.  My training has been focused primarily on Western European herbs that have naturalized here in the Pacific Northwest, as well as many northwest native species.  Most of my perspective comes from two teachers, Jaci Guerena and Howie Brounstein, as well as a smattering of other teachers at herbal gatherings and workshops.  If anyone ever tells you they're an expert in herbal medicine, run away.

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Animal encounters

Animal encounters

Two animals ended up in black trash bags by the end of the day.  For all the plant life we nurture and control on the farm, there usually isn't much animal life to speak of.  Richard's two "guard" dogs that live on site might have something to do with it.  There are rodents off and on, lots of snakes, a stray cat or two that lay low and scurry away whenever I spot them, and all manner of spiders and insects.  But big animals (besides the human variety) are rare.  So to have two close encounters in one day overshadows any of the other highlights of the day I can imagine.

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Corn season

Corn season

It's finally fresh corn season on the farm.  In just the week I was gone, our first planting came and (almost) went.  Our next one is fully pumping now, and we have four more waiting after that.  Imagine: the youth farmers were planting baby seedlings for our last round, just down the field from where others were harvesting from the first round last week.  Field two, behind the greenhouses, is a microcosm of the summer season, with three successional rounds planted side by side, baby to kid to teenager corn stalks, all still waiting to tassel and reproduce.  The crazy part of it all, I realized yesterday, is that each planting's maturity brings us one week closer to the end of the crew's season.  By the time they say goodbye at the end of September, we'll be closing in on those last plantings that today seem so far off from ever producing ears.

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Coming back to the farm

Coming back to the farm

Coming back.  Coming back, after a week in the woods-- a simple distillation of life into basic tasks, immediate surroundings, present sensations-- was originally difficult.  I covered for Ted on Saturday and over the weekend for irrigation, and I wasn't ready to dive back in.  I hadn't slept well yet, I wasn't used to the sunshine and heat, and my mind was still far away, dreaming of a future in which I can awake to birdsong and meadows rather than trainsong and city streets.  Coming back, until I could resettle quietly into my home and routine, felt like a burden.

There's still- always- so much to do.

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Annual blueberry picking

Annual blueberry picking

I went blueberry picking on Sunday with my dear friends Sherman and Matt.  When some people say blueberry picking, they mean filling up a bowl with enough berries to make a pie or snack on for the week.  When I say blueberry picking, I'm not messing around.  We left with about 100 pounds of huge, ripe, mouth-watering fruits, my hatchback filled on all surfaces with boxes, our fingers stained and our bellies full….

Ah yes!  In reality it's Mama who is right: tanks are perishable, pears are eternal

- Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting 

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Spiral tomato time

Spiral tomato time

Time is circular, not linear.  The proof is in the fact that the farm stand, right around mid July each year, starts to fill up with tomatoes.  They trickle in gradually for a few weeks, suddenly bursting in stacks upon stacks of giant red and orange Big Beefs.  And I, year after year, find myself spending more time between the plum and Asian pear trees back there, sorting through the bounty. 

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Yes! Deep summer!

Yes!  Deep summer!

I woke up super early on Saturday, excited.  Excited about feeling love, excited for a weekend to come, excited to get the farm stand up and running, excited to work with a small crew of motivated youth farmers.  I've learned again and again that the world gives me back what I bring to it, and today was no exception.  I brought excitement, and the day proved generous and full to meet me.  

Yes, we got the market set up in time, with beautiful mounds of vegetables, glistening deep red strawberries, buckets of flower bouquets.  Yes, we harvested everything we needed to harvest before break time, weeded an overgrown bed of leeks, tilled up a new area to be planted.  Yes, timing was right to get beds shaped, amended with manure and lime, and re-tilled flat for planting.  Yes, enough youth farmers knew how to work with drip tape that I could just explain the goal of finishing the onion field and they were off and running with it without much help.  Yes, the two volunteers that showed up could blend right in with the crew.  

The farm is starting to manage itself.  Yes, yes, yes.

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A trip afield

A trip afield

We took our annual youth farmer field trip on Friday-- the first time I've been around to join in.  Jen finds a different farm to visit most years, as it's a difficult time for farmers to give up an entire morning for a tour.  A couple years ago the crew went to Open Oak Farm in Sweet Home, where Adaptive Seeds operates its breeding programs.  This year, we drove to Cottage Grove to tour Branch Road Farm with owner Andy, as well as FOOD for Lane County's Grassroots Garden in Eugene.

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Youth farmer days

Edith* comes back from the field rosy-cheeked and smiling.  "We're done with transplanting, so we're going to start pulling potatoes."  She looks enlivened despite the sweat and heat.  Summer hasn't bogged her down yet.  She heads off with Gerome to lead the rest of the field crew in the potato patch.

"I can go help them if you need," Madison says as they're leaving.  She's stuck up front, processing produce for market tomorrow with a small crew.  I know she prefers the field, and she's being a good sport about volunteering for whatever we need.  She busts out salad mix washing by herself, sprays rounds of beets, sorts onions-- and all the while she's imagining her hands in the soil, across from someone else crouched low to the ground, sun on her back, the satisfaction of seeing a freshly transplanted bed.  She stays in processing, because we need her up front today.

Meanwhile, Abby is off in the CSA shed with Jen all day, bagging salad mix and cleaning up leftover produce.  She takes her break and lunch late because we forget that she's over there, forget to call her off.  But she seems happy in the shade and ease of preparing CSA totes-- unlike Madison, she'd be dreaming of cleaning onions if she were stuck out in the field hoeing or planting.  

Every youth farmer is so different.

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Over half way

Over half way

Time passes.  Slowly at times, like when I'm bending to thin lettuce seedlings and my back is barking.  Quickly at others, like when we're back and forth harvesting a dozen different crops in a morning.  Back and forth between the extremes, every week, every day, every hour.  I realized last week that we'd reached the half way point of the season.  February, March, April, May, and June-- the growth period, expansion, push push push-- are now gradually falling into the roll-out harvest of July, August, September, October, and November.  We've made it past the hump, into full summer abundance, and I continue to be baffled by how quickly things grow, change, and fade.  Last week my Oregon Country Fair vacation was the longest period since January that I've been away from the farm-- just five days-- and it feels as if we're already suddenly in a different period.

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Squash bugs

Squash bugs

I feel like I'm walking across a recently abandoned battlefield, where the only remnants of life are a few greedy scavengers trying to find pieces of gold in dead soldiers’ pockets.  Or something like that.  We're checking for any last survivors of zucchini and summer squash in our greenhouse beds.  They had a great run-- about six weeks right at the beginning of harvest season-- but they're crashing faster than I'd imagined.  Leaves are flopped over and sticking to the black plastic underneath from the thick juices of aphids and squash bugs.  We find a handful of stunted, deformed fruit from both entire beds, deposit it half-heartedly in a crate, and quickly move on.

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Forgettable injuries

….These are the everyday scrapes and bruises that tend to disappear from my memory as soon as they're healed.  For some reason, some of them linger, even after I can see no sign of them on my skin.  That fist scrape is completely invisible now.  Not even a scar.  The one still healing on my knuckle will fully fade in just a couple more weeks.  Like it never happened. 

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