Stretching with the crew

"How about, what store do you shop at?"  Everyone hesitates and looks around.  I know there's going to be questions like this.  Do you like red or green apples better?  What time do you wake up every day?  But not today, so early in the season.  "Come on, how about something a little deeper?" I step in.  "Just a little?"  Eventually someone suggests talking about what we've learned and how we've grown over this past school year for the morning stretching circle talk, and we begin.

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Market zone, part one

I hardly see the farm or get to work with the crew on Thursdays.  I'm at the warehouse mid morning to pick up the market truck, leftover CSA totes, and a road sign to set out near the hospital.  By eleven o'clock, I'm usually arriving at the farm, saying a quick hello to whoever might be washing produce up front, then diving into what I call "market zone".  It's a fun zone, and it feels entirely separate from the workings of the farm despite being intimately reliant on them.

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First tastes

First tastes

Consider the tomato.

It's been a long time coming, and I've written a hell of a lot about them.

From planting and keeping the first seedlings alive in freezing nights of February to grafting baby Big Beefs onto rootstock plants in March, running out of room for them and marveling at how quickly their scars healed in April to pruning and trellising the quick-growing plants in May, it's been a long time coming. 

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A fragile organism

A fragile organism

Though I fiercely hate to admit it, I'm a fragile organism.

I woke up feeling strong on Saturday.  Got myself ready for the day, ate some food, jetted off to get to the farm around 7:30am.  I was ready to tackle anything, and I did.  I harvested totes of kale, chard, collards, and cilantro while Ted and the farm stand managers set up the market.  As the youth crew arrived, I was finishing up my bunches and bringing them to the stand, going back to the field to harvest more broccoli for the display.  I started feeling nauseous, cringing whenever I put any attention on my gut.  So I focused on harvest instead: bending up and down, cutting, counting, and carrying totes.  There was enough to distract me.

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Snippets

Snippets

Experimenting with a new format and combining two days into one post: a first, and a sign that both on- and off-farm lives have been stacked full this week.  There's so much to share.  More prose coming soon :)

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Seventy-five bunches

Seventy-five bunches

We're in a free-fall at the moment.  It's been a steady slide all spring, some bumps and dips.  We even caught some air here and there along the way.  As the fields continue to need preparing and planting, beds need weeding and tending, and irrigation becomes a full-time concern, we are now also harvesting every day of the week.  All of which, in all its glory and beauty, means a complete free-fall into summer.  If all goes right, we'll land on a bed of pillowy kale, shake off and try to remember what clouds look like, and just keep rolling.

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To offer

With all the daily to-do lists and weekly goals and pushes to finish big projects in farming, I often forget to look back at-- and especially to really appreciate-- my successes.  This morning, I would never have guessed that I would be looking back on the day with pride and joy.  I was in a sour mood.  Lately I've been focusing on some of the things I don't have, and it had caught up to me by this morning.  I could have crawled back into bed and given the leading to others, hid in the weedy onion patch by myself and sulked in my ungrateful thoughts all day.  Even on the brightest morning meeting up with the most positive people, sometimes I'm just caught like that, blind by choice to the good.

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Five stories

"I showed up around ten o'clock for my environmental studies class assignment.  I had a hard time waking up, and the sun felt really intense even by mid morning.  A woman showed us around for a while, and I tried raw kale for the first time.  It was actually pretty good.  Leafy tasting.  I volunteered to thin apples before I knew what it meant, and I was happy I did: I got to be in the shade most of the morning, just cutting baby apples off the branches to make better fruit.  I even climbed up into some of the trees, and for a few minutes I forgot all about my classes and final projects-- the sound of apples plopping onto the tarp, light filtering through the leaves, birds chirping nearby.  What a relief."

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Learning agronomy

Here's the trouble.  We have about eight new beds ready for planting tomorrow, and at least twenty beds worth of plants ready to get in the ground in the next week.  The cover crop in the Final Frontier field-- the next hope for making plantable beds-- was a jungle of tangled peas, vetch, and rye grass just a few days ago.  It's now desiccating atop a rock-hard plate of dry soil, and all its nitrogen will continue rapidly escaping back into the atmosphere until we can till.  We can't till until we irrigate to get the right moisture level, and then there's a couple days' window to incorporate the organic matter before the soil's too dry again.  We missed the window in one section already, and we need to keep the process in motion-- while keeping everything else on the farm watered with a limited number of irrigation lines-- until all that crop is mixed underground.  And even then, we wait.  One to two weeks for the crop to decompose enough to make fine beds.  Hours and days while harvest takes priority, training new volunteers draws us away from the tractor, and broken sprinkler heads foil our plans to irrigate on time.  We'll get there, but it'll be close.

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Detritus

Detritus

In the midst of harvesting cratefuls of colorful vegetables buzzing with life, gathering materials to proudly display the bounty at tomorrow's stand- our first real day of harvest for the 2018 market season- I'm struck by a very different kind of energy. 

Garbage.  Chaos.  Detritus.  It's everywhere, creeping in under in the benches, behind the sheds, collecting a special kind of dust that only farms can produce.  It's in my way, it's attracting flies, it's an eyesore.  It's depressing, all those broken supplies, waiting to go to the landfill.  It's a wonder they don't drown us, all the random accumulations of stuff. 

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”

- Gary Snyder in "Turtle Island"

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The last day before harvest begins

The last day before harvest begins

There's nothing and everything special about days like these, when the sun finally breaks out in the late afternoon and our backs are waking up for the week and I have no idea what to write about because any single moment could become an entire book if I explored it.  I'm searching to find the most magnificent part to share, but it's all magnificent.  It's all normal and wild, monotonous and exhilarating, tiring and energizing, frustrating and peaceful.  It just is.  And it's all really, really good.

So here.  Here's this most majestic, perfect squash blossom to top off this most sublimely imperfect last day before Harvest Season begins.  

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Farm haikus

Another week ending.  Second day for youth farmers.  Sunny once again. 

Strawberries twice picked.  Truck full of greens for food bank.  Apples still to thin. 

David stays to help.  Ted fills out the flower bed.  Field Two finally filled.

Corn and sunflowers.  Cucumbers and summer squash.  Melons.  Watermelons.  Sweet snap peas.

Red beets and spinach.  Salad mix and carrot beds.  More turnips and greens.

It will happen fast.  This soil will fill with roots.  Growth, harvest, decline.

I'm watching.

 Cucurbits newly transplanted

Cucurbits newly transplanted

Hannah

Hannah

It was Hannah's last day.  She's been interning this spring, filling in for one of our season-long interns who had to take sick leave for a couple months.  Most other interns come on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, but Hannah's schedule worked out to be Thursday afternoons, Fridays, and Saturday mornings.  So Fridays- a relatively quiet day with few volunteers, Michael off, and often Ted away half the day or more- have been rare opportunities for me to work directly alongside her on a diverse array of projects.  Today, after several weeks of Friday chaos with the plant sale and Urban Farm volunteers dropping in by the dozens, Hannah and I got one more quiet Friday.  

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In the dirt

In the dirt

They planted Cal White potatoes, which are usually huge but came very small (and easy for little hands to tuck under ground) this year.  One girl caught on quickly and led the charge down the bed, plugging in spud after spud with enthusiasm.  Between kids unearthing bits of plastic and worms as they dug, she found a single clear marble.  She carried it with her as we left the field to wash hands and switch stations, showing her friends with a smile.  I wonder what she'll do with it.  And I wonder, if she keeps it like a treasure, what it will remind her about this warm cloudy morning when she visited a real farm and planted a whole bed of sprouted potatoes with her classmates, once she's my age and finds herself digging in the dirt.

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Everything by the minutes

Everything by the minutes

8:30 am.  University of Oregon Duck Store.  I'm buying two cases of Listo grease pencils for marking flags with planting dates and varieties at the farm.  We've tried "permanent" markers (they fade), China pencils (they break), and yellow crayon-like grease markers (they don't show up).  Now we have a seemingly endless supply that do the trick.

9:20 am. Strawberry patch.  I'm poking around the plants while Michael weed whacks the end of the bed so we can hook up irrigation lines.  All three patches have been swallowed up on either side by tall cover crop, and I'd almost forgotten about them.  To my delight, they're ripe!  I pick one deep red one and pop it into my mouth, stem and all.  I almost forget to taste it while I search through the beds, looking to see how many are ready.  But then I do, and stand there for a minute, letting that ultra sweet summer flavor sink in.  This sensation will keep coming until fall sets in.

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May morning photo journal

May morning photo journal

I arrived early today to finish revamping a little herb and flower garden near the farm stand, and to document all the beautiful crops approaching harvest.  I've been struck dumb a lot in the past couple weeks, walking through a field, looking down to notice how fresh and thriving the [insert broccoli, green onions, carrots, peas, etc etc] are looking.  It warrants another photo journal, since the brief evening one I did about a month ago caught nothing of this sort.  It's really time.  We're on the verge of harvest season.

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What is Community?

Community.  It's an overused, misunderstood, idealistic idea.  I use it all the time in my orientation tours for groups at the farm, mentioning "the community" as if it's a concrete group of people.  Or on social media, thanking "the community" for its support of our plant sales and farm stands.  We talk about it as part of our organizational values, emphasizing that everyone is included and welcome in the work we do.  Back when I first starting organic farming at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, Oregon, I was doing interviews with staff and surveys of Community Supported Agriculture members for an independent study in school, and asked the owners what they thought about "community".  For all the talk of inclusiveness and outreach toward consumers in this food movement, what they said really stuck with me: "If people talk about the community, it really is the group of us working."  Small farms do so much work to try to include customers and families to feel "part of the farm," but the real connections come from working hard together.  

On Saturday, a new community started to form as the youth farmer crew started their first day of work.  Most arrived early and huddled near the tool shed, labelling their cubbies and making nervous small talk.  A few friendly words exchanged among strangers.  Step one.

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