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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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From seed to salad mix

From seed to salad mix

I was drowning in salad mix at the end of the day.  The coolers were packed full of totes and we needed more room, so I was stuffing bags and bags of leafy greens to free up a few tote spaces.  It felt like a burden, but at the same time, I felt rich.  This stuff is like gold, and not just because it earns us seven dollars a pound at our farm stands.  It's one of the most vibrant, colorful, texturally interesting crops- not to mention nutrient dense and gut-healthy- we grow at the Youth Farm.  It lasts for around two weeks in the fridge because it's so fresh and only a bit of every piece has been cut through in the harvest process, and it's my go-to easiest meal base- just toss in a bowl and add dressing and some sort of protein.  The process from seed to bowl is relatively simple and quick:

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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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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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Farm to School + Weed Walk

Farm to School + Weed Walk

Part One: Farm to School

…There's constant feedback to give and questions to answer, and it's fun to approach a project like that with different eyes.  They comment on the itchy weeds among the chard, notice bugs I'd overlook, and show off almost every leaf they find to harvest.  Forget the cartload of chard we delivered at the end of the day.  The whole process is a stream of victories.

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Reverse engineered to-do list

Reverse engineered to-do list

Thursday, April 26th: A reverse-engineered to-do list

  • Thin and fill out trays of lettuce and Swiss chard for the plant sale (everyone)

  • Prick out tiny ground cherry plants to pot up for the plant sale (Sophie and Alice)

  • Pot up green onions that are left over from a farm planting for the plant sale (Alex and Kiya)

  • Soak the trays we'll be transplanting (me and Ted)

  • Lay out spinach (me and Hao), plug it in (Kiya and Alice)

  • Transplant lettuce, fennel, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage (everyone)

  • Chat about how to get grandkids and nieces to eat foods they claim they don't like (me and Alice)

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Waiting over winter

Waiting over winter

So much youth and newness surrounds this time of year.  Buds and blossoms creaking open, shoots breaking through soil, tender baby transplants being tucked into the earth.  It's so easy for me to focus on the novelty and freshness of firsts, and get swept away in the excitement of seeing the first blossom, the first sprout, the first harvest.  Just this afternoon, as the Tuesday crew set out zucchini plants over freshly laid plastic in the new high tunnel, we marveled at the miniature yellow fruit that some of the plants were already producing.

All these things are awe-inspiring, and if I allow myself to stay present and appreciate each one, they're all special and meaningful.  By this point in the season, though, all the cuteness starts to blend together for me.  It's too much to take in.  I get tired of relishing new life.  Yes, the tomato stems are thickening exponentially and the first round of red kale has clearly taken root and started to settle in.  But nothing we've planted this season is anywhere near maturity, or gives off a sense of wear and age.  Nothing is strong yet.

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Racing spring rains

Racing spring rains

Lunch.  I rinse out a bowl from our kitchen supplies and start to wander.  Duck into the last greenhouse and cut a couple heads from a small patch of salad lettuce that still stands.  Pluck a few big spinach leaves from the neighboring bed, and slip back outside.  Turn the corner to the single bed of flowering arugula and mustards, smell the pungent aroma of arugula flowers as I stride past and snip off a few buds, mindfully and playfully.  A few semi-opened tat tsoi flower buds for yellow.  Across the roadway, I grab several red cabbage flower stalks and toss them on top.  Eat the rainbow, they say.  I walk back to eat at the picnic tables, grateful for sunshine and vibrant everything.

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(More than) operating heavy machinery

(More than) operating heavy machinery

I had a heavy machinery day.  More than anything else I do, I think I'm most attentive when operating vehicles that have the power to destroy: rototiller, flame weeder, tractor, box truck.  Today I tilled three of our greenhouses, which gets me even more attentive because I could easily rip a hole in the plastic (which, ahem, has happened), dent the metal bows, plow through a wall, or bury nearby crops.  So that's first on my mind.  Then there's the fun of creating what Sophie called "chocolate cake" on the ground: hundreds of square feet of fluffy, crumbly dark soil.  I have mixed feelings about tilling, which I hope to write about here in the future, but for today I relished the beauty and satisfaction of freshly aerated beds.

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