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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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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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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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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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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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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New life

Sometimes, life feels too rich to fully appreciate.  My beloved sister Katherine gave birth to her second child late Monday night, and I held him sleeping on my chest for hours on Tuesday.  I deal in plant births and deaths so often, but they're nothing compared to a new life in my human family.  For lack of the words to express how much love I already feel for someone so small and fresh, here are the lyrics to a song I wrote about six years ago when my other nephew was born and I was growing food at Laurel Valley Educational Farm:

Seeds

On the day he was born, well it rained like a veil

And the sun cast diamonds where his roots and mine would intertwine

It was so, so warm, his sisters were in T shirts playing in the back yard

His feet, young leaves, waiting to unfurl

I've got seeds on my mind, on my mind

Oh I've got seeds on my mind, on my mind

When you, when you were young, did you notice the weight of the world?

Did you feel the first lines form across your face?  Did you take it in?  Take it in

Now, now and then, you may wonder where you been

As a sprout dreams about what it felt like to be underground

Past the first moment we learn to grow there

Limitlessly, limitlessly

But spring's not the only season we know we'll

Go back softly, go back softly

I've got seeds on my mind, on my mind

Oh I've got seeds on my mind, on my mind

Expansion and contraction

Expansion and contraction

Days like this expand and contract beyond my control.  They start quiet, if I arrive early enough to beat the crew and volunteers and barrage of questions they inevitably bring.  I can walk the farm, open sheds, check the nursery, get my bearings.  The stretching circle with the crew centers us, brings laughter and conversation, and the work meeting sets the stage for the day.

Beyond that, it expands in leaps and bounds until there are twenty things happening at once.  

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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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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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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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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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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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