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….

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

Read More

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.

Read More

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. 

Read More

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. 

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

New partnership, old tractor

New partnership, old tractor

What a way to start a week.  Five well-dressed Trillium Community Health Plan representatives are waiting near the road when I pull up at 8:45am.  More arrive every minute as we discuss where to set up the canopy, podium, and catered spread.  They don't waste any time getting organized and set up for the event we're hosting: a new partnership announcement between Trillium and FOOD for Lane County to provide more fresh produce to local low-income patients.  The event seems kind of hyped up, like a public relations stunt, until I hear our board members, executive director, and people from Trillium speak about the programs we're collaborating on.  They're providing $120,000 over the next two years to expand our Produce Plus markets around the county, where people can get fresh fruits and veggies at convenient locations, institutionalize the "Screen and Intervene" program where medical providers ask whether patients worry about running out of food-- then provide them with resources to access the food they need.  For the Youth Farm, the program means an extra $5,000 for diabetes prevention program participants who receive vouchers to spend exclusively at our farm stands.  These are the types of programs that anyone who cares about food insecurity have been dreaming of, that get to the root causes of hunger and the social determinants of health.  Finally, the funds to make it all happen are starting to flow.  

Read More

Market zone, part two

Market zone, part two

In continuation of last weeks's Market Zone Part One post....

I beep the horn a few times as I pull past Michael in the red truck.  Two interns have already left to open the driveway at the hospital, and two youth farmers are following behind Michael to meet us there. A basket flies off the truck as I cruise down Game Farm Road, and I look back in the rearview mirror to see Michael pulling over and running out to grab it.  Got my back.  It's in, and we're off again.

Read More

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:

Read More

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.

Read More

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.  

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Onions all day

Onions all day

They planted onions all day.  Patterson and Talon: yellow storage onions.  Michael, Phil, and Sophie, with Hao, Mo, and Huiyang helping until three o'clock.  Four beds that we'd prepped a couple weeks ago, covered with black plastic, and waited for the weeds to sprout and die off under the darkness.  Plants six inches apart, four rows in each bed: almost 5,000 onions.  Mo's mother is visiting from China for the next month, and she explored the fields to take photos while everyone tucked in all those plugs, one by one and two by two.

Read More

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)

Read More

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.

Read More