Onion skins and rotting tomatoes

Onion skins and rotting tomatoes

It’s been really hard to focus on the present these past couple weeks. It’s a lot to think about, to be part of a nation where elected leaders squabble across partisan lines rather than attempting to address the root causes of sexual assault and gender inequality, to give up a treasured relationship over my abstract desire and optimism to have children some day, to be wondering where I want my farming path to lead toward. It’s all been weighing heavily on my heart and mind, and I’ve noticed it: out in the cilantro bed, day after day, my brain running through news clips rather than savoring that overwhelming aroma. Swirling salad mix in the wash tubs, replaying rough conversations about interpersonal incompatibility rather than feeling the icy water reach my forearms, letting my thoughts override my eyes’ delight at the shimmering reds and greens below me. Trying to keep up pleasant conversations with coworkers and volunteers after spending an hour on my own, brooding over a president’s recent speech that reinforced rape culture. It’s just a lot to think about.

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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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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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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.  

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Recipe for magic

I've mentioned the Youth Farm magic in the past.  It shines when the plants we have for a bed fit exactly from end to end with no extras, or the right person drops in exactly when we need their help, or the rains hold off just long enough for us to till and prep the beds for need for the next planting.  Friday felt full of that magic.  There were a few moments of obvious serendipity: Ted appearing with the last bag of plant sale labels right as the small group that'd been labelling pots all morning had just run out and was about to move on to another project, and Kiya starting her shift, ready to lead, exactly as several volunteers needed a new project and I had to finish up our seeding for the week.  There's clear moments like those, yes, but overall a magic-infused day just has a certain flow to it.  And I'm coming to understand that I have the power to create the flow, whether or not everything seems to line up perfectly.

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Not today

Not today

I'm so tempted to write every day about beautiful things, lessons learned, precious moments.  I think I've been trying to paint a picture of farming through the eyes of people that come for an hour or two every week, or that are sitting inside with their phones, wishing they were outside with some plants.  The beauty of newness, bright colors, satisfying work, and kind hearted people.  It's so tempting to stay focused on that here, and write about the things I wish I was focusing on.  Like this bean sprout.

It's so cute, standing up tall like a sentinel, surrounded by hundreds of other babies spreading their green wings toward the sky for the very first time.  I could go on and on about the sweetness of tomato flowers bursting open or the nostalgic aroma of wet potting soil permeating the greenhouse air.  I want to be attuned to all those details all the time.  To really savor them.

Yeah, right. 

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Three photographs

Three photographs

I saw how the light struck each cloud, and marveled at the reflection of clouds on the greenhouse roof, and smelled plum blossoms in the air, and listened to Michael clipping branches and the freeway buzzing in the distance.  And I stopped thinking about how much I loved the sky today, and for one fleeting moment just loved it. 

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Field walk

Field walk

For the first time this year, Ted and I walked the fields together.  In my focus on all the seedlings and greenhouses, I'd almost forgotten the acres surrounding them, patiently braced against winter.  There's an old adage that the best fertilizer is a farmer's footprints- or something like that- and it always turns out true.  Even when there's not loads to do out there, making regular observations inevitably turns up new developments, new projects that need attending, new pest or disease or irrigation problems that need solving. 

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The menagerie

Wednesdays in February are unique on the farm, not only because they're when we make huge gains on filling the nursery to the brim, but also because they bring a sudden surge of diverse people to the farm.  We'll spend these next three Wednesdays seeding our entire inventory for the spring plant sale in April, and because it's a cooperative fundraiser for the Youth Farm and Grassroots Garden, volunteers from Grassroots migrate to the farm to help with all the seeding.

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February 1

February 1

This is, in my wildest imaginations, the first of a daily reflection on my experiences at the FOOD for Lane County Youth Farm, set squarely in the midst of a painstakingly gradual and messy rebuilding of a food system that sustains us all.  The process is gradual and messy enough to have me believe that whatever I write will have no impact on the longterm path of our unprecedented global trajectory.  Because what I do every day on the farm seems to somehow chink and chip away at it-- seems to create a shift, subtle though it may be, in my self and those around me and the material world in which we engage-- I can't help but believe that sharing it with a wider audience might strengthen and quicken that shift.  Where the change comes from I hope to articulate throughout this season.  Where it is bringing us, I have no idea. May it be beautiful.

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