Ready for winter

Ready for winter

I’m still blown away by what all can happen on the farm in a week. Rains in the forecast. Blissfully sunny days. An unexpected frost over the weekend. A few sizable volunteer groups. We push, and rearrange projects, and let harvest fall off while we focus on the fields. We woefully sort all the peppers that got zapped by the light freeze, take turns on the tractor to turn in the blackened plants, water the last bits of parched soil to get the moisture right for tilling. We spread manure, chicken pellets, fish meal, or lime over neat mounds or entire sections of flat fields, till it all in, and have to remind ourselves that it’s fall— that these delightfully neat beds ready for planting are not the first of the season, but rather the very last.

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Plowing flowers

Plowing flowers

“Odder than plowing flowers,” someday, will be a proverb. You’ll say it when you’re ripping down old wall paper that could eke by for another few years. When you’re cutting a friend’s hair that’s grown beautifully to their waist. When a spring ice storm splits open your full-in-bloom cherry trees. You’ll say it when a friend puts to sleep their cat that doesn’t seem that old or decrepit, and when your teenager cleans out the fridge and tosses a few bags of veggies that were still salvageable. It’ll be the perfect utterance when you’re sorting through all your children’s artwork you’ve saved over the years, and somehow, bittersweetly, choose which pieces to let go.

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Preparing for squash

Preparing for squash

It sounded so easy: "Transplant the winter squash."  They've been ready for a week or two already, so what's the big deal?  Just pop 'em in the ground.  

After a full week of trying to get such a seemingly simple project done, I am humbled.  Yes, amazed by how much zucchini is coming out of the fields, dumbfounded by how fast weeds are growing, impressed by the skill and pace of all the interns, and surprised by how much time irrigation management takes.  But mostly, I am humbled by this project that's not even close to done on the eve of our last chance for the week.

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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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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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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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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.

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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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The tractor was running

The tractor was running

While I was potting up tomatoes with volunteers, the tractors were running. 

While I was watering in the heirloom tomatoes, dousing the brassicas that'd been wilting, and unfixing a swath of plastic to let more air flow into the nursery, the tractors were running.

While our program manager, Jen, and I were giving short tours to our youth crew applicants, asking them the same set of questions eleven times over, and thanking them for their time, the tractors were running.

As I closed the nursery back up at the end of the day, spot watered a few trays that looked especially dry, locked up all but one shed, and packed my baseball cap into my bike bag to head home, the tractor was running.

On a day like today, eighty degrees after a week of dry weather and a smattering of rain coming toward us in the next few days, every minute counts. 

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The Black Wave

"Woooohoo!  Who's ready to surf the waaaaaave?!?"  

We've run the rainwater off to the side, straightened the sheet out, spread out to each corner, and it's time.  The Black Wave comes to life just a few times in the spring: when the sky's dry but the fields are still mucky, and the sun plans to stay out for at least a few days.  It's a joyous time of year.  The rains are abetting and we'll be able to get the tractor rolling soon, there's a team of people sprinting up and down the 150-foot-long fields, and the sun is bound to be shining. 

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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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