In sight

In sight

A week, a journey through another food shed, a rain, a flurry of breakdown, and just like that: I can see the end. Only three more market weeks. Six more CSA packings. Eight more apple trees to strip. Three and a half greenhouses to flip into winter crops. Another acre of crops to till under, and four acres to cover crop in a frenzy before the rains come. Seven beds of garlic to sow. Five sections of black plastic to lay out for next year’s early plantings. A few tons of potatoes to wash, a dozen tours to give, and a couple hundred volunteers to train.

Piece of cake.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Farm Fest

The annual Farm Fest on Saturday was a hoot— the only day of the year that I get to hang out on the farm, not feel like I need to be doing anything in particular, and really chat with people. I spent the morning harvesting more flowers and making bouquets while the stand got set up, youth farmers set up infrastructure for the music, seating, cider pressing, and kids’ activities, and Jen coordinated the chopping and displaying of a couple dozen varieties of tomatoes for tasting. Attendance was a low, steady flow of regular farm stand and CSA customers, people with little kids running around, FOOD for Lane County staff and board members, and folks who just happened upon it for the first time— a now regular occurrence at the markets.

The cider was shockingly (as it tends to be, despite trying it every year) flavorful and thick— a distillation of all that sunlight-turned-sugar with a strong dose of pome flavor. The tomatoes were shockingly bright, tart, sweet— numbing my tongue after a few tastes and then reinvigorating it every time I went back with a fresh pallet. Zing! The farm stand display barely fit on even an extended line of tables out front— the season is abundant and we’re in the exact moment of overlap between summer and fall crops, when eggplants and strawberries shine beside the dried onions and winter squash.

To share it all makes me proud, and to see how much people appreciate it and are wowed by the farm makes me grateful that I’m such an integral part of it.

Let the beauty of what we love be what we do

-Rumi

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.

Read More

Medicinal plant workshop with the crew

"Useful non-commercial plants of the Youth Farm, aka Weed Walk"

An annual workshop for the Youth Farm crew about plant medicine

(In much better words than I could conjure up on this hot afternoon)

1. I am not an expert.  I have been studying herbs intentionally for about seven years, in varying degrees of intensity and in various ways (reading books, taking workshops, class series, and experimentation with myself, friends, and family), but I've only scratched the surface.  My training has been focused primarily on Western European herbs that have naturalized here in the Pacific Northwest, as well as many northwest native species.  Most of my perspective comes from two teachers, Jaci Guerena and Howie Brounstein, as well as a smattering of other teachers at herbal gatherings and workshops.  If anyone ever tells you they're an expert in herbal medicine, run away.

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

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.

Read More

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.

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

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.  

Read More

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.

Read More

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."

Read More

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.

Read More

Kiya

Kiya

Kiya arrives late, zipping up a borrowed FOOD for Lane County hoodie on her way toward me in the nursery.  She looks frazzled.  An Americorps NCCC crew of ten young people is here again for the whole day, and I'm racing back and forth between potting up field tomatoes and showing one of them how to water our sand box heat mats to maintain heat conductivity.  Kiya looks beyond me for Ted for a moment, then immediately apologizes for being late, launching into a string of events that had her car and bike both break down as she tried to get here this morning.  I stop what I'm doing, try to soothe her anxiety, and listen.

Read More

The impossible task of choosing a crew

The impossible task of choosing a crew

For those of you who read my last post, rest assured that I had my moment with the bean sprouts this morning, and, though it wasn't as profound as it could have been, I let them break me out of my mind for a breath or two and appreciate their strength.  Yes, I kept my rambling mind in check today, enjoying the random moments of mixing fertilizer or showing volunteers how to spray carrots, setting up hoses and sorting through random piles of labels.  There's one thing that I've been allowing my brain to continue mulling over and over, even as the day ends and the evening light sparkles hundreds of wishes in the orchard.

The crew.  Jen and I have been interviewing a couple dozen applicants for this season's youth crew, and it's one of the most difficult processes I go through all year. 

Read More

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. 

Read More