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.

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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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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.

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It's all history

When I think back over another week that’s flown by without any writing, I try to think of the one thing that a day would be remembered by: a conversation? a new harvest? a challenge? a storm? By this time of the year I tend to think we’re cruising on auto pilot— that every day has become somewhat predictable and blurry under the steady stream of harvest— but it’s not true. Each day in my history continues to feel distinct, new things pop up, old things remain beautiful, and the blur of early autumn harvest time is punctuated in real time and in memory.

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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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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.

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Coming back to the farm

Coming back to the farm

Coming back.  Coming back, after a week in the woods-- a simple distillation of life into basic tasks, immediate surroundings, present sensations-- was originally difficult.  I covered for Ted on Saturday and over the weekend for irrigation, and I wasn't ready to dive back in.  I hadn't slept well yet, I wasn't used to the sunshine and heat, and my mind was still far away, dreaming of a future in which I can awake to birdsong and meadows rather than trainsong and city streets.  Coming back, until I could resettle quietly into my home and routine, felt like a burden.

There's still- always- so much to do.

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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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Forgettable injuries

….These are the everyday scrapes and bruises that tend to disappear from my memory as soon as they're healed.  For some reason, some of them linger, even after I can see no sign of them on my skin.  That fist scrape is completely invisible now.  Not even a scar.  The one still healing on my knuckle will fully fade in just a couple more weeks.  Like it never happened. 

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Reflections on running the farm

There are these special weeks, sprinkled throughout the year, when Ted goes on vacation and I'm left to manage the farm.  A lot of people have asked me what that really means.  What's really different?  There are obvious answers, and there are many ways that simply having another highly skilled person on the farm allows us to do twice as much each week.  Beyond that, there's a shift that nothing short of running the farm would create.

So, what's different about running-- versus assistant managing-- the farm?

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Transforming the food system in the cilantro bed

We got to talking. Over cutting salad mix, about families and efficiency.  Over sorting carrots, about Sloppy Joe's and imperfect produce.  We got to talking about all kinds of things on our feed walk in the afternoon: timing of flame weeding, pruning and grafting tomatoes, the farm's weed "seed bank."  I often have trouble fully listening and conversing when I'm working with my hands-- I tend to focus on the carrots.  Over bunching cilantro way out in the corner of the farm, though, one conversation pulled me deep in.

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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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First tastes

First tastes

Consider the tomato.

It's been a long time coming, and I've written a hell of a lot about them.

From planting and keeping the first seedlings alive in freezing nights of February to grafting baby Big Beefs onto rootstock plants in March, running out of room for them and marveling at how quickly their scars healed in April to pruning and trellising the quick-growing plants in May, it's been a long time coming. 

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A fragile organism

A fragile organism

Though I fiercely hate to admit it, I'm a fragile organism.

I woke up feeling strong on Saturday.  Got myself ready for the day, ate some food, jetted off to get to the farm around 7:30am.  I was ready to tackle anything, and I did.  I harvested totes of kale, chard, collards, and cilantro while Ted and the farm stand managers set up the market.  As the youth crew arrived, I was finishing up my bunches and bringing them to the stand, going back to the field to harvest more broccoli for the display.  I started feeling nauseous, cringing whenever I put any attention on my gut.  So I focused on harvest instead: bending up and down, cutting, counting, and carrying totes.  There was enough to distract me.

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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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Detritus

Detritus

In the midst of harvesting cratefuls of colorful vegetables buzzing with life, gathering materials to proudly display the bounty at tomorrow's stand- our first real day of harvest for the 2018 market season- I'm struck by a very different kind of energy. 

Garbage.  Chaos.  Detritus.  It's everywhere, creeping in under in the benches, behind the sheds, collecting a special kind of dust that only farms can produce.  It's in my way, it's attracting flies, it's an eyesore.  It's depressing, all those broken supplies, waiting to go to the landfill.  It's a wonder they don't drown us, all the random accumulations of stuff. 

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”

- Gary Snyder in "Turtle Island"

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The Why

The Why

I'm thinking about questions.  How I think of them, how I ask them, how I answer them for others, how I receive answers from others.  After eating my lunch, I strolled around the orchard for a few minutes instead of diving straight back into work.  Yesterday, driving the tractor slowly back and forth across the edge of the first field, I had noticed that the large plum trees hovering over me were nearly bare of fruit.  It stuck in my memory.  I was refreshed from eating and lying down a minute, my mind was at ease with my goals for the rest of the day, and I gave myself time to investigate. 

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