This year is the first year we are harvesting a sizable amount of fruit from the farm. Starting with strawberries this spring, in good quantity, and ending with apples and grapes this fall, we will finally be reaping the benefit of having planted (and carefully tended to) these perennial crops.
The funny thing about perennials for us is this: they are the heart and soul of a permaculture operation (since they bring in that permanence central to the philosophy) and yet, it is so hard not to push them to the side in favor of the immediacy of annual crops. Although we planted apple trees on the farm before we even planted ourselves here, with the farmer coming out to water them and check on them those first two months the farm was in our name but we were still in town, the subsequent years of starting the farm business found us buying and planting lots of perennials but woefully not keeping up with the care they needed to come to fruition. We were so busy with the annual vegetables that were making us money–weeding them and watering them and harvesting them–that the upkeep of those other crops was always pushed down the to do list in the face of the here and now goings on of the vegetables.
This was not working!
In some cases, we lost plantings of crops we had invested in to weeds (asparagus, rhubarb, artichokes). Others were irrevocably stunted by lack of water (blueberries), others delayed further to harvest from lack of consistent watering or consistent weeding (some of the tree fruits, the raspberries, and the currents). Some never even got planted after they were purchased.
After the first two years of this, after the dust of starting the business had settled, we were finally able to address the situation. We would not buy anymore perennials unless we were fully prepared to give them the care they needed. We started planting them out in the field with the annual crops so that watering needs would be met and we would be able to start moving the spaces on our farm to a more stacked system, where multiple layers of production would be happening symbiotically in the same place. We started tending.
And now, three year later, we are reaping. All of our fruit has been bearing for these last few years, but finally, this year, bountifully!
This isn’t to say that a quick look around the farm today wouldn’t show some heavy weed pressure on a new raspberry planting, but we have been balancing these two things so much better, the present and the future harvest.
Perhaps we have become better at it with the practice we get as parents. With our children, we are continually having to tend to them with an eye to the future and not just by reacting to what is presenting itself right now! With our oldest quickly approaching ten this month, we now have behind us a whole decade of parenting decisions and this little person, now so big, as a harvest of sorts. We see the bounty of the care we gave him in his developing self. Of course, he was never neglected like our first perennial plantings–quite the opposite I should say! But we did have to give up the notion that we could get it all right a long time ago. We never, however, gave up the notion that putting in the hard work of giving a small little sprout all the tender loving care it needs to grow big and healthy and to fruition was well worth it, delayed satisfaction sometimes and all. And this little boy, he is pretty awesome!
And oddly enough, the hard work of sticking with it, of working to make this farm a viable operation and a real source of food for the community–a perennial of sorts–has taken the same perseverance, the same patience, the same fine balancing act of the here and now with hope and vision.
And the fruits this work has born are too many too list. There is the great lifestyle we get to live, the contribution we get to make to the world, to our community, the ties it has given us to both the earth and the people we live with on this earth, the health and vigor of hard work and real food, love, friendship, time, courage, humility…I think I could go on forever.
Let’s just say that I imagine them to be gifts given to us, our customers and farm members, and our greater community this land ties us to, over and over again, perennially.