Oh, these celebrations!

Last week was…

  • writing some words for this sight
  • Halloween-ing with a cute little kitten who wondered slowly through the night, finding the highly decorated houses the most interesting thing of all (aside from the special piece of fair-trade-organic dark chocolate that turned him into a cute and tired zombie).
  • Also Halloween-ing with the spunkiest, sweetest, camera happy witch ever, and her great protector, Captain America.  All the while being slightly freaked out by the first “creepy” costume for our family, the inspiration for which was “creepy doll”, but which  morphed into a banshee-type, blood splattered bat wielding creature of some kind.  Yikes!
  • Loving the farmer dressed up in fairy wings and a dragon’s tail, the cutest dragonfly ever; and loving that all night he was a little freaked out by my hardcore 80’s punk rock get up.  FUN!
  • And amidst that fun, lots of rationalizing Halloween as best as I could by focusing on the many positive aspects of shared human celebrations.  Still, I spent Halloween night secretly happy that it seemed like less people overall were handing out candy.
  • Relishing the tradition we now have of celebrating, right after the more dark and trivial fun of Halloween,  the festive and light el Dia de los Muertos.  This year, we added to the alter of my folks, the farmer’s grandma.  I love sharing this day with the kids, who did not know any of these very important people well, but get to hear stories about them and spend a day or two with pictures of them front and center.  It brings them, and our connections to this life through them, fully to our attentions for that time in such a meaningful way, all while lightening the weight of death for us all.
  • Wrapping up all that celebrating with a somewhat clean house and a trip to the woods.  Good!

As flowers die and leaves fall, we can see a semi-state of morbidity around us.  But just as easily, we can turn our eye to the beauty inherent in this design.  Celebrating.  That is what we do as the earth dies before our eyes, as we confront our own and our loved ones mortality.

The raucous week of Samhain has moved us into the gracious month of giving thanks.  Gratitude is best applied as a way of life, but we can all find a little more room for it in our hearts this month. In the Gaelic tradition, we have moved into winter.  It is still quite a bit like autumn here, and that is wonderful.  But the winter is a time of sharing this human experience–and the fears and wonders that it encompasses–with each other through the most love filled celebrations of the year.

Happy November!

For Jo

It was with very deep sadness and great shock that we learned that one of our CSA members and dear friends passed away suddenly last Sunday.  A beautiful young woman who was truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, this kind of news feels impossible to believe or understand, but when her husband stopped by the veggie pick up this week, alone, without her, it truly hit me that the previous Thursday when I saw her shining, smiling face really was the last time I would ever see her.

As always, when something like this happens–and unfortunately, the last several years have been filled with people passing on from this life at younger ages than feels right–I am always reminded of the extreme fragility of life.  The trivial things shine in all their triviality.  A feeling of frustration with a loved one shows in its nonsense, its waste of time.

I wish we were able to remember this all the time, that all we have is this moment and it is worth all of our attention, all of our effort to make it a good one, to love with an open heart, everyone and everything around us.  But for some reason, this is altogether not what we do and I suppose that is part of being human too, even though the more we remember, the better we spend our time, whatever amount that will be, in this life.  And her husband, who has every right to be bitter and angry, repeatedly told me that there should be nothing negative, nothing  sad, only the good, brought to the table in our remembrance and celebration of her life.

And so, that is what I am trying to do.  He is amazing, she was amazing.  And we all have the choice to be amazing too; and even when we aren’t (because we are human after all), the very next moment in time we have another chance to try again.

This year, we have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the very best way to work this farm so that it provides us with enough of a living to not be stressed and to be able to provide for the things in our life we need and the extras we find important enough to spend money on, but as to equally support us living the life we want, which involves having time and fun with each other and our friends and family, because we know that this is what will matter the most to us whenever our time comes–how well we spent our time with each other more than anything else.


Working together

I snapped these picture months ago.  It was during some of the first nice weather of the spring and I was sitting on the porch watching these kids build this fort, marveling at how well they were working together.  They don’t always; they have to negotiate a lot and at a young age, that isn’t the easiest thing to do.  Still, they did so well on this project, no one getting upset, no one becoming bossy, no one feeling left out, the baby was even playing along.  I was tickled.   And the fort stood at the end, the product affirming the work they did.

That day I started thinking about this post, about what it is like working together on the farm, about what I thought this year might look like in regards to the laboring on the farm.  We knew that on one hand, with a tractor in play, the farmer would be able to increase the space he was growing on while still saving time that could then be used to keep up with growing more food on more space.  But ground prep is just one small part of the growing of food and everything else, from planting seeds and transplanting plants to weeding to harvesting and washing and bundling…this is all work still done by hand.  It takes quite a few man hours to do this.

When we first moved to the farm and thought about starting our farm business, we made our business plan and set our goals with the thought that we would have two mostly full time farm workers, the farmer and I.  I’m not sure why we thought this since I had been a stay at home mom for the prior five years working a handful of part time jobs here and there, but nothing too intense and always while the farmer was home with the small fries.  We had this idea that we would all be here, all together, working and playing and schooling.  Picture perfect.

But the reality is, of course, that with children and a home to care for–that first year a one year old, a three year old, and a six year old–this mama did not a full time field worker make.  We adjusted our plans accordingly, and since then, the farmer has done it all for the most part.  I have always worked behind the scenes and helped at the markets, but the work I have been able to do in the field and even on harvest days is paced by the children at my side.  Some years, at various stages, each of them have been good transplant helpers, great potato planters, pretty helpful harvesters, and generally good playmates.   This year–although the oldest boy has long since stopped waking early to pick rainbow chard on Wednesday mornings because he loves the colors of the stalks, and the middle boy who loves to work by his father has only begged over and over again to learn how to drive the tractor (because he loves machines that one), and the little girl who used to sing, “grow, plants, grow” as a blessing for me each time I nestled a transplant into the ground with her help has moved on–the baby (who I’m not sure I can call that anymore since he is almost two) is so darn independent with these three older siblings to learn from and play with that I have, more than ever, been able to work and help in the fields.

Which is good, because as we try to expand from the one man acre and half operation we are to hopefully a  4-5 acre  one, we can see the limitations the farmer has doing it all by himself.  We are still not at full production, but we are realizing that what we want to do will take two workers but will only be  the size we need to be at just to support ourselves, not at the point to have any employees.  We’re not sure how we will work all that out, but for now the kids and I dance our way through the days and weeks trying to balance our time on the farm working with our time playing and doing special kid stuff and getting in those important summer treats.  Then, if I am lucky, the dishes get done at the end of the day too.

But oh!  We do love working together!  The farmer is fond of watching me in the field and I am fond of the feeling of physical labor.  I know that in order to balance this with my love of time with my kids, we are going to have to rely on help.  This week we had a friend come over and play with the kids for the morning; next week we may have a friend come over to help finish planting some things we wanted in the ground yesterday.  I know that other farms get this kind of help and utilize volunteers and friends to make things happen, but it has been hard for us to accept and/or ask for this.  Although part of this farming gig is the building of community, we are also very private, quiet people who get along best with each other.  Lately, I guess we have come to realize that our definition of “working together” will have to expand in order to make it all work.   I suppose that is part of the original “community supported agriculture” movement in the first place, not just fiscal support but usually help on the farm, support and connection on an even greater level.  Friends, grandma and grandpa, community members, me and the kids–hopefully with a little bit of help from all these extra hands, the farmer will be able to do it all!  Just like in so many of the folk tales we tell to our children–sometimes even the smallest bit of help can make a world of difference.

Growing Connections

Week three into our summer farmer’s market and week two of CSA harvests!  We have been harvesting in  the rain this week, something we get used to during our late fall and winter harvests but don’t love in the spring.  Really, I should say the farmer gets used to working wet since he does most of those harvests himself; spring always finds me slowly working my way into harvesting again and quickly back  into washing and bundling all this growing food again and regularly back at the market again working the booth, all things I love to return to but am always fumbling with at the start.  At any given moment, there are a hundred and one things we need to do; not all of them farm related of course, but you know, all the regular old things that we always have to do with and for the children and in the house, as well as our own gardening and flower planting too, on top of the crazy amount of things on the farm to do list.  May begins and we hold to our winter-school routine for a week or two and then spring on the farm eclipses everything and in some ways life stops and we don’t get a hold of it properly for the next month and a half.  Right now, some of the projects in the house seem impossible to get to and really, although I want to do them, my mind is on the outside to do list just as much as that outside to do list is needing to be done.  Luckily, the weather has been nice for the most part and everyone is happy to spend time outside–swinging, playing, planting, weeding, running and learning to run, or what have you.

We need to plan our open farm potlucks for the year, sooner than later,but it is hard when we are in the thick of getting all of our ground worked and planted.  Even though we get an early chance to spring clean for our May day girl’s birthday/may pole celebration, after that it is a slow process getting the non-food growing spaces under control.  In addition to that, we decided to use the summer and all our time spent out of doors as a time to work on this little old house of ours.  So, with a living room full of ripped out carpet waiting to get disposed of and a beautiful pile of cedar in the lawn waiting to be turned into a deck, it is hard to imagine how to negotiate our usual potluck space until these projects are out of the way.

I jokingly mentioned the other day that I had my eyes set on July; in so many ways it is true.  By July, we will be fully settled into our summer routines.  We will still have harvests and markets and field work to dictate our schedule, but we also then have more time for those other important parts of summer, the farm potlucks being one of those parts.  As it stands now, social time feels like a luxury while we get everything in shape for the year.  After this weekend we should have the rest of our tractor ground prep done on the farm, the rest of our one time summer plantings in and summer succession plantings done.  From that point on, we start to consider the next round of plantings for fall and winter, and although that means we really are just continuing to plant all the way through September, there is a difference  and a huge sigh of relief once this spring work is done.  We can then get things tidied up and get folks out to the farm and have some fun!

We are leasing two acres of ground just down the road this year.  The land has been fallow for a while, but at one time it was the spot of a small, organic farm much like ours.  Although we have been actively looking for a space of 5-10 acres nearby to lease, this spot is really close and will give us two more dry acres to grow winter crops on which is probably our top priority for more space anyways.  Besides that, we love the history of the space and are completely smitten with our neighbor who lives there.  He grew up on the road, ran a duck hunting club on our very own farm during his college years and was also here the day they put in our well.  He has loads of stories to share, not only about our land and the surrounding space, but from his own full and well lived life.  He has experimented with growing wild rice on some of this wet bottom land that all of the properties along our road slope down to, and has been trying to convince us to give it a go too.  We are researching it, and the farmer, who is always game to try to work with what the land naturally wants to do if he can, is definitely curious.  But the processing, oh my!

Anyways, even though farming this space will mean taking time to listen to these stories, we have come to lean on our neighbors more than ever since starting this venture.  We find that the more time we spend with them, the more comfortable and significant we feel in our “neighborhood” here.  Our very next door neighbor is helping us with the mechanics of keeping our tractor running now that we have one, and has become an important part of the work of our farm through this role.  And just this week, while Andre was in the field harvesting for Thursday market and CSA pick-up, he was stopped by another neighbor driving by with one of her friends, a man who works with draft mules.  Through the course of their conversation, he excitedly offered to disc and cross-hatch those two acres down the road for us with his draft team!  All for some “real” tomatoes later on in the season and a small part on the old draft plough that our mailbox sits upon, a part he has been hoping to acquire to use in his draft work for some time and finally got the chance to stop and ask about.

When the farmer came back to the wash station with his bok choy harvest that night, he told me the story and ended with this–“I think we have landed in heaven!”

All of these wonderful connections, all a gift of this little bit of land we call home and our chosen line of work.

So, even though I am wishing to get over the hump of the spring rush so that we can maybe sneak off to the beach and then have all of you fine folks over to watch the sun go down across that river valley our property sits on the cusp of, I really do relish all of the seasons of the farm life.  As I try to pencil in dates for this summer’s social events and think about the growing relationships we are building with our neighbors, as I get back in the groove of summer market and see the friendly faces of our customers and CSA members and other market vendors that I only see regularly in this most busy time of the year, I keep reminding myself to stay in the moment.  The season of the farm right now is one of connection.  Day by day, minute by minute, we are sowing the seeds for the season, connecting with the community around us more and more with each planting.

And besides, if I mistakenly wished away June by looking ahead towards the surety of July, I would miss out on the sweetness of this month with its Strawberry moon and its small bit of time out of the year to enjoy the smell in my kitchen of my second to favorite fruit of all–because blueberries are the one to really rock my world, but my most favorite fruit of right now.

Saturday morning

Saturday mornings, for the last year and a half, have been off to market days for us.  Our little town has been blessed with the opportunity to build a thriving year round farmer’s and artisan’s market, and having somewhere to bring winter produce to sell during the off months of our CSA program is really great.  Growing food year round has been a fun and satisfying part of our farm adventure here in Oregon.  And for us especially, having moved from the much colder Midwest, being able to grow so much out in the open through the winter has been amazing.

Here in the Willamette Valley, there is so much that can be grown out of doors through the entire year.  Winter hardy greens top the list, but root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, and rutabagas can also stay in the ground and be harvested from through the winter, and the really fun stuff is the overwintering sprouting broccolis and cauliflowers that are such a treat come the end of the cold season.

The only hitch, for us at least, is the space winter growing requires.  To continue harvesting in the same quantity as we do for the rest of the year, we need to have winter vegetables in a lot more ground than we need for that amount in warmer months.  Since things aren’t growing at all for a good twelve weeks of that time and growing slowly for the rest of it, we have to plan differently.  With much of our usable growing space wet (albeit highly fertile) from December through May, we still haven’t been able to grow as much as we would like.

This year we were really excited to use the dry acreage we are leasing near town to grow more for winter, but are now equally disappointed because those vegetables attracted foraging deer who ended up eating everything we planted there–kales, radicchios, chicories, red mustards, chard, perpetual spinach, turnips.  They kindly left the arugula and green mustards, but being so far away from that space, it felt hard to protect those crops and we aren’t necessarily keen on putting up deer fencing over there right now.  Here at our place, even when we see some deer activity in the winter, we have the easy protection of our dog to keep them at bay.

And so, the winter growing part of our operation is still the part we still struggle with.  Many people are amazed that we have what we do at market but we know that we could have a lot more.  And people really, really love our winter greens.  Growing them out of doors in the cold produces the most wonderful flavor, and to be eating something so fresh and alive in the coldest months is awesome, we aren’t coming close to meeting the demand for them.  Even as we get ready to put up our first hoophouses on the farm, we don’t want that to be our main solution to having more to harvest for the winter market and ultimately, for a full season CSA too.

A puzzle we are working on–just as there are always are in the farming business–but one we feel we can solve.  That is part of what keeps us on our toes and ever humble in the work we do.

This morning, the sky was on fire, Mt. Hood so breathtaking in the sky against those colors.  It will be a beautiful market day.  We are heading out now with some delicious greens, thankful for what we do have and for yet another Saturday to visit with the community and continue “farming” year round.