The slow waking

IMG_0714IMG_0721There is something about January that quiets me.  It’s like all that beginning energy that comes with the flip of the calender page and the excitement of planning for a new year through the holidays hits the wall of the slow, short, and still days of this first month, and with that bang, a hush falls.  Last year I didn’t get around to this space from the solstice through Chinese New Year, this year even longer.  What have I been doing?!

Truly, January, and February are the two months my children get nearly all of me as we cram in, more dutifully, our school work for the year than we do at other, busier times of the year.  The farm is sleeping.   The world, really, is too.

And so, I guess, I find myself hibernating even when my to-do list is quite long.  And almost like clockwork, the halfway to spring mark arrives with the first of February (Imbolc, as it was once called, now, roughly speaking, Groundhog’s day), and the energy inside my beating heart and outside in the pulsing earth begins to pick up speed.  I never really think of this quiet time as the doldrums, but this year it felt a bit like that.  Probably because I had my own set of expectations for those “lost” weeks that didn’t fit with the rhythm of the seasons, outside or in.  I think next year I will be more gracious with myself and accept that I too, might need to winter in January.  I guess that means I will either need to get some of my winter “office” work done in December or be cool with putting it off until February.  It seems there is a pattern forming…

Nevertheless, the point of this story is that things are picking up again around here.  Coming back to life.  Warm, sunny days too good to be true.  New growth on old winter produce, so tasty!  And new growth on brand new baby seedlings.  The cycle starts again.  And that it does, every year, again and again, that is so completely refreshing.

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We started the year with three days at the beach.  It was just what we needed because up to the holidays, the farmer had been working hard and long since about this same time last year.  A real getaway!  We wrote down those things we wanted to let go of from 2012, as well as those things we wished to bring to the new year, on tiny scraps of paper and threw them in the fire.  We held each other close and watched the sun set on a pivotal year in our lives, not our hardest or most challenging, but the first in a long while to redefine us.  We really are excited for the clarity this year brought us.  And we feel so positive about 2013, even though we have come to it with these whispering footsteps, and here it is, almost March already.

February sun here in the Willamette Valley is tricky, because the rain begins again, in earnest, and lasts sometimes way too long.  Still, it fortifies us.  We’ve been soaking it up, working outside, steeping tea leaves in it.  The truth is, even with all the rain to come, the season has changed.  The nettles have sprouted, the greenhouse is full, we are harvesting both the first rapini and sprouting broccoli from overwintered plants as well as the first baby arugula leaves from brand new plants.

sweet sunny babysun tea in winter!fresh green!Our plates feel fresh again!  So does my mind.

I can’t help but worry if it is wrong to let myself slumber so?  It feels so contrary to much of the modern impulse to be busy all the time.  But really, I have been busy; I am the mother of four after all, come winter or summer.  But to let the tempo of the natural world resonate within us, that can not be all bad.  And perhaps, for better or worse, that is part and parcel of being farmers, of living close to and working the land.  One of those things about this farm life that can be both overly romanticized–because I really could have got a lot of things done in these last many weeks–or rightly praised.

That judgement I cannot make definitively, I can only say that for me, it simply is that way.  And that for me, it feels right.  The seasons have always been my guide, marking the passage of my time here on earth, entwined tightly with all the memories I have laid down, I can’t help but live by them.  I swore to always live somewhere with all four of them, distinct.  And here, they are, albeit in a way quite different from my Midwestern home.   And here, on this farm, they mold me more than ever.

So now, we are waking up again, bit by bit, to the new year.

 

 

From the trenches of a holistic life

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There were some great big sunny days this week!  So much sun that I was able to grab handfuls of it and stuff it in my pocket to pull upon when needed, because it was needed, being squashed between rain and more rain.  Serious, heavy rain.  We’ve had so much early flooding this year, its surprising even when we know not to be surprised by the weather anymore.

On the sunniest and warmest of these days, the kids and I walked to the main field together, presumably to pick grapes to snack on because the farmer had admonished us for letting the very last of them languish up there.  We were definitely too late on that one, the grapes were completely done for.  It seemed like an odd expedition anyways, here at almost Christmastime.  But then again, some of the things we found along the way weren’t really of winter as I still think of it–the mid-western type, where surely no flowers are still blooming?

The baby was very proud of his calendula blossom.  He was fascinated by the running water.  We found exactly enough apples left on a tree out there to feed each of us–and my oh my, were they sweet and good.  I thought about how much better it would be to have more of them still, to save them for December, or late November at least, this variety is so much sweeter then.   I made a mental note for next year.

It was a glorious day, almost beyond glorious (that sun!).  But I was burdened with a little melancholy too.  As we walked through the quiet, mucky rows of spent food and tattered beet greens, I couldn’t help but think of how this weekend would be different.  No harvesting at all, not even the farmer walking the fields.  The first week without a harvest in a long, long time.

He has been day and night in the wood shop, getting ready to start a new market this weekend in the city with the woodworking business.  Our booth at the most wonderful (idyllic is the slogan), local, year round market was taken down last week.  We have been bringing our winter produce there for the last two cold seasons, spending every Saturday there for the last two and half years, and it has been so great.  But it is definitely time for us to find a better way to manage just about everything on our farm and home better, and this was part of that lofty goal.

It was an amazingly hard decision.  Taking things down last Saturday was heartbreaking.  All of the other vendors there are like our family.  Our children roam that space, interact with their community there.  We all barter and exchange goods in a way far removed from societal norms.  The whole experience enriches us beyond measure.  And all of those intangible benefits made the business decision that much harder to make.

In the field, with my sadness–because of my sadness–I found myself coming to terms with it all.  That this impacted us emotionally struck me as a great and wonderful thing.  It was like a perfect affirmation that we were, in fact, doing things the right way.

Shouldn’t all businesses be so connected to their community, to the people involved far and wide, to altruisms, expectations, intangible rewards?

Wouldn’t that trump a business model based solely on numbers?

I’ve always liked to apply the word holistic to our farming enterprise.  Much like it is used in the natural health fields, I think of our farm and the way we choose to farm and run our business as whole.  Our lives, the lives of our customers, out greater community, the world at large.  The micro-organisms in the soil, the macro-organism that is the entire farm.  It is all connected, and we like to look at it in its entirety.  Taking in every aspect of it, from the human to the bacterial, from the profit margin to the life experience, we have never been the type to be able to separate or isolate one part of it from the other. To hold any one part above the rest and focus too much on it.   Just like with our own health, if we don’t consider all of the aspects of what make a thriving person, we know we won’t ever have true well-being.

And so even though part of me was cursing the fact that we felt this way, that we have to worry about these larger ties and commitments to building something for our community besides our own farm, that we can’t just easily say that it isn’t the right thing for us at this time because we are also concerned about what the right thing is for a whole host of other people, that we are so unforgivingly idealistic…even though all of that weighs on us sometimes, I am glad for it.

There is much talk right now about what the end of the month might bring, if anything at all.  Prophecies, doomsdays, jokes, fears.  I do not get worked up about these kinds of things usually.  I let it all come and go, and I’ve always felt like as human beings we are just the same stories playing out over and over again, good and bad.

But something hit me over the head a few months ago and has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, things are changing.  It is hard for me not to imagine the coming youths living any way but holistically.  There is so much growing interconnectedness.  And seeing these threads that connect us all, and choosing to live and act with this in the forefront of our minds, maybe that will bring an evolution of sorts.

Or maybe I am, once again, being overly idealistic.  I know that for us, we aren’t very good at doing things any other way.  Even though we won’t be harvesting for market this winter, we are still moving forward.  Easing the burden a bit by harvesting by special orders each week, lessening the overhead, still getting what we do grow in the winter into the hands of someone in our community, from some wonderful local chefs to a handful of  hungry community members waiting for the bulk of our production to kick in.  It is all good.

We say this all the time, I know.  But even though things change and morph constantly, and the line we are walking on is not a straight shot like we were led to believe it would be, so far in this life, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

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I’m in love with purple leaves and a shining farmer.

Sometimes, the joys that come from this journey of farming and loving and life are the small and random things, like falling in love with the color of these Osaka purple mustard greens.  So gorgeous, you salivate at the site of them,  ooh and awe all through the washing and bundling of them, take a whole slew of pictures of them, hoping to fully capture their unreal–but so real–beauty, and with inspiration, conjure up metaphors of food as poetry.

You want every meal to be a work of art, all the tastes on your tongue, sublime.

And with ingredients this fresh and flavorful and pretty, they are, even when most of the time the cooking here is more slap-dash than slow and meditative.  This small bit of grace– amazing food–a substantial joy we get to experience and share thanks to this farming gig.

But what my heart is equally filled with today is this tiny moment of silliness between the farmer and I, as we washed these beautiful mustard greens (please forgive the poor quality of the photo and the less than flattering neck cropped and eyes half closed pose I’ve captured of myself).

Starting and running a business together, one that is almost completely centered around our home, is not without challenges.  But over the course of the years, working side by side with my best friend has almost always been a joy.  There are stressful moments, no doubt; but we learned in our first few years of doing this that those could either be moments to divide us or moments that allow us to lean on each other even more.  We are, after all, in it together.  We can commiserate.

And we can play.  Working together is different than anything else we do together.  And maybe after a long day harvesting for the farmer and a rush to finish washing everything for CSA pick up and market the next day since we have plans for a once in a blue moon night out together, you goof around just a bit, to lighten the mood.  To not worry about getting it all done, to enjoy being together.

And we did and do.

Tiny moments and leaves cut from the ground.

Nothing much, but everything in the world.

Gathering the last bits of summer and the freshest bits of fall

Now two weeks ago, after turning what ended up being my last large harvest of ripe tomatoes from the canning garden into salsa, I dashed down to our lower field to see if I could find a few more tomatillos to turn into my favorite tongue plucking, smother your eggs in the morning, salsa verde to tuck away for the winter.  The harvest was scant, I got only three pints more in the end.

In fact, I kind of thought I would be gathering all kinds of the last bits of summer during that harvest.  Maybe I would find a little more zucchini to shred for the freezer, some last beans from the rows the farmer was done harvesting from to pickle.  I was still in the throes of preserving summer for winter and the squirrel in me was working hard.  But really, there just wasn’t much left.  And just like that, the summer crops of my own, grown for putting up in the winter were frozen or rain split and the crops here were bare or past their prime.

What I did gather that day, aside from that small bit of tomatillos, was broccoli raab and a few different Asian greens for our plate that night.  You see, although the earth is on its way to the dying part of the year and the summer plants are on their way to decaying, the color of autumn eating here s a luscious, healthy, happy green color and the taste kind of has a bite like those sour tomatillos.

These crops are so beautiful right now.  Well before the hardest weather of winter leaves them a bit tattered and thick skinned and some of their heat and bite in flavor turns to sugars to protect them from the cold, they are incredibly tender and bright and mouth waking right now.  This “new” growth, while so many other crops are looking so much the worse for wear and a farm and garden are looking bedraggled and worn, kind of brightens both the fields and the kitchen.  Shines in its own unique fall green kind of way.

In all things, a silver lining?

Simple Pleasures

It probably isn’t a good idea to star the mushroom in this weeks CSA newsletter-blog post since there weren’t enough for everyone today; but when you are walking out of your front door to harvest shiitake mushrooms your husband “grew” to bring inside and saute with the spring green garlic–or perhaps with the fleetingly appearing garlic scapes–to start your meals, then it is hard not to stop and snap a picture and get a little excited.

Growing our own mushrooms has been a bit of a trial and error deal, but we have started getting some every year now, so that is definitely a step in the right direction.

And of course, it is really nice to gorge on all the funky or slug bitten ones ourselves.  It is a lot of fun and the whole thing is so different from growing vegetables.  The flavor, too, is a special and wonderful thing.  I have never–not even when I have bought mushrooms from local producers–tasted mushrooms like these, eating them right after plucking them off the oak logs they were grown on (except of course when doing the same with mushrooms in the wild).

All of that is part of the beauty of choosing small and local.  A farm member remarked today that she barely ate any salads through the winter when CSA harvests were off, the flavor of the farm’s salad mix lingering in her memory with nothing available at the store quite the same.  I know what she means–it is hard to find produce that comes close to what you are going to receive from your CSA or find at your local farmer’s market–or better yet, grow yourself.  Even market shops that hope to include truly local produce in their selections have a hard time finding farmers who want to go that route.  Although there have been a handful of times when we have sold extra produce to our local market, this is definitely our last stop.  We prefer selling things directly to the eater, it is much better for us and a lot funner for them.

As I found myself mentioning to anyone looking curiously at our green garlic on the farmer’s market table these last few weeks:  there are foods that are “farmer’s market only”  kinds of things.  In general, anyways.  I don’t make it to the city often, so I don’t know what markets offer there; but for the most part, green garlic is a spring treat you are only going to see at your local farmer’s market or in your CSA harvest.

And there’s a lot to say for that.  As simple and humble as what we offer is, it is as equally gourmet and foodtastic and unique and special.  The amazing flavors of things as mundane as lettuce and the offerings as special as ultra fresh mushrooms and spring pulled garlic are a small bit of what makes this adventure–for all of us–pretty awesome.

What I love about this the most is that these are all simple, tiny pleasures we bring to the table, but they really do add such an inordinate amount of depth and beauty to our lives.  Food is the most basic of human needs and human pleasures.  For very little and with very little effort, we can magnify the delight and joy of “eating” a hundred fold.

Another farmer that we know–probably not the first to do so–turned the old phrase “dirt poor” on its head when he was being interviewed about his life as a farmer by claiming that yes, he was poor, but not dirt poor…he was dirt rich.  It is true, there are things a farmer is rich in beyond measure.  We, alas, would also probably be classified as the stereotypical poor farmers because even though this model of farming can be quite lucrative, we have many extenuating factors that keep our bottom line lower than we would like.  Still, besides being rich in land, we are also exceedingly rich in food!  Those mushrooms!  So good.  All our meals, really.  We can’t even go out to eat except for at a few special places because with the ingredients we have access to, we are eating like kings at every meal, even if we aren’t living like them.

But really, that all depends on how you define living like kings…because I think that we are.  And I hope all of our farm members and market customers are enjoying their food this much too.  I hope that these humble vegetables and our weekly interactions around them ultimately result in happy tongues and full and fulfilled bellies.   I hope that for all of us, our meals bring us the most simple of pleasures.