Swallow the dew (poetry)

small farm, farming, tomatoes, play, love, redemption, poetry

Each dawn,
I breath in,
enough.
Out,
enough.

The soil loosens in my hands.

Farming has shaped us both,
this land, and I.
It has shaped us into one word, on repeat.

Enough.
Enough.
Enough.

I load the tomatoes into the crates.
I haul in grace,
pound, upon pound, upon pound.

This deal we’ve made,
it is no small deal.
I can not wash the dirt from under my nail no matter how hard I try.

No.
It is no small deal.

Tender, tended. Provider, provided. I am not sure where I begin, where the Earth ends?

My skin is stained yellow.
I smell like tomato.
I feel that someday I will be
no more than
dirt.

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Moment of Bliss

Sitting in the field, in the sun, taking a break from moving compost to nurse a hungry baby, just awaking from his nap on my back where he was lulled by the movement, up and down the hill, scooping, filling, returning matter to the earth.

Over near the house, I hear the squeals and laughs of children splashing in the hand-dug mud/water pit they have already taken to filling on this first, very warm day.

From my spot, I watch.  Pure play is a thing of beauty.

Then I look over and watch the farmer, the sounds of spring farm work fill my ears.  He works so hard, each year doing more and more in the same amount of hours and days, it amazes me.

This moment is so perfect.  All of us together, working on this farm, food and souls growing in this warm, fertile ground.

These three little pigs

found a stout and sturdy home on our farm this week.

This is our third year raising a small batch of pigs for meat for our family and to sell.  Given the rolling nature of most of our pastures, and the shrubby (weedy) growth that most of them have, we can’t raise grazing animals such as cows and lambs very well.  Goats have fit in well with what our land has to offer, gobbling up blackberry brambles and thistle and Queen Anne’s lace flowers like mad.  And we really love their temperaments–so calm, inquisitive, and friendly.   Pigs have proven to be the other good fit.  They graze well on what grass our pastures have, root around and aerate our compact fields, and end up tasting beautiful after gaining weight more from all the acorns our old white oaks leave behind each year than corn from the feed store.  We don’t all love the personalities of all the pigs that we have raised; but some the kids have ridden and had fun playing with, and those that scared me each time I had to deal with them, and were pushy to the point of stealing one of my shoes, at least provide stories to laugh about now.

This year’s pigs, though, are from a special place–our friend Stacey’s farm, Sky Ranch.  They are so much stronger than little pigs we have gotten from other places, and she loves those pigs so much, we are expecting nothing but sweetness from them.  So far, the boy (the pink one) is a little bit shy, but the two girls are up for my little girl’s behind the ear scratches.  We have never named the pigs before, mostly because they are often indistinguishable in appearance (all pink or all black).  This year, though, we have just re-read Charlotte’s Web, so we had to have a Wilbur (the only boy and only pink one).  And although my suggestion of Thing 1 and Thing 2 were absolutely opposed by Acacia for the two girls, we are hoping for something not too sweet and cuddly to be decided upon.

We have come a long way from the days when we were vegetarians, both the farmer and I from our high school years until right around the time we bought the farm.  The reasons for choosing that dietary lifestyle were many fold and certainly changed throughout the years.  By the time we moved to Oregon, neither of us were vegetarian because we inherently felt that eating animals was cruel or inhumane or because we thought it was unhealthy.  We did think these things about all the meat we had ever been familiar with before imagining our farm life, but had realized that animals raised in good and loving conditions could be a healthy addition to our meals.

It seems hard to deny, if you take even a cursory look into it, that there are hoards of problems with meat raised in feedlots or in other confinement operations.  Even with all the new labeling on meat and egg and dairy products in the stores, all aimed to appease a consumer beginning to be savvy about what is really going on behind the scenes of food production, there doesn’t seem like a safe way to eat these products, for our family at least, without raising them ourselves or knowing by name (and visiting if we can) the folks who raised it. These products taste better than any animal products we have ever eaten, and feel full of life giving nourishment, much like our vegetables do.  And we know they were treated well.

So, we are happy to have room for these three little pigs on our farm.  We are glad for the joy they bring us while we watch them root and run around the fields.  Happy to have their help rehabilitating our depleted and misused soils.    And really, really pleased to eat them when the time comes.

On the farm and off

Even though we are blessed with a temperate climate and the ability to grow food year-round, and even though we will continue harvesting through the winter, the farm is still very beholden to the seasons.  The days are getting shorter and shorter, which means that the long work days of summer have come to an end.  We sleep in later, have dinner earlier, the evenings are quiet affairs.  The farm, although it doesn’t slumber in the same way as farms in colder areas might, still feels like it is getting quite sleepy.

Last week, the farmer planted the last of the last of things for the year–more garlic and pototoes.  There is little field work for him to do, and although there is a whole lot of firewood to be cut still, he is spending most of his time these next few weeks working off the farm.  The saddest part about going into winter for us is that our family togetherness becomes more disjointed.  The kids and I spiral inward, becoming more focused, less stretched out into the world.  Soon, the fire will be lit every morning, we will move through our day with this at the center of our activities:  home, warmth.  But like about 50% of all farmers or ranchers in the state of Oregon, for now, the farmer will spend part of this season working off the farm.   So, we don’t all get to experience the wonderful slowing down and focus on home that fall and winter can be, together.

And even though we have thought that each year we might push past that place where we still need to do outside work, it doesn’t feel as bad this year, knowing that the main reason we need to supplement the farm income this year is because of the weather, not because we were still new farmers or because our soil wasn’t good enough to support us.  This year, the soil in our main field was really so beautiful (especially when compared to the mess of clay and rocks it was to begin with), and the soil we are working with in our lower field is beyond beautiful–layers of topsoil, it is almost bouncy to walk on!   Even though we had to deal with a fickle summer, we had more vibrant and consistent growth than ever before.  And I swear, as good as the food we have grown in the prior three years has tasted, it tasted even better this year.

All of this to say that as we wrap up our fourth season and our routines shift to one market, one harvest day, little field work, more home time for us and less for the farmer, the outlook for our fifth year is a good one.  Maybe we will make that 5-year make it/break it goal that so many businesses have…even though there isn’t much that could happen to really break the business.  But to make it the sole source of our income, that would be great!  We are patient folks, thank goodness.  And we love what we do so it doesn’t really matter much in the end, the income is both necessary but secondary in many ways.  Like the majority of those farmers and ranchers who keep their farms and continue  working the land despite it not meeting all of their financial needs, there is something more that keeps us all at it.

 

Thistle Blooms

In the last four years that we have lived here on this property, the summer’s have  brought with them hordes of this nasty, prickly weed.  The first few years, it was hard to squat and work in the veggie field without getting poked, and if we tried to work in our regular, thin gardening gloves, we were constantly wincing through our weedings.  Each year has gotten better, with fewer and fewer of these beasts in the main field that we have been working since the beginning, and virtually none in our lower field which is just too fertile for thistles.  Our one pasture, which had the largest patch of thistle and queen anne’s lace where the previous owner’s horses spent a lot time, is finally recovering thanks to the beauty of goats in just such cases.  And the ground we tried to work for the last two years but decided not to grow on again was luckily mostly covered back up with grasses and queen anne’s lace.  All in all, we have so many fewer thistles this year that this in itself is enough to be happy about.

But there is this patch where we had last year’s burn pile, covered in purple flowers right now, and a new field where we have potatoes growing where all the weeding is prickly and a pain…not to mention the rogue thistle, here and there.  We have been pretty diligent with what thistle’s we have, keeping most of them from flowering.  But this one patch is all in bloom.  And this year, this actually makes us a little happy.

The thing is, we can’t help but notice how many of the things that we classify as weeds are just the things we have that are covered with bees.  And since we haven’t taken much time to specifically plant a season’s worth of bee food flowering plants on our property, we find a small bit of joy in seeing how our sometimes “wild” farm really is benefiting the “wild” creatures that find refuge here. Granted, many of the bees on our property traveled here from a large honey bee keeper just up the road.  Still, we now have large populations of native mason and bumble bees.  Early in the spring, they cover the dandelion flowers, then a bit later our flowering cherry trees, then on to the orchard trees.  Then later,  the lamb’s ear (which I almost classify as a weed) is covered.  Having a lot of ground clover in the lawn that we do cut helps a bunch too, and they love the mint, blackberries, and raspberries too.

But right now, they love the thistle flowers.  Later when these seed heads dry up, these same flowers will be covered with birds.  Now, we love and revere and worry about the bees tremendously, but we like the birds quite a lot too, so this is another benefit to be found in one of nature’s most unfriendly weeds.  And all of this is above and beyond the real reason these thistles are here anyways…to improve the disturbed and less than fertile soil they have taken root on.  In these lights, seeing all these purple heads can’t be too bad.  We have suffered through the worst of it already as we slowly turn bad soil to good all over this misused old farm.  Even as we continually refine how we are going to make a good living off of this land, we never lose sight of the underlying reason we are even living out here on this piece of ground in the first place:  to build a healthy, natural ecosystem for us and the wildlings to thrive on and enjoy.  The thistles are as much helpers in this journey as they are headaches.  As with most things, really, there is more good in them than bad, more beauty than we at first imagine.