The Man Born to Farming

The Man Born To Farming (WendellBerry)

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?


The funny thing about this poem, how much it speaks of the farmer, my husband, today, on our tenth anniversary, is that in the random way of life, he chanced at a visit to a friend in the middle of farm country, leaving behind the vastly different landscape of southern California for the quiet of rural Nebraska, and in so doing, found not only me (thank goodness!), but his calling in life as well.


Hooray!  Today marks the beginning of another CSA season, our fifth.  This week we have been thinking back to our first year, the beginnings of Growing Wild Farm.  We were happy to realize that a third of our members are founding members, folks that have been part of this farm experience since the beginning.  Another third have been with us for almost as long, joining in our second or third years, and about another third of you are just starting with us this year or joined sometime last year.

For some of you, the start of another year is old hat and our history is part of your own history of eating with us.  For our new members, though, we realized that some of our story may be unfamiliar, so we thought we would briefly share it today.

So, how did Growing Wild Farm begin?

The seeds of our farm started to germinate  within the first year of our marriage.  We, admittedly, married and started our family while relatively young by today’s standards.  The farmer was just 23 (I was 25) and up to that point we were still pursuing other interests.  When we met, one of us was going to be starting a graduate program in literature and philosophy , the other was focused on making music.  We really didn’t have the kind of clear ideas about how we were going to make a living that many people do.  We were both idealists and at that point, we were happy to be doing what we loved and money was not a concern.

But together, we quickly realized that we wanted to start a family.  Long story short, after starting a family and beginning to grow our own food and becoming friends with someone who had spent time working on a CSA farm out here in the Pacific Northwest, we decided that this was the work for us.  It would fulfill both our need to make a living to support our family, as well as our own personal need to do work that we loved and that held significance to us, all while keeping us together as a family.  Having been introduced to Wendell Berry in college, the idea of local foodsheds had always stuck with me, and I had always imagined living in the country in a self-sustaining kind of way.  Once we began gardening, the farmer quickly found that he loved growing food, building soil naturally, and creating diverse and alive spaces where our crops flourished as well as provided a balanced ecosystem for wild things as well.

We read gardening books and permaculture books and some that pertained to commercial growing, moved here to Oregon, and began looking for land.  In many ways, we were so naive!  We had started our married life in Colorado were we knew we could never afford land, spent time in my home state of Nebraska where land was very reasonable, then moved here knowing that land was not too over-inflated, but it was still high close in to the community we had found in McMinnville.

So while we looked at properties closer to Sheridan and Grand Ronde, much farther away than we wanted, Grandma and Grandpa asked us how we would feel about buying something together.  There were many things to consider, especially since Oregon’s land use laws make it hard for you to have two residences on a piece of land with only one pre-existing home.  In the end, we decided we could figure this part of it out down the road since they would be staying in California for a few more years, and we all agreed it was a good idea.

Time was of the essence since they were selling a home to re-invest in the farm.  I was nearly due with our third child.  They came up for a week or so and there was a whirlwind of looking at properties and deciding on one that week!  It was not the long and drawn out search for our “perfect” property by any means, but it was going to be such a benefit to us all, and we would have some land to start our farm, so we were excited!  So that year we closed on the property on my little girl’s due date, she was born a week later, and we moved in when she was two months old.

The farmer started transforming this place even before we moved, planting our first orchard as soon as the farm was ours, coming out to water them while we coddled our new little baby at our home in town.  The rest of that year we walked the property, drew out a map of what we thought the whole place might look like one day (and we are always surprised, when we pull this out, how things are coming together so much like this first plan!), and we started to envision our business.

Again, we were naive in so many ways!  We knew we wanted to be a CSA farm primarily, while doing our one (at that time) local farmer’s market, as well as selling a little to restaurants.  This model has still proven to be the best fit for us and for a sustainable farm business.  However, not having grown food on such a large scale for production before, just having grown a home garden and selling some of that abundance at a very small Nebraska farmer’s market, we were not fully prepared to begin offering a CSA that first year….we just didn’t know that until after we were knee deep in our first season.

It was very hard and frustrating and, quite honestly, humiliating.  We took our permaculture growing method of sheet mulching and tried to apply it to our larger growing space on soil that was heavy, heavy, heavy clay, sold 50 CSA shares, and got really excited to be living out our dream.  That year, getting vegetables to grow in that soil was like trying to pull teeth that weren’t loose.  It hurt.  We kept our chins up, and worked really hard to meet our obligation to our CSA members.  We bought organic fruit from other farms to round things out.  By the end of the year we were exhausted and relieved to be done for the year.  We even ended farmer’s market two weeks early.

The farmer went back to work landscaping for the winter and we re-thought everything.  The truth was we didn’t want to do anything else at all.  We knew this was the work we were meant to do, we loved it and the life of living on the farm.  WE BELIEVED IN IT.  We knew that nourishing our community and the land we were stewards of mattered.

And so, despite that first year, we went forward.  We rearranged our farm model slightly, slowly building back up to this year, where we are right back to the plan we started with.  We have transformed our soil and are now growing on more land, all of it in good health.  Around our third season, we joked that we had completed our two year internship and that we were starting our business in earnest.  Now, in our 5th year we are happy to have a thriving CSA, two markets to attend with one year round, and some great local restaurants who like to buy our produce when we have it.  The farmer has even been able to retire from landscaping and is now a full time farmer!

We have had many growing pains along the way, but that comes with any kind of good learning.  We have been stretched and molded by the work we have done.  We have grown as our farm has grown, and found a home not only on our farm, but through our farm, in our community.

So, hooray!  Today marks the beginning of another season of eating together.  This year, you will share with us the delicious flavors of each season, of food that tastes unlike anything you can find in the store, full of life and nutrition.  We will welcome you to the farm, we will celebrate together this summer.  Each week, we will see each other and share small news with each other, all while communing together over the gifts of the earth, the beautiful produce grown on this farm.

A labour of love

“Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery. “–Wendell Berry

Can they taste the love of the farmer in the food picked from their own field, in the fruit that another laboured over with a laugh always playing on her lips, in the lamb from the woman who is such a good shepardess?

Can you?

There is so much living that takes place on this farm, and when we all head out to the fields under the setting sun and the rising moon to finish the days harvest, I wonder, does all of our togetherness out there, our little loving family working (or playing) around all that food, impart a bit of extra goodness into it?  Either way, this work imparts goodness into us.  The time we have to share with each other, the joy of abundance, the ability to express daily our deep convictions and to teach our children a better way…to practice stewardship of the land, to show our love for these gifts every single day, the gifts of this life, this earth, and each other; all these things make us better people, our lives richer.  There are so many small things that we can’t count as income, but are the more important and lasting rewards of choosing to be farmers.  We like to think that some of these find there way to our community as well, to our neighbors in this gorgeous valley who partake of the goodness of this farm.  We like to think that you can taste all of this love!

The Circle Game…CSA Newsletter for October 28

How can this time of year not be the best, most wonderful time of the year? I know my heart is biased to whatever season is just beginning…I always have a little love affair with each season when it starts, its newness, its difference from the season before…my senses reel, I get giddy in the midst of such magic. I forget for the moment that three moons down the road I will call winter the best as I embrace that deep, deep stillness, the wet and the gray as beautiful when they come as these multi-hued golds exploding in crisp but still warm air are today. I know that I can’t stop talking about this, but perhaps this farm life has simplified me to a more constant state of grace. How can one of the more consuming thoughts I have on these days be about how absolutely beautiful it is, when there are so many other things trying to press into these simple thoughts, things more weighty and consequently more sombering and subdued? I feel like a child a bit, but when I look around and see the changing colors against the evergreens in the hills, linger over a calm rather than rushed picnic lunch in the midst of calm rather than bustling field work, basking in the warm sun so intently, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by these thoughts. When I comment to everyone about how wonderful the weather has been, and how gorgeous these days are, it is not for me just small talk but rather a real sense of joy that keeps running through my veins, in spite of the weight of the world.

Besides, this is an exciting time of year for us as farmers, because as things do slow down, we begin the fall and early winter tasks of planning for next year. We have spent a lot of time these last few weeks using the good weather and relaxed field schedule to take more time walking the rest of the property. During these walks, we check on fencing and plan repairs or improvements, talk about and look towards the grand picture for all of these areas, then think about the next step towards this. Although during these strolls we aren’t in the vegetable field, we talk a lot about our plans there as well, all while the kids collect acorns and mushrooms and oak galls to bring the outside into our home, a tried and true decorating approach!

Our first year growing food on this farm–our first year growing food for a CSA–was wildly overwhelming, a result of our being overly ambitious, whole-heartedly idealistic, and surprisingly (to us) under educated in growing this way, all on top of finding out our topsoil had been sold to the dump and our first year soil amendments were not enough to loosen the heavy clay subsoil we found ourselves in. For my part, I went into last winter needing to not think about the next year. I re-focused on my home, the children, and tried to unclench the tightening of muscles and queasy stomach reflex I had every time we tried to make plans for the next year. Thankfully, our plan for this second year was to step back, to proceed more slowly, with a clearer understanding and with caution rather than abandon; an approach that brought success both in the fields and in our home.

As we find ourselves around the circle again moving past the big push of our second year, it is so wonderful to have had a good year, to have reached most of our goals, and to be able to move forward with excitement instead of stress. Our children are all a year older, all (mostly) wonderful little field helpers, our soil is rapidly improving, and the real life experience of working a small farm for the last two years has made our planning skills far better. We feel that our CSA goals were met this year, which was our top priority, and because we planned this year for just what one field worker could do and still only had 50% yields on most things, we are excited to look towards next year. Where we were conservative with multiple varieties this year to keep our expenses low, we plan on expanding this a lot for next year, fun for us and for all of you! With our continued plan for soil improvement and as we see topsoil returning to this place, we feel confident that next year our yields will increase at least 25%. And as the soil health improves, we anticipate pest issues will lessen, although we are brainstorming for effective controls on some of our worst problems.

The root maggots that plague the bottoms of most of our radishes, turnips, and rutabagas, as well as the rust fly that damaged all but our first crop of carrots this year, are at the front of this list. Things like flea beetles we have decided to combat by more seasonality. Although kale may sell all year long, it becomes bitter and is usually riddled with flea beetles in the heat of the summer while it is sweet and pest free in the fall and winter. All in all we are happy with the results of our switch to all open-pollinated varieties this year, although the non hybrid broccoli do not perform very uniformly, so we may need to succession plant these more often to make better use of their staggered maturity. With 100s of broccoli plants in the field this year, we still were never able to harvest 20 at the same time, not a good thing for a CSA! Still, as one of our market customers repeatedly expressed, the many florets we harvest from these plants who put out such small heads when compared to their hybrid cousins are more delicious and easier to cook with anyways. I suppose as with most things, there is always a balance between benefits and costs. We move forward through this balancing act based on our priorities and personalities. Although we abandoned our no-till ideas for this large (and getting larger!) of a growing space after our first year and now happily work the tiller and hire out tractor work, we will stick with the extra labor and loss of efficiency and predictability open pollination lends itself too because these choices still seem to leave the scales balanced for us and our members.

Now when I set out to write this week’s newsletter, I had planned a quick blurb and a copy of a poem because I am fighting a cold and have invoices to do on top of this. I guess sometimes the words find their way even when I don’t ask them to. Still, I wanted to share a poem, a different one than I had intended but by the same author, just more related to the thoughts that came out instead. It is by Wendell Berry, and I was reading his words because of a post by Rich at Mossback Farm linking to an article about Berry and one by Berry. I have been reading Berry since I was 19. After all these years, I never tire of his words.

As soon as I felt a necessity to learn about the non-human world,
I wished to learn about it in a hurry.
And then I began to learn perhaps
the most important lesson that nature had to teach me:
that I could not learn about her in a hurry.
The most important learning, that of experience,
can be neither summoned nor sought out.
The most worthy knowledge
cannot be acquired by what is known as study–
though that is necessary, and has its use.
It comes in its own good time
and in its own way to the man who will go where it lives,
and wait, and be ready,
and watch.
Hurry is beside the point, useless, an obstruction.
The thing is to be attentively present.
To sit and wait is as important as to move.
Patience is as valuable as industry.
What is to be known is
always there.
When it reveals itself to you, or when you come upon it,
it is by chance.
The only condition is your being there and being