keeping our heads above water in the deluge

after the storm

farm, farming, wetland, flooded veggiesflooded veggies, farm, farmingwet carrots, flooded veggies, farm, farmingbattered beetsfield of greenssurvived!This weekend, our little neck of the woods was visited by three storm systems that brought with them some “unseasonable” amounts of rain, pretty high, unfriendly winds, and a quick and somewhat depressing end to my just begun love affair with the new season of autumn. I felt cheated.

Because even though the Pacific Northwest is known for being a wet place and all, our late Septembers and Octobers really are usually quite beautiful, with a fair share of beautiful, sunny, crisp, fall-like days.  Sure, there are rainy days in the mix, too, but we don’t usually feel inundated until much later in this precious season.  And so earlier last week, when I had finished the wild and overloaded part of this year’s tomato harvest, and the shorter day length started to make for shorter work days, I found myself breathing deeply into this sweet time of the year, ready to relax. So much less hectic, but still so abundant.

I was already revelling in these changes of schedule, of harvests. I love the beginning of each new season so equally, I have to call them all my favorite.  My taste buds were singing, happy and excited for the new foods on our plates.  Our meals were a perfect combination of the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  Arugula, lemon cucumber, and colorful mixed cherry tomato salads with balsamic vinaigrette.  Roasted zucchini and sweet red pepper tossed with turnip green pesto.  Kale, glorious, delicious kale, back from a summer’s hiatus and cooked into stews with beets and the last of the tomatoes, the sweet, paste varieties. I had even gotten to a little fall house cleaning and the kids were all working their way into our homeschooling groove.  It felt perfect.

And all in all, this whole year has been pretty perfect.  Especially on the farm. Busy, yes, and a bit of a scramble on the labor front as I realized about halfway through the year that “the farmer” wasn’t joking when he said I needed to take over the farm business for him while he expanded his woodworking one.  But the weather!  The weather this year was perfect.  If you have followed along with us for long or been part of our farm community in real life, you know that the weather has not been so perfect these last couple of years.  And so, this–this was wonderful.  So wonderful  I even mentioned earlier this year that I thought it was a little gift to us from the universe, a nice, soothing balm for our farming wounds from the year before.

And it really has been.  But as I took notes and made plans for next season, I tried to remind myself that I can’t really expect anything, at all, from the weather or a growing season.  Especially not perfect.

As farmers, we tend to take the most immediate data and apply it first to the coming year.  It is assumed, and generally true, that the issues that have come up in prior years have already been addressed, and so each year we tweak things a little with the added layer of knowledge the previous growing season has given us.  We can’t always plan for things we can’t conceive of, but those we have seen and dealt with, we generally will always plan for, even if they never happen again.  The question that kept coming up for me was how to adjust plans after a great year when you know you can’t plan on another such year again? And I wondered, is that a good way to live, to not count on the perfect year?  Where was my faith, my trust?

The truth is that each year, perhaps besides our very first, has always been as good and bad as it could be, perfect in its own imperfect way. And maybe I cursed us without knowing it, as I thought about all of this, but I don’t think so.  I do tend to go forward, believing.  And I really was sure that this season would end as perfectly as it began, until this weekend’s weather changed that, pretty dramatically.  All that “unseasonable” rain led to part of our growing space that was still in production going under water.  “Surprise, surprise”, the world seemed to say, because even if we know that our lower field, a seasonal wetland, is destined to go under water every fall with crops still in it, and even though we know that no matter when this happens, it never feels good, we also felt like we knew the general time frame to expect this to happen, which was nowhere close to this early!

But it did, and it is kind of terrible, but it is kind of okay too.  Those things we have learned already, from other seasons, had led us to plant our rows in this field in a manner that let the water move away from the vegetables as much as possible, and this meant that at first, especially, the water didn’t pool where crops were planted–a good thing!  And this year, we had a separate field for our fall greens that we had observed would stay dry longer than other spaces, and this field, my field of greens, stayed dry and harvest-able–so, so good!  The crops in the field that did, eventually, get too wet in the end, were summer crops we could say good-bye too, like zucchini and pickling cucumbers, or crops we could store, like carrots and beets and our winter squash planting.  It took more work than I imagined it would to harvest them all at once, but I did, and now they are out of the water and ready to store for the next few months as we finish out our CSA and market harvests for the year.  All good!

Not a perfect, happily ever after ending, but a perfectly okay ending, this storm proved to be.

And that is kind of my favorite secret of being grown up, anyway.  The knowledge that happily ever after isn’t perfect like we may have imagined it would be in our limited, juvenile experiences.  That it isn’t always smooth sailing or just right conditions that will make us happy.  But, rather that it is vastly more perfect for being messy and hard.  That growing, sometimes on our own, sometimes together, but always, growing, is the important part, not any particular outcome or expectation we may have once put our faith in.  And that, truly, in all times, good and bad, it is, life, important and wonderful, for what it is, our life.

This weekend’s deluge was just another interesting part of our story, something to experience with both dread and then gratitude, something to laugh about for its absurdity, to learn from in small and big ways.  My children love having water to splash in and their adventurous, happy take on things reminded me to lighten up.  And as for growth, yesterday, in rain gear and water past my ankles, bringing in those storage crops, I experienced perhaps the hardest day of work I’ve had out there in those fields this year.  And it left me feeling sore and tired, but it also left me feeling wildly alive.

And in that moment yesterday, I felt such a deep connection to that land, deeper than I have even felt from living here on it for seven years and helping Andre run the farm business on it for six years, and even more than I have from seeing it deeply with my writer’s eyes and loving it greatly with my big, old heart.  This year of really working hard with it, this soil and land, has tied me to it even more.  It is powerful stuff.  I felt schooled, in the best possible way.

And so today, even though some of us in this household, including myself, are under the weather after so much weather this weekend, I still feel great.  The sun is shining, I do believe we will still have plenty of lovely autumn days to come. And I do think I may just be able to relax, proper like, beside the first fire of the season, soon. And tonight for dinner, maybe we will dip into our first acorn squash too.  Both have not quite been necessary yet, but both will serve to kind of rekindle the love affair I do still want to have with this time of year after our somewhat stormy start.

And I’ll let this weekend’s deluge drain away down my back, smooth and easy, so that I can move forward without too much weight to carry, while I simultaneously keep it flooded in my veins, as all good parts of our story are, perfectly imperfect as that may be.

august setting: seasons on the farm

sunset, queen anne's lace, farm, farming, seasons, august “These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” Annie Dillard.

A reader left this quote in the comments the last time I managed to squeeze a little time out of the day to write over here.  Annie Dillard is one of my all time favorites, and this, this was just right.  For all of our breathing moments, for sure.  But as a reminder to breathe, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about seasons.  About how much they dictate life on the farm, and about how disconnected they sometimes are from the reality of modern life.

Lazy summer days.

Not quite.  Definitely not on the farm.

Summer is the busiest of all the times.  We take breaks, here and there, as we can, but the longer than long days are filled to the brim with work.  Sun up to sun down.  Five to nine, as another farmer splendidly put it.  We squeeze in as much as our minds and bodies can manage, and as the children allow without reminding us that working in the dirt is not exactly play for them…even though it is for us.  Thankfully.

They remind us that time with friends and dips in the river are necessary parts of summer too.  As well as whole days away from the beating rhythm of the farm, at the beach or in the mountains next to a sweet, quiet lake.  We really do want it all, so we try for as much as we can.  But the truth is, we can’t fully live in two worlds, so we mostly live and breathe farming in the summer, and I often feel this crashing together of two different ways of life throughout this season that for most people signals play, but for us signals work as play.

But even more than this disjointed idea of a “summer off” that we are, by trade, removed from, the end of summer-back to school time of year feels even more disconnected from what is happening in our lives on the farm than ever.  It arrives at the time when the farm is coming to full fruition for the year, and our work, though growing shorter with the shorter days, keeps up at its summer pace, if not becomes more busy.  We don’t really quiet down out here until we are through September.

Oh, September!  The most abundant month of the year.

Even though preparing ground and sowing seeds and planting transplants is busy in the spring, and a constant job up until just now, even with it done for the year, our work load is still heavy.  Weeding won’t end until the rain comes in earnest.  And harvesting is huge right now as summer crops ripen daily.   We need more time for keeping up with that, as well as more time for selling this massive abundance of our wonderful produce, not to mention more time for preserving as much as we can for our family while this abundance is here.  We are still so busy.

But the schedule around us begins to change.  School starts, different bedtimes are in order, different daytimes too.  People seem to temporarily forget that our mid-week farmer’s market is still going on even though it is not, by their books, summer any more, and we always kind of languish a bit in our shoes, standing at our booth with the most produce of the entire year and moderately slow market traffic.

Disjointed.

The life that we lead has to be flexible and malleable in response to the natural world.  It expands, then contracts.  It is tempered to the reins of the physical seasons .  It keeps a steady beat, it keeps a yearly rhythm, but it changes vastly throughout the year, and is in no way arbitrary nor under our control.  This isn’t really how the modern, non-agricultural world keeps time.  Most of the year, for most of the folks, schedules can be kept at almost the same day to day rhythm for the entire year, with only the wild and crazy mix up of Christmas and a short “summer” to temporarily detour them from that order.

It is much different for us, and I admit, I sometimes find it hard to bend our lives to fit into the schedule of the rest of our world.  A friend and CSA member, who catalogues Medieval manuscripts, wrote to me, “The prayer books begin with a calendar, and the illuminations include a “labor of the month” for each month of the year. Summer through autumn shows farmers working in the field, cutting hay, tending crops, harvesting and crushing grapes. In December, the labor is killing the boar for the Christmas feast. In January (and sometimes Feb as well) the “labor” consists of sitting by a fire! Your schedule is far more in tune with human history and the seasons than the summer vacation that resulted from industrialization.”

And there is peace to be found, for me, in her comment.  I know we have chosen a way of life that is more like lives lived in the past and that feels good deep in our ancestral bones.  But more than that, I really do believe that what we do out here on the farm is paving the way for the future.  It feels as visionary as it is a hearkening back.  It is the straddling, in the present, that is the challenge.

The next eight weeks or so will only be more hectic and crazy than the rest of our already wildly busy, summer farming season because I have to divide my attention between our own summer farm schedule and the coming sooner than the farm’s “fall” schedule of our lives.  The thought of it makes me feel a little weak in the knees.

But, I am alive.  I can still breathe.  It will be, and always is, okay.  I love this time of year when the harvest is so amazingly full, it only makes sense that the schedule mirror that abundance and become fuller, as impossible as that seems.  The sheer putting forth of fruit from the earth at this time of year seems impossible too, but to be able to give so much in such a compressed amount of time is as simple as breathing for the earth.  I am sure I can do as much too.

Because after all of that fullness and hard-working and time squeezing, we do fall, naturally, into a very quiet time out here on the farm.  We do come to a point in the year where we have plenty of time.  We relish sitting, sitting made better because it is by the fire.  And for about two months, January and February, tending the fire day and night really is almost all of the work of the day.  Not entirely, of course.  We do have work to do year round, but for a stretch of time, in the deep of winter, we are, nearly, still.

Our schedule, although it isn’t always in step with the rest of the world, has become, for us, familiar.  I don’t fight it any more with trying to mix other people’s realities into ours.  It is comforting in its own steady and predictable way, even if I don’t have help at bedtime with my four children, whose bedtimes are near sundown in the summer, nor do we have a whole day off as a family aside from the couple of camping trips we do make time for in a summer.  We do have a lot of down time together in the winter, a lot of time to catch up on sleep and rest.

We do have lazy, winter days.

This circular rhythm, we have come to know it and love it.

It is marked by the plants growing outside and the hours of the sunrise and sunset.  The temperature.  August begins with blackberry feasts in the morning and after dinner, and ends with Queen Anne’s Lace all around, catching the last rays of the setting summer.  We won’t be tucking ourselves into autumn until the equinox.  Or even a few weeks after that since our “summer” market season continues into mid-October.  Into pumpkins and winter squash.  Then, we will rest, as a farm, and the school mom shoes will not feel too tight slipped over my field shoes and my fingers, happy for the dirt under them, will likely find more time to get inky–metaphorically speaking.

For now, I hold on to an imaginary handle bar.  The end of the roller coaster ride of the busy farm season is the wildest, and so we will aim to make it the most fun and sweet and lively too.  I’ll somehow aim to embrace the two worlds we live in by choosing this way of life, the past and the present.  And truthfully, it is three worlds to embrace, to breathe in simultaneously with each breath, everyday, because through this all I am holding the small hands of the future in mine, as well.

farm lunch: spring confetti

 

french breakfast radish, carrots, chard, kale, farm lunchToday’s lunch.

I have been calling this mixture here–french breakfast radishes, spring carrots, rainbow chard and kale (three varieties today–purple and green lacinato, plus red russian), plus the beets before we ate them all–my confetti vegetables.  They are the bulk of what we are harvesting, besides lettuces, and so it is this combo cooked with loads of coconut oil, green garlic, and green onions, and served with a little something–poached eggs and pork today–for one of our meals, then a hearty salad, with a little meat, for the other.

This, plus eggs, for breakfast, everyday.  Simple stuff.

It would seem redundant, perhaps, if it weren’t so pretty.  Or if I didn’t feel like I was having a little party on my plate each day with all these colors.  Or, perhaps, if tender, fresh, spring vegetables weren’t so damn good.

We round it all out with peas and strawberries, and even early ripe raspberries, for snacks, al fresco.

Recipes come in all shapes and sizes.  This spring, each meal I cook has three main ingredients–fresh, simple, and beautiful.  It strikes just the right chord of this season.

Topped with a dash of love, each day, and we are filled.

Eating with your heart

heart-beetbig heart-beetBe still, my heart.

After seeing those pictures that come and go on the internet showing the correlation between the way food looks and the part of the body it is especially good for if eaten, I often find myself doing the same when I look at food.  When I saw this giant beet, the result of what we now know is the miracle of growing food under plastic in spring, new to us this year but quite nice as it turns out after all the hemming and hawing that took place deciding to bring this into our farming picture, my first thought was that it looked like a heart.  That I should eat it, right then, for my heart.

True, or not, we sliced this beauty up and roasted the whole thing, and I did end up eating almost it all myself, right then, since not everyone on this farm loves roasted beets like I do.  And I did feel that my heart was filled, in more ways than one.

The little boy wanted to help slice it, not easy since beets are pretty solid pieces of root food, but we pretended.  We had fun.  We looked at the surprising inside design of this heirloom variety.  We marvelled, together.  I took photos.  Our oldest boy, my visual artist, took photos too.   And my mind strung together thoughts.  Theories on feeding your family well and with joy, and on the need for a healthy, loving approach to food, free from fear.  I played with words, with phrases like, eating with you heart and food for your heart-beet.

beets, heirloom, seasonal eating, local foodbeets, heirloom vegetables, seasonal eating, local foodBut in my heart, I know that modern day diet theories are a sticky issue.  One I prefer to stay out of, mostly, besides shout outs about the obvious things, like DOWN WITH MONSANTO!  Truly, though, I lament the fact that it is all so complicated.  Complicated, more than anything, by the fact that there is a whole food industry that many of our human kin rely on to feed themselves that appears to care nothing at all about really feeding us.   A food industry that not only appears to not care about that seemingly significant idea in regards to food, but also doesn’t seem to care that they are quietly (and sometimes loudly) making us and the land and all the other creatures around us sick instead.  And for so many of us, sick and wanting to feel better, or simply fed up with eating from the hands that bind us, look around for something better.  A little blind, we seek and grasp for a way, but we are not really sure what that is because that ship has long since sailed.  We have lots of ideas, but lots of them are different from each other.  And so much fear surrounds us because of this, fear of eating the wrong way, that we still don’t eat the right way because we feel confused, unsure, and mabye not better.  And to hope to fix this broken machine seems mildly hopeless, making it all the worse.

I have my own theories for my own family, but I like to keep them as such, theories.  They work for us and stem from our own personal experience with our own personal bodies and health.  I know what makes me sick, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, as well as what makes my children’s bodies out of whack, and their minds and spirits.  We come from a long line of food allergies and we have our own set of things to consider.  So, we do.

As should we all.

But getting to that point, the point of knowing what works for you and what doesn’t, of where and how to source the food that will really feed you the best, personally, isn’t easy.  And so, to say you should eat with your heart doesn’t really work at all for most of us, unless we have already cleared a lot of the post-modern cobwebs out from inside, and can hear, loudly enough, that beating vessel for what it wants to tell us.

What to do?

Thinking about this mess, it struck me that we do, indeed, have something we can all agree on, something we can all do without fear or worry or confusion.  That the easiest, simplest, truest thing that can be said about eating and thriving and feeding ourselves well and whole, without complication, is this–eating fresh, bright, and beautiful vegetables, in abundance, is the right place to start. 

Whether you plant your own small (or large) garden and eat your own harvests, or you head to a farmer’s market, easy to find these days, and eat the harvests of other farmers like us, or even if you just go to the regular market and look for the brightest, most beautiful, and fresh looking produce you can find and bring it home, this is the place to start.  Eat them, everyday in every way. This is a powerful and fulfilling way to eat no matter anything else.

Or so my heart and head decided, stewing about this all, beet in hand and then in tummy, the other day.  I know, without a doubt, that this food feeds the whole me.  And the whole you probably wants a bite of this beauty too,  this vibrant, healthy, uncomplicated, sweet kind of food.  There is little bad you can say about the humble vegetable class.  Besides the sometimes unpleasant flavor of less than fresh broccoli, it is all good.  This, I feel sure about, even in a time when sure is hard to come by.  So.

Eat Your Veggies!  With love.

beets, radish, carrot, spring food, local food, seasonal eating

For the love of chicory

chicory loveThis time of year we hear the same thing from most everyone we run into–the craving for fresh, green food is intense for those folks eating mostly what they grow themselves or from the farms around and about them.  There are greens to eat in the winter here if all goes well, but they are not really green, they are overwintered.  They sit through those cold, dark months of December and January, freeze and unfreeze often, and wait.  We harvest what grew before all of that, and it is usually not pretty nor tender.  They are greens that beg to be cooked.

By now, our desire for green is for fresh.  And new growth is happening, it feels like finally, after all that wait.  Fresh leaves are making there way to our plates again.  The greenhouse is fully planted and we are working arugula thinnings into our salad mix.  Before we know it, there will be lettuce again!

But while we wait for the traditional and tender lettuces to be in the mix, what is fresh in February and early March make me quite happy to eat.  More than happy…I almost don’t want to move on.  The inner leaves of sugarloaf chicory are as easy to eat as lettuce but with so much more to offer, I may love them more than anything.  And the smaller, spoon shaped inner leaves of radicchio are so sweet and bitter, royal and right. The mid -summer lettuce leaf salads really can’t compare with the mix of colors and textures of right-nows green salads, except that we love those for all the other fresh vegetables that are able to join in on the fun.

I sit down to eat this salad every day and the sight of it, its beauty, steals my heart.  And then I do bite into it and the flavor is almost too much, it is so good.  After roasted roots and meat, and cooked kale and collards, all winter, my body sings kind of like the rest of the animal kingdom outside.  The birds and the frogs and I are enlivened right now.

And I am over the moon in love with my plate.

Just as I am with one thing or another, each season,  in its turn.  Rapinis will come soon to sweep me off my feet, then peas.  Peas!  Then summer, the season that rarely offers itself monogamously, will bring so much to love it is ridiculous (and why we love it so).  Then come autumn-year after year after year–arugula will bring me to my knees.  And delicata squash, oh my!  Osaka purple mustard. Tat soi.  Even come next winter, I will sing, again, the survival instinct that cabbage and turnips inspire in me.  Then, the whole wild love-fest will begin again.

It has been seven years for us out here on this farm, that same length of time since we learned about our food allergies.  Our diet is so different now.  But it is also so simple and so good.  All the pleasure it brings feels like the same natural pleasure the earth itself takes in bringing it forth for us as it circles around the sun.

These love affairs I have, they feel so nourishing and healthful, that is how I dare say eating should be.  This is not to say I don’t have my weaknesses (coffee), and not to say that we don’t eat some things from miles away every single day of the year in bland repetition (bananas).  But the heart of all of our meals is this land.  And there is more joy in that than I think we know until we are experiencing it.

There are so many food movements, so much divergence in opinion.  There are external factors and internal ones.  I naturally shy away from dogma, I try to keep my vision clear and focas on myself…and those eating at my table each and every night.  There can be so much confusion about what to eat, guilt over what you are eating, and so much that does not nourish you to pick up on the cheap.

Whatever you choose, my hope, my own two cents on what it should do for you, is this–that it deeply feed your body and soul.  Not in any one night stand kind of way, cheap and wrong even if it seems right in the moment.  Deeply.

My argument for seasonal eating, aside from any social-economic-political-environmental reasons is that this will be the side effect either way.  And that this may just teach you, if you listen closely, how to eat as you need to in order to feel alive and joyful.

Because chicory is truly and amazingly healthy to eat; but that is not the reason I came to endear it.