springing (time to wake up)

violets, spring, farm, The farm has moved into March gracefully, with so many beautiful signs pointing to the shifting seasons. The first flowers are blooming–the always cheery and bright and abundant daffodils, the lovely forsynthia opening its own yellow petals one by one, and the violets, with a sweetness we can nibble. The air is full of breeze, and sound. Like the birds singing so happy to find food more easily, and the frogs, awakening.

strawberry, spring, plant, greenhouse, farm, farmingsalad mix, baby lettuce, spring, greenhouse, farm, farmingbraising mix, greenhouse, farm, farming, springgreen onions, farm, farming, greenhouse, spring, seasonal eatingA walk through our greenhouse these days, literally so green right now, provides a wonderful respite from the sight of the fields, still only slowly coming back to life, muddy and waiting. And an equally wonderful respite for our tongues. Fresh food, again. Our taste buds, singing too, we aren’t really that different from the birds.

And the earth calls, wake up. Wake Up!

And, I answer, I always answer, yes.

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.

sunshine and lollipops and lots of tomato sauce

heirloom tomatoes, canning season, sustainable farming, farming, gardening, tomato sauce, summerWhen I am walking the rows of tomato plants in late August, so much sun on my back and sweat on my brow, and the sticky smell of tomatoes mixed with fermenting blackberries surrounds me, both intoxicating and suffocating, I remind myself to soak it all in.  In field work, and hard work of any kind, mantras help.  Remember this in your heart, in your mind, in your body.  Remember.

The smells, the heat.  The feeling of my body moving.  There is something so settling about the grey that will cover the skies here in the Pacific Northwest come late fall, and then stay all through the winter and spring.  Those skies create a sameness that spreads out covering everything, and although I love it like a favorite blanket, I know that it is all the better for this time of year right now.  For hot sun and dry ground and ripe tomatoes.

The tomato harvest in our wild, sprawling tomato patch is like a treasure hunt.  An eye spy game of finding the red hidden within all of the greens and browns and goldens of the tomato plants and the weeds.  I watch the tomatoes pile up in the path as I make my way through the rows, my loot.  The feeling of so much.  I am filled.  While I bake in the sun to gather these stars of the summer, I think about how later that night I will take all of the not-pretty-enough-for-market fruits inside and commence the never-ending pot of tomato sauce cooking on the stove-top season.  I imagine the wonderful aroma that will fill our home, and the wonderful flavor that will fill our bellies, later, when this sun is long gone.

I fight off the longing for fall.  All of the ways that I can.  I know well enough by now that love for any one thing is brightened in its contrast.  To cool off, after all that work, we will pull some popsicles out of the freezer.  We sit on our porch facing west and linger.  My children, too, grow like the tomatoes and I can’t slow it down nor speed it up so I try to take it all in.  The hot sun and dry ground and ripe tomatoes.  The sunshine and lollipops and lots of tomato sauce.

mindfulness, summer, popsicles, children, parentingmindfulness, summer, popsicles, parenting, childrenmindfulness, summer, popsicles, parenting, children

 

picture perfect summer’s night

It is hot this weekend.

We are sweaty and smiling, splashing in and out of the small kid’s pool in the front yard.  And spending the bulk of our late afternoons at our favorite creek, further up in the hills from the farm than the river just down our road, but better when it is really hot and the crowds are out and the colder, mountain water feels just right.  We can’t work much in the heat, so we play.  We break into the small stash of frozen raspberries and blueberries even though they were meant to be saved for winter.  We treat ourselves.  We are summering.

I love this weather.

I love the feeling of being baked, like the earth, to perfection.  I drink it in, I feel myself unfurling.  I need a good dose of it to make it through the grey Pacific Northwest winters of my adopted home.  I am, by the sun, a leo after all.

And the plants are soaking it up too.  Well watered, they love the heat just as much I do.  I feel like I can almost see them growing by the minute.

But even more than the intense middle of the day, when the temperatures peak, what I really love, and miss the most from my childhood’s Midwest summers, is the evening time during an Oregon heat wave.  Perfect summer nights, still warm, without a need for a sweater, but still cooler than the day.  If I were younger, I would just throw down some blankets on the ground and sleep outside.  If I could, I’d find some water to swim in under the moon.  Those are the kind of summer nights I love.

Last night, we walked the fields in this perfect slowing down, simmering down time of the day.  The sounds of the birds and the bugs, happy again to not be sweltering, filled the air alongside the blanket of dusk.  I had my camera back in hand after a very long two week break of lending it to the oldest boy for art camp.  I missed it, missed looking at our space through the lens, capturing this light.  I gobbled it all up and stuffed it into digital files again.  It was lovely.

This year’s growing season has been amazing.  The weather, the plantings, the success.  A true gift.  I wish we could bottle it up and pour it over ever year to come, but we know all too well that this isn’t how the game of farming works.  Nevertheless, it does feel like it was meant just for us, a balm from the universe to heal the wounds of last season, the first year that ever had us doubting our chosen profession.

Looking around last night at all the happy plants, pest free and thriving, the happy soil, the growing perennials, the beauty of our home, I almost couldn’t believe it was real.  We are truly blessed.   And we really do love what we do and all of the things that are a part of that, the good and the bad.  We are happy, despite everything that could get in the way of our happiness, and that is about the most anyone can ask for.

This place is ours.  Our vision turned reality.  The cumulation of all our choices so far.  It feels good to be able to say that we don’t regret any of it.

Last night was perfect summer’s night.  Picture perfect, yes, as captured in photos.  But more than that, it was, just like any other night in our lives, imperfectly perfect.  It was us walking our land. Food growing, and weeds too. Naked small people running around that I couldn’t take pictures of, sometimes stepping in the rows, sometimes running through the wild.  They were stitching their own sense of summer into their bare skin.  My only hope for them, and for all of you, is that there are enough golden moments in the journey to always make the whole thing seem to shine.

farm, farming, csa, field, summer, summer night

 Shining view of our lower field.  We’ve planted more space down there than ever before this year.  This golden, golden year.

farm, farm life, father, son

Down the hill with papa on a perfect summer night.

tomatoes, farming, farm, csa, organic farming

All kinds of tomatoes growing, growing, growing.   And not too many weeds, hooray!

carrots, beets, lettuces, succession planting, farm, farming

Succession plantings=success!   Carrots, beets, lettuces.   These, we keep planting every few weeks into September. 

salad mix, lettuce, farm, farming

Up close, salad mix.  And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

lettuce, field, farm, farming

Even sprouting up in the wrong place, she grows.  Lettuces are almost as beautiful to me as flowers.

cabbage, farming, farm

Red rock cabbage, even though you are behind schedule, the color of your leaves will always make me swoon.

irrigation, farming, farm

We make do, it is what we do.  Meaning, no fancy irrigation equipment here!

sprouts, succession planting, farm, farming

We were once this fragile too.

tomatillos, farm, farming

Tomatillos make me drool! 

green beans, farming, farm

Beautiful bean planting, so healthy and happy, and no pests.  Good.

love, farming, farmer, green beans, farm

I really am loving this year’s bean plantings.  And every year, more and more, I love this farmer too.

view, farm, farming, home, love

This is our home.  Sweet, sweet, home.

moving forward in a circle

into the unknownWe are one week away from the start of our summer farmer’s market season.  We have been so steadily putting one foot in front of the other this spring, getting ready for this stretch of the year, these next 20-30 weeks or so, our “main” season here on the farm, and now that it is just one week away, of course, we are feeling not steady at all but instead just rushed, rushed, rushed.  Those gooseberries I wrote about that never got weeded are nearly giving me nightmares, they have all but disappeared underneath the bindweed.  And the strawberry patches we hope to be harvesting from in the next few weeks are playing hide and seek in some knee high grass. 

Oh, the adventures of it all!

We are fairly used to this routine by now, seven years in, but that doesn’t mean we can always control our feelings of ineptitude when we encounter, even repeatedly, the sheer force of the wild world.  With a leftover sore throat caught from the children, today I feel it overtime.  Today, I dream about the many hired hands we could use if only we could afford to hire them.  I dream of a week straight of childcare so that I can get ahead.  I dream of the sleepy feel of winter. 

So silly!

Life on the farm truly is about routines and cycles, and as such is fairly predictable, at least in general, even if it is not in the particular.  Those things change every season, and are always a mystery we have to watch unfold as we go.  But the cycle remains the same. 

Every year, at least once at this time of year, we will feel overwhelmed.  Some years it is the weather, the waiting for the land to dry.  Some years, it is the planting and keeping things going in the ground on schedule.  Some years it is the money and do we have enough right now when we spend it the most. 

And this year, I swear, it is the weeds. 

I walk the farm with the babe of a boy on my hip and worry about getting some air to our perennial fruits.  And I can’t seem to catch up.  And everywhere I look I see another thistle or burdock or hemlock plant that needs to be knocked down before it blooms.  I sigh and let the one rainy day in this month, today, comfort me with rest while I make the lists that will keep us moving forward.

Then, tomorrow, I will set out again, one step at a time, moving towards this unattainable goal of getting to all those weeds.  With or without reaching it, just like every year, I know that soon the summer will fully set in and we will be back in the swing of it all.  We always “catch up” eventually.  We always move from this kind of busy to the harvesting kind of busy, all fun and full, hearts raised and beating hard, out in the sun while it lasts.

The farm is always moving, both in a forward-upward motion, as well as in a circle.  Kind of like life.  The path it takes always leads somewhere good, even though it is not always right on target or 100% predictable.  We start a farming season in all possibility, all hope.  Then, inevitably, we get a bit waylaid for a while in the weeds, until we emerge and find that once again, everything is again.  Even more than okay.  We find that just like every year, it is bursting in greatness.  We find ourselves swimming in the river on hot summer afternoons, staying up late not just working but playing by the bonfire, wishing on twinkling stars.  We find ourselves blissfully breathing easy again, while the land provides, ever abundantly.

I could almost say that it happens with or without us, and that would almost be true.  The earth provides.  It cycles, on and on, ever and always.  But we did, and do, a lot in order to receive this fecundity year after year.  This, we must always remember, no matter what kind of spring craze we are feeling. 

This, we must remember, no matter if we feel a bit like we are still at the bottom of the staircase of the year.  Because all of us, most likely, have been doing the work we need to do, moving forward on the journey, even when we are at that point when we can’t exactly see it.  Perhaps a few steps more forward, even with a blindfold on, will lead us up and into the light.