summer, i give you, my all and more (an invite for you to give some too)

summer, local food, farming, Hello and hello.

It has been longer than long, it feels, since I have been able to get to this space.  I have been a bit in the weeds, quite literally, but also metaphorically.  Sorting and cleaning the mind while I work outside is almost as good as sorting and cleaning it out at the keyboard.  Much like the sun, which reached its zenith last week, heralding us into summer, our own scales have tipped, dropping us smack dab into the wild side of our year.

Summer.

It is loud.  It is busy.  It is fuller than full, and that is why I love it so.  Me–and all this food growing out here–we’re exploding like crazy from our roots up, up, up towards the sky.  It is hectic, and I may feel like it is altogether too much.  But instead of that, after bursting wide open, I know, I remember, that I will get to fall gently back into the warm blanket of the earth come autumn, that I will get to wrap myself up again come winter with all the hints of the seeds of next year tucked safely in my womb.  I breathe and keep going.

Summer.  It’s so, so good.  Welcome.

And quickly, before I sign off to go back outside with the setting sun to finish washing some of tomorrow’s market veggies (beets! carrots! chard! kale! broccoli! new potatoes! basil! salad mix! lettuce heads! fava beans!) and ready the fruit (gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries!), I want to invite you all, from the local folks and farm members reading to the many new and wonderful far flung readers here in this space too, to take a look at the most important kickstarter campaign of the next 24 hours!

Good friends, great project.  And they need your support to finish this right.  This seemingly humble butcher shop will benefit not just our own local eaters, but you all.  It is a part of the larger, necessary, and oh so important, real food movement.  This involves us all.  And we all can help make this happen, together, bit by bit and place by place.  Thanks for giving it a look!

Their kickstarter campaign: Meat @ Grain Station Marketplace

Picture 1We enthusiastically invite you to join in McMinnville’s growing craft food scene. Our community needs a source for local, pastured meats sold fresh year round. Kyle Chriestenson and Amanda Perron plan to give you just that at MEAT. Our butcher counter will proudly feature pastured animals from some of the areas great small farms and ranches, processed with a passion for quality and flavor. This is the first step in a larger vision, that includes retail, wholesale, deli, and catering. We look forward to growing with the help of our friends and family. Join us in launching this project off to a great start, it will take all of us to make this dream a reality.  Click HERE

finding balance: wild cultivations

backberries, hemlock, weeds, farmthistle blooms, weeds, farm, thistlesamaranth, weeds, farmbindweed, morning glory, weeds, farmdock, weeds, farmlamb's quarter, weeds, edible weeds, farmThis week, in the back of my mushy brain, hot from long hours in warm weather weeding, weeding, weeding, this was my recurring thought, “why not go into the edible/medicinal weed business????”

I mean, seriously, these plants GROW! They clearly are the top in their class and need no help from us to flourish.

And not only are they really the best at growing vigorously, they are the best at harnessing nutrients and making them available to us. That whole thing about the narrowing of our food system to those forty or so vegetables you will find at our market booth or at the supermarket brings with it a two-fold problem, the first being this limited variety of foods we now eat.  But the other, more serious problem is that in the process of really cultivating these certain crops from spindly, wild, weeds into the nice, big, tasty vegetables we eat today, we lost, in comparison, the amount of nutrition we get from doing the right thing and eating all of our veggies.

I, for one, don’t get too hung up on this.  The fact is, we are where we are in history, and we can’t go back, we can only go forward.  That is what we try to do here on the farm.  And I also know from our own experience that not all of the wild edibles we have played around with eating can qualify as much more than survival food.  They just aren’t that exciting.  Still, I appreciate the wisdom of “weeds”, and have come to love and use many of them for both their taste and their nutritive/healing properties.  That strong, earthy taste you get from nettles and lamb’s quarters (bottom photo) is the taste, literally, of earth.  Those plants are just made of minerals.

And much like the vegetables we grow, which I see as both the best tasting foods for our plates and as important elements of our heath and well-being (hello my delicious daily vitamins!), some weeds are like this times one hundred.

Take the weeds I put in a jar of vinegar many weeks ago, to have on hand as a potent calcium supplement.  Most of these things I was weeding out of my landscape beds already, like yellow dock, plantain, red clover, dandelion, and burdock.  Others were from my herb garden, all of them planted last fall, so just itching to be put to use–Japanese mugwort, comfrey, wormwood.  I threw in some raspberry leaf.  I was given the idea by a friend, and it seemed like such a good use for these plentiful plants.

What ended up as a surprise, though, was that this vinegar, which I made to use medicinally ended up tasting amazing.  It is absolutely delicious.   We use it to make all of our salad dressings now.  Who knew, right?!

So as I weeded the seemingly monstrous invasion of some kind of amaranth in a section of one our fields this week, my joke was that the weed business was, truly, the business to be in.  And joke, though it was, we are almost ready to harvest one of the only other wild edibles besides nettles that we bring to market next week, its relative, lamb’s quarters.  It is, right now, a love/hate relationship.

Still, this subject has always fascinated me.  One of our goals on this farm is to nourish our land so that it can produce the most nourishing food possible.  But that the wild edible plants–the weeds–will always have be more nourishing fascinates me.  It also, thankfully, gives me a chance to pause and appreciate that in this somewhat constant glitch in of our system, the weeds, I can see the amazing beauty and design that is the natural world.  It reminds me that we, as land stewards and sustainable farmers, can utilize and mimic it, even if it is something we can’t fully recreate.

Because, in the end, we weeded like crazy this week.  We have our own agenda, and as pretty as those bindweed flowers are, that we have let them bloom is not great.  That they are climbing up our sweet, modern apple trees is not great.  They are not welcome here, on this farm.  At least in our fields.

And the agricultural mind has to feel this way, has to do this, even if we, on this farm, aim more for balance than anything.   The shifting and shaping of things towards our will is a part of farming.  We are amplifying what we what from any given piece of land, in terms of yield, by a lot.  We are doing the dictating.

So, some weeds, yes, we will take and use.  This is an area that I really do want to learn as much as I can about.  But, good lord, some of these weeds, though I appreciate them for their tenacity, their demise is the first thing I think about when I wake up.  There is much weeding to be done, always, at this time of year.  We have to work more than it seems like we have time to right now to get where we need to be.

But soon, the tiny plants we’ve put in the ground will be the vigorously growing ones, blooming.  And then, producing, wildly!  That they need a little help from us now is just part of the bargain we’ve struck with them.  The agreement of cultivation.  Of growing food.  And this has its own sense of beauty and design, even if its one best kept to by some really hard work on our part.  We keep our end of the bargain sewed to the seams of our dirty pants, our well worn, tired, and exhausted bodies, and our scratched and soar hands.  It evens out in the end, and I think this approach is a good balance for our times.  It’s our kind of growing wild.

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.

a bowl full of sunshine~lessons from the wild.

sunshine in a bowlplaying with flowersGrumbly to the bone the other day, I prodded myself and my small people out the door in hopes of letting the fresh air breath light into my bad mood and make everything okay again.  Or most everything.  My own lack of gratitude for a perfectly wonderful day and my hope to recapture it out in the sun pails in comparison to the weight and worry of those experiencing very real challenges and trials, as it does face to face with tragedy on the scale of marathons and countries and the whole hurting human race.

But those things I could manage to control, I knew, might be helped by some time outside.  And because I am easily influenced by the natural world towards happiness, and because a quick glance around my day to day life always serves to remind me just how small my own sometimes frustrations are, we quickly felt up for trying something new and something fun~dandelion jelly.

I have been keen this spring, more than ever, to pay attention to some of the weeds out here on the farm that can be useful.  This drive is mostly prompted by my slowly gathering desire to make more of our own medicines, but the truth is, spring weeds are often also great to eat.  The stinging nettle has been a part of our spring diet since a neighbor went out into the woods with Andre the very first spring of our marriage and collected some with him, returning back to our little mountain cabin to prepare them for dinner, much to my pregnant mind’s skepticism. Now, so many years down the road, they are a regular part of our business harvests too, and one of our top sellers.  We even start crave them come early spring, and we make batches and batches of pesto with them, both to eat and to freeze, while we also try to dry enough of them to make a wonderfully nourishing tea to drink throughout the year.  We love them.

But besides nettles, this spring I am noticing that cleavers grow like crazy out here too, and can be a healthful addition to smoothies or juiced and used to soothe the skin in case of injury, and made into a tincture for the lymphatic system.  Wild violets spring up and while they last, they add their cheer to our now lettuce based spring salads.  Plus they are one of the first sweet treats we can just go outside and nibble on, slowly inching us closer to the even sweeter and more snacky snap pea and  strawberry season.

But of course, the most ubiquitous of all these weeds to be so long revered and used is the dandelion.  Eat the leaves early, before flowering, and they can stimulate a body grown slow and weary from winter.  Use the flowers for jelly and wine to capture something sweet and pleasurable.  And if you go the mile, you can harvest the roots and they will do a fine job of helping heal you from the inside.  Always a delight for children, with seed heads that are wish makers extraordinaire–these are a friendly plant.

As we gathered a basket full of these flower heads and then sat in the grass and painstakingly but leisurely pulled off just the petals for making the jelly, the smallest among us dig in nearby dirt, unearthing salamanders and earthworms and giggles, while the older boys sat chatting with their mama about the simplest but sweetest of things.  In that moment, I could already taste this jelly in my mouth, this jelly that tastes like almost nothing at all.  It is simple and sweet, like spring.  Like our days.

I am so lucky.

These often maligned flowers really did brighten my spirits in both the playing with them like I would were I a child again, and in the slow, peaceful work they brought me, side by side my own children on a sunny spring day.  But mostly, they did this through the reminder that even weeds can have a purpose too.

Right now, in spring, this theme is still a pleasant one to take meaning from, and I see it touching some of my closest friends who are also like making metaphors.  One friend posted a picture of a thistle sprouting up on her farm and hearkened it to a symbol of perseverance.  Another friend’s daughter brought her a bouquet of these same wonderful yellow flowers alongside a bouquet of tulips and gave her pause to consider the beauty in all people.  And the herbalists amongst my crowd, of course, fully appreciate the deeper wisdom of weed culture.  Like I find comfort in a bowl full of sunshine, I find comfort in finding meaning, and I find even more comfort in seeing that this meaning is out there, rising from the earth, finding us all.

Come summer, we will be knee deep in weeds that will temper the growth of the plants we are purposefully cultivating in our fields if we don’t take the time to get rid of them.  They will inevitably take on a different, less pleasing meaning then.  But right now, in all their wild glory, they remind me that I have the blessing to be at ease.  That really, I have the duty to enjoy it all.  That this is the only proper response to a moment offered to you from this universe that is not wrought with hardship, not burdened or traumatized by forces outside your control.  That by being in joy if I can, I am being most sympathetic to those who can not.

Take your joy and do not be ashamed of it, because it is your moment.  Find your care and concern for the world at large and those you know who need it–and yourself when it is your turn–from the deepest part of your joy.  Then, abandon to the dandelions your more trivial concerns.  This way, the weight of your worries can find their most realistic proportions weighed against the more strangling weeds that come into this world.   We all have things to grumble about, and we are all legitimately and honestly free to experience them, but the perspective of weeds is this–most things are not as bad as they may appear.

If we are not ourselves in the darkness of a deadly nightshade patch, then we should try to find our own surroundings as pretty as we can.  We should take comfort in knowing that most everything around us in this world is useful and good and full of light, and then move forward from that point, that understanding.  There is solace to be found such.  There is, as this Wendell Berry poem so often comforts me with, peace to be found in these lessons of the wild.  And there is, if you can look closely, sunshine amongst the weeds.

be in joy

Through the bee’s eyes

So much depnds on how you look at it; on whether the sweet and beautiful children we adore are bickering with one another or are creating the most breathtaking drawings, forts, and stories, on whether or not we have a few extra bucks to buy some yarn with or other such fun purchase or we are staring at the checkbook wondering how to cover all those bills.  I am always in awe of this phenomenon.  One day this house can seem like it will never see order again and the farm will appear covered in weeds when the next, perhaps with the fresh eyes of a new day to view it all with, it will rival Eden in all its glory.  It all depends on the lens we are using.

As we gear up for one of our annual CSA open farms, we can’t help but think of “all” that needs to be done before the party.  This is the kind of event that immedietly brings out the worst sort of glasses for us to wear, not a hint of rose shading to help ease the glare that comes from certain areas of the farm (not to mention the house which is in mid-bedroom-switcheroo anyways).  All that seemed possible to keep up with in spring has reached its hey day, meaning that in those areas I didn’t make it to, the weeds I so desperately wanted to knock back have once again gone to seed. 

With just a few days in the midst of what is still a pretty busy time on the farm, I know that things are going to look mostly the same on Sunday as they do today.  We used to go crazy trying to whip this place into shape for such events–and we still do make this an opportunity to take care of certain things that we have been meaning to get to, things on the farm that get pushed to the side in favor of planting and weeding and harvesting the food crops–but I have also come to realize that it matters so much less than I used to worry it did.  The fun of these events is the getting together, the beautiful countryside, the spectacular view and warm summer evenings.  Sharing the growing space with the folks who eat from it.

So, like the bees and other wild critters who thoroughly enjoy not only the wild areas we intentionally create as homes for them and as buffers from our neighbors’ conventionally managed farm fields , but also the wild areas we meant to tend to that are now covered in thistles gone to seed, I will try to enjoy it all too.  The farmer doesn’t even want me to mess with those thistles anyways, he loves how many bees feed from their pretty purple flowers.   My take on it is a little different.  I figure since we provide a lot of bee forage from other plants on this farm, this one–so prickly and poking when it finds its way into the vegetable beds–I am going to try to get rid of, at least on this side of the property.  But since that didn’t happen this year, I am trying to look at it as I have in other years.  Positively.

Through the right lens, everything is as it should be.  The tale of this farm, this year, when you come to visit, is the tale of another year of living here, many things coming more and more to look like our vision of the farm, as well as many, many things that fell by the wayside.  It was a year with a new baby in tow, with three busy big kids to tend to, and lots of farming to be done.  All in all, what you see means good things happened.   It means time for the kids, for play, for summmer!  It means lots of food grown for our community.  And it has made a lot of bees very, very happy too.  Through their eyes, this place is a thing of beauty.  And when I look at it with my heart, that is what I see too.