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

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!

Wendell Berry’s Testimony Against NAIS

My hero…Wendell Berry!  Make sure to listen to the audio of Mr. Berry’s testimony against NAIS on the link…here is a man who has always fought the good fight.