Friday, August 16, 2013

farm tour retrospective

When we first arrived, the land buzzed with silence. Snow fell, hail fell, rain fell. The clouds passed in heavy formations above. The world woke up to spring. We hauled hot rocks into the greenhouse to keep the little starts warm. We busted ourselves raking, shoveling, tilling--making the beds for the summer's bounty.

A look back in pictures of where we started this year and how far we've come (see post below!)

at the very beginning:

first round of seedlings in the hoophouse:

before the new field was tilled:

 growing slowly in the sun:

beet harvest: 

my love and the sunflower babies in the kubota:

fresh spring lettuce: 

squash plants cozy in their tent: 

spring bouquet: 

grown up sunflower: 

farm tour: month 5

We've been farming for five months now, up in our little slice of valley. We've battled deers (ever so gently), flea beetles, frosts, heat. We've watered by hand, cultivated by hand, planted by hand, dug by hand. Patience and faith, patience and faith repeat themselves through our actions over and over, every time I stare at the carrot tops to see if they've grown overnight, every time we drag ourselves down the hill to cover up the tomatoes against a chill. Here's how it looks in the last brilliant and hot days of summer.

squash blossoms showing off in the hoophouse: 

stalwart tomato plants, restraining themselves to life in containers:

carrots washed and ready to munch:

a view to the west! carrots, peas, calendula, potatoes, compost, greens and the a-framed tomatoes:

sorry for the timestamp!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

propaganda and maple syrup

I have a love-hate relationship to kale. I love growing it, I love how it bunches, I could eat it everyday of the week. But in an adolescent strain of resentment like when your favorite band makes the Top 40, I kinda hate the fandom. So many t-shirts! So many twee slogans! So many other vegetables that deserve attention! 

Luckily for me, I work in a rural, low-key environment, slower on the trends than the rest of the country. (Socks with sandals, not a faux pas here.) And I also have a deer-attracting, hand-wringing abundance of fine and fancy kale. We planted lots in the spring, overcome with the names: Ragged Jack, Winter Red, Lacinato, Blue Curly Dwarf Scotch, Russian Winter White. To ease the glut, we've resorted to the oldest tactics in the books. In case you need to convince anyone in your life to get on the kale bandwagon, here's how: 

Step 1: Propaganda. Adam drew an innocent-looking fact sheet up, so that we could start a propaganda campaign in the lodge, under the guise of describing the varieties we're growing down in the garden. Who can resist hand drawn cartoon-vegetables? We picked the catchiest facts (kale: more iron per calorie than beef! Cancer-busting and body-supporting antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K! Mineral-rich in copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus!) and watched the plates fill up with the green stuff. 

Step 2: Maple Syrup. I had an impromptu stint as kitchen helper the other evening, so I resorted to a fail-safe kale newbie recipe. You sweat some shallots in coconut oil, toss in the kale, add a few tablespoons each of maple syrup, orange juice, and balsamic and cook with the lid on until the kale is bright green. The trick lies in the judicious turn off--kale overcooks in a heartbeat. Breakfast Kale! 

The Kale crisis of July 2013 has eased. Now if we just had some blank t-shirts out here….

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


After months of cold and rain, the sun returns. In the last few days, I feel myself shedding the remains of my winter self. Cold and rain lend a short temper, existential doom, and fantasies of future and past equatorial lives to my every moment. I can escape with hot coffee, with leggings and prayers, but only for so long. When the sun comes out, I come out too. 

Thus, a few evenings ago, I am picking wildflowers to make bouquets for the lodge. 

The evening sun beats hot on my shoulders, grasses scratch my bare calves, and mosquitoes sing in my ears. Fatigue and happiness set in. 

I spot flowers near the chicken coop. As I pass near the door, I can see that Jumper, Felicity and Sassy have sipped their water almost dry. I go to open the door, and…nothing. The sliding latch, much like me, shrank and retreated in the cold winter, making its slide in and out of the keyhole easy. Now the latch bulges with summer heat. I cannot budge it. I throw my body weight against it. I strain. I brace my feet and pull with both hands on the small piece of wood. My fellow farmer and sweet love manages the chicken coop so the swollen latch surprises me. I try again. I pant and grunt out, "How…does…he…do…this?" while pushing and pulling with all my weight. I covet his muscles. 

Farming, like many occupations in our modern world, remains male-dominated.*  I have encountered the repercussions of that system, and the larger system that supports it. (A small, vivid example: I arrive at the lodge last year. I am holding a shovel and hoe. I am introduced to the ten or so people sitting on the deck. As I shake the last man's hand, he says the first full sentence I've heard yet: "Why didn't you get pink-handled tools?" Eyewitnesses report that I retorted "That's your first strike," but I remember only flooding gratitude as I realized the culprit was a guest, not a crew member. )

The system that creates pink tools for certain genders and the attendant hilarious jokes also makes it easy to internalize a certain kind of rant. As I push and pull, I am not cursing the heat. I am not cursing my nemesis the cold. I am not cursing the builders of the coop. 

I am cursing my biceps. 

Damn it Laura. He can do this. You should be able to! Cmon cmon cmon. It gets nastier. I find myself casting into my past for times when I had more manly biceps. I think back to my days clearing trail in Vegas and to more recent days of lifting and dunking literal tons of mushroom logs. 

In the midst of the self-admonition, I see it. Innocent and obvious. A long-handled shovel by the door. A remembered comment flits through my mind. "Oh I use that shovel for the latch now." I wedge the shovel against the ground and tap its handle hard against the latch. Boom, a release. I laugh. 

But as I fill the water, and cluck at the chickens, I ponder shovels. Both men and women swim in the idea that somewhere, out there, someone with bigger muscles and shinier hair outperforms us, by virtue of their innate shininess. I assumed my love was simply stronger than me, instead of noticing his elegant solution, instead of recognizing our shared limitations. My sexist, inward rant blinded me to the shovel right in front of me. I watch the chickens gather around the water, wings nudging each other. Maybe we don't have to compete.They jostle, but all drink. I tap the latch back in and replace the shovel in its place by the door.

I stare at it a while and then head up the hill with my bucket of flowers. Maybe we can just look for shovels.

*Women are routinely paid much less than men for the same (low-paid) work. Cite: Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel, p. 237. According to the 2007 US census, 30% of farm owners are women. The National Farm Worker ministry cites women workers as making up 22% of the farm labor population. Do with those numbers what you will.