September, and then October, slipped behind me and somehow I didn’t work it out to send a newsletter. I wrote one. In August. Actually, the words that follow are that very newsletter; but for some reason it never left the confines of my computer. As September came, Anton and I each took a few moments, a few weekends, to step back from the farm, to go out in the world and learn things and meet people and sleep uncomfortably in tents and see old friends and feel our connection with those beyond our immediate and local farming community, and remember that we were people other than farmers who participated in activites other than farming (kind of).
At the Draft Animal Annual Gathering in Massachusetts, one of the farmers and horse trainers said: “The horses are fostering community.”
The next weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Herbal Conference one of the teachers and herbalists said: “The plants are bringing people together.”
When I set these two ideas beside one another, our work seemed to fall into place amidst horses and plants: bringing people together to foster community.
The other day I read the words which we state in the opening of our webpage as one of the central missions of our farm: building “resilient community.” Anton wrote these words, or maybe it was our former farming partner Sarah, some years ago, and I have continuously read them, but never stopped to read them. But I did, and I got excited, about what that might mean, to me, to you, to us. Resilience.
Another CSA season is drawing to a close this week. An eventful, scary, terrible, beautiful, hard, sad, angry, educational, bountiful, delicious, experimental season, is drawing to a close. Though we have already said it: Thank You. We couldn’t have gotten here without you. The end always comes with sadness, gratitude, and relief. We’re so glad to find rest and restoration in winter, and will be so blessed to do it over again in 2015.
What follows is a mental exploration on our work as farmers. It came out of a certain restlessness not with our work itself, but with the role of the farmer in society at large. Of course through writing it, and through the dawning of fall, I am moving toward the rest I seek. Though my body always tries to reject the coming of cold: (my skin chaps, my hands lose sensation in the cold of morning, my shoulders and toes want to be bare in the sun, constant dehydration sets in), Autumn, and then Winter, comes like a great wave of relief to my inner self: root vegetables to ground me, herbs for health, books for the mind, friends and family for peace and well-being.
“I don’t think there is an argument for being a farmer. There are only two reasons to farm: because you have to, and because you love to. The ones who choose to farm choose for love. Necessity ends the argument, and so does love.”
-from Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter
Farming is always the question for me, and likewise always the answer to the question. The conversation goes something like this:
Nevertheless, the question does not dissipate or diminish within me, but stays always as a background to my work, my movement. In return, my movements answer, “yes, yes,” and I carry on, with relentlessness and ferocity and passion and joy—like an addiction, like a song, like a way—the only way I know—of healing self and world—with sadness, and necessity, and resignation, and awe—like a choice that I previously made and now must carry through to fruition, to the end of the season, and then, to the end of a lifetime. Like a thread I must sew with grace and tenderness, carrying my movements and the movements of my ancestors and yet unborn children to some sort of unnamed end (i.e. beginning).
While To Farm or Not To Farm is always the question for me, the mantra to my day, I also know it is never a choice to farm, it is simply who I am, and what I hope I will never get away from because I will never want to—because of love and necessity. Likewise it is never a choice to farm well, or to farm with horses, or to farm without chemicals, it is simply the only way I can imagine farming.
People often ask me why I farm: usually they mean, or I assume they mean: why do you want to work long, hard days doing smelly, demanding, dirty work for little pay? Why do you want to subject yourself and your livelihood to the whims of weather and climate? Why are you choosing to do the work of the unchosen?
A few years ago, I met a college kid while volunteering in downtown Baltimore. When he asked me my line of work, and I responded, “I’m a farmer,” he looked confused for a minute, skeptical, and then asked, hesitantly, “What’s a farmer?” I would like to believe that we have not yet moved so far into a removal of the human being from the earth that anyone can actually not know what a farmer is. I’ve read children’s books: I know that at least some romanticized and gender/ racially/ sexual-orientationally warped concept of farming is still presented to small children; this young, educated man knew what a farmer was. What he could not amalgamate and organize in his mind was his concept of Old MacDonald’s pigs saying “oink oink” here and there, and this young, blonde, female in downtown Baltimore who grew vegetables to feed human beings as a profession.
There are of course moments, or months, or seasons, after long-day followed by long-day, after still not getting everything done—or, rather, still feeling like I didn’t get enough done, after still not quite having the money to pay ourselves a living wage, the question of farming is like a resounding ache: Will we make it? Can we do this?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the New York Timess OpEd from August 9th entitled Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers. The title is everything a title should be: fierce, fast, penetrating. Words that leave all of us who still eat food with a resounding ache. Author (and shellfish/ seaweed farmer) writes, “The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living.” The author’s words repeatedly felt eerily, sickeningly, identical to many of the conversations and issues which occupy Anton and my minds and hearts in our toils: the price of land reflecting development pressure rather than its 'worth' as farm land, the dreaming of children being “cheaper than the real thing,” the need for off-farm work to supplement our farm income.
I have been wondering about these words, wondering if they are the whole story. There are moments, and then more moments, when I think, when I know: oh yeah, we’ll make it. Would I give up this work, these sensory inputs, this food, these moments, this community partnership, just to, as the author says, "make a living"? Of course, we are working toward the possibility of both, and we just might be able to get there.
The other half of the question of farming for me is the questions of successors, of the next generation, of carrying sustainability beyond my own reach, teaching the minds and hands of those who will carry this work beyond my capacity to do so, of looking at myself and others straight in the face and telling them: Let Your Children Become Farmers. The successors may be my children, and I believe often enough that they could be, or they may be my nieces and nephews, or the children of a friend, a neighbor, a CSA member, some lost being who happens upon the farm one day when we are getting old or slow or tired, and answers, out of love or necessity, yes.
When my five year old city-dwelling niece was visiting recently, she asked me why my partner and I were not having children. I told her we were “not ready”: that we were not financially stable. She suggested that she offer me some parenting advice, to better prepare us so that we would be “ready,” and I invited her to do so. She then went on to list off advice of how to care for my unborn children: Feed them when they’re hungry. Give them names when their born. Take them to gently-moving streams for them to walk in and play in. But the one I keep coming back to: If you’re still farming, teach your children how to farm.
In necessity, love, and resilience,
Lisa and Anton
We hope to see you in 2015. If you want to, Join Here.
"Sometimes I was grateful because I knew I ought to be, sometimes because I wanted to be, and sometimes a sweet thankfulness came to me on its own, like a singing from somewhere out in the dark."
-from Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter
Dear Friends and Family,
A few scattered field notes from our life here at Good Work...
A lot of people have been talking to me about food being "wasted" lately--about not wanting to let food "go to waste"--a respectable urge. As the saying goes, "waste not, want not," and, if your childhood was anything like mine, I can understand where this sentiment comes from. I came from a household where uneaten dinners were saved in seran wrap in the fridge until bellies decided they were hungry again, where we had to coax and plead with our father not to eat the forgotten-about pumpkin pie topped with a bright green fur a few weeks after Thanksgiving, but to instead throw it away. I value this frugality, for sure. I am not one to opt for wastefullness.
But on a farm, things operate under different perameters. It took me about 6 years of farming to let go of the concept of "wasting food." When I first started farming, I spent my every-waking hour trying to freeze, can, and dehydrate any green tomato or half-cabbage-moth-eaten piece of Kale in the field. Over time, I realized personal sanity is more important than saving compost from being composted, and I let go of some instincts and obsessions. Although I am the first to try and donate any possible excess food we have to those families in our community who might need this offering, and I believe preserving the harvest for winter is not only empowering, it is also necessary, I have learned to appreciate the value of letting the unwanted, uneaten, and unsalvageable produce decompose, as it surely aught, as I hope that I, too, get to do one day some time away from now. In a spiritual sense, I am not sure if the value of my own life is any greater or lesser than that of the soil microbes, worms, and fungi, and so, I am just as happy to feed them as I am to feed myself, and in fact all we are really doing is feeding one another--those microbes and I. In this system, in an ideal system, there is no waste. It is not a concept which can exist, for where did the food come from--out of the sun, rain, air, and earth itself, and so, is it wasteful to return these plant materials, just leaves and fruits and roots, back to from where they came? I would encourage you to think it is not.
Though some people might still be cringing when they remember last winter, I am happy to welcome the coming of fall, the pendulum swinging back to a quietness and slowness, the momentum of summer bringing us to its natural conclusion. In a sense, fall might come a little earlier to us farm folk; I calibrate fall not by the weather patterns or the scent of the air or the color of the trees, but by when I need to seed and plant which crops in order to get them to a harvestable stage before the cold nights and short days come to a head. A few weeks ago, looking at the crop plan, autumn become fast upon us. Seed packets generally list the "days to maturity" of each crop, denoting how many days of warmth and light are needed to carry the plant from seed to crop. Parsnips, at 120 days, are one of the longest DTM crops we grow (we seeded those back in April), while radishes and salad turnips are some of the shortest, at around 25-30 days (and will go in the ground this week)--though both might show-up in your CSA share around the same time this fall. Last week marked the last of the greenhouse seeding for the year--all of the head lettuces for the remainder of the season will have to do their growing now, and then will quite happily hold in the field during the cooler months of October and early November, awaiting harvest.
We practice Food Justice at Good Work in part by connecting with local food banks with whom we are able to share our abundance--I do not write this to toot our own horn, but rather to express the extension of our work into the community beyond our CSA, which is only possible because of the financial commitments of our CSA families. Sure, driving to the food bank on a Saturday morning, I might be inclined to believe I am doing good work, but, in moments of peace, which is to say, in moments of truth, I become accutely aware that I am not the one donating these vegetables, we are merely the messengers--with a whole community behind us enabling us to do this work, and serve needs around us. Justfood.org defines Food Justice as, "communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals. People practicing food justice leads to a strong local food system, self-reliant communities, and a healthy environment." Though we have a long way to go, this year we have connected with two local pantries--in Zionsville and Coopersburg, where we are forming, we hope, strong connections that will allow us to access a population of our community who may not have the financial means, transportation, appetite, or interest to connect with us through CSA just yet.
In our planting calendar this month, the virtue of the month is outlined as: Compassion leads to Freedom. When I can remember, I use these words as a sort of mediation, a backdrop against which to reflect and consider my actions and my thoughts--naturally when I am without compassion, it is my own freedom which is at stake, and there is a beautiful surrender and a heavy humor in this. It is only through Compassion--for Self and Others, for horses and dog--that I am without the futility of frustration and anger, and am instead free.
And so, we thank you for farming with us, and eating with us, and allowing us to be generous when we are able,
Lisa and Anton
"An exercise to begin each mowing session helps remind me of the shape of the movement. I stand erect, neither slumping nor rigidly at attention, and consider gravity as the funamental force of the earth, which acts upon my entire body at every moment. Gravity is an acceleration, as opposed to a steady velocity; an ever-new force that pulls me downward faster and faster. I respond with acceleration upward, in opposition, also renewed every moment, an anti-gravity. I prefer the terms energy or spring to anti-gravity for denoting this counter-movement; it is not an anti-earth force, or a rejection. The earth is the entity from which we spring. We are the earth's offspring. The other connotations of spring are all correct. Neither pulled back to merge with the source, nor flying uncontrollably in escape, I stand errect, firmly grounded yet springing toward heaven. The stance itself is an act of creativity."
from The Scythe Book by David Tresemer
Over the past few weeks, we have had a growing contingent of folks seeking us out to come work with us and volunteer at the farm, in addition to our three commited work shares who have been with us throughout the season. We warn people--or try to--when they come: the sun is hot, the dirt is dirty, the work is monotonous, the bugs bother, the ivy itches, we do a lot of weeding. But they come anyway--mostly young people, with curiousity or excitement or something I do not know drawing them in.
Anton and I do not fancy ourselves managers (of people), and, even if we could afford it, we were unsure if we were ready to hire an employee this year. But volunteers are a little different--we may direct or lead or suggest or teach a little here and there, but we do not manage. Instead we engage and are engaged by. Instead, we are given an opportunity to show young people a bit about growing food, one 3-or-4 hour chunk at a time. As author David Tresemer writes, “I find that, once the cultural aversion to physical work is overcome, we have a good time of shared work.”
What draws people to a farm--to come work in the dirt for an hour or a day? Sure, we can offer an opportunity for a nice tan and decent arm muscles, but there must be an incentive deeper than that.
A former co-worker used to say "it all comes out in the carrot patch," meaning: once we were out on hands and knees weeding, thinning, or harvesting carrots for the second or third hour, the questions get deeper, the conversations more intriguing, the honesty of a higher caliber. When you're engaged in physical labor, occupying body, mind, and heart, fueled by sun and breeze, suddenly you find yourself recounting the memories of a lost loved one, debating radical land reform, sharing life goals and visions and dreams for a more beautiful world.
I don't know if this is what brings people to voluntarily work on a farm. As our neighbor was leaving after his first day volunteering (where we weeded for 3 straight hours), he said to me, "I'm so glad something like this is happening in Zionsville while I'm still here." The generosity of a 17-year old left me grounded and grateful.
People bring life to this farm. As Farmer John of Angelic Organics says, "The more one takes a farm into one’s heart, the more restorative and transformational will this be for humanity and the earth alike. And the more you are involved with our farm, the more we can get to know you. This will help us to find our way together."
With our first, and second, weeks of CSA pick-ups these past weeks, we were immediately reminded of why we farm: to feed people, of course. Come for the food, stay for the company.
Lisa and Anton
And a few notes on farming, too...
The cover crops are in an incessant routine of coming and going, according to Anton's meticulous excell spreadsheet(s) of calculations and planning. The first fields of buckwheat (see top-most image above, left and right bottom) have been scythed or mowed, and the later plantings are alive with the vibrant hum of native polinators and honey bees. The sudan (see two center images above) has been mostly mowed down by horses, and is now starting to regrow, along with the clover underseeded beneath--clover which will "fix" Nitrogen out of the atmosphere to make avaliable for our crops next year.
By mid-August we'll start to plant oats and peas, which will die in the winter frosts or "winter-kill," leaving a shallow mulch that is easy to disc in for our earliest 2015 plantings.
We started harvesting the storage onions (see below), with many more to come. After they lie drying on the greenhouse tables for 2-4 weeks, these onions will be ready to be cleaned and stored all fall and winter long (we hope!).
Garlic harvest coming soon!
What did you do with your share last week? Got a favorite family recipe for beets? Pickles? Zucchini? Share it with us!
“Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it.”
Gilead Marilynne Robinson
Though we have previously shared some of the content of this newsletter with our members over the past few weeks, we wanted to additionally share our story with the larger Good Work Farm Community of friends, family, past members, neighbors, future members, and others who keep in touch with our farm through our monthly newsletters.
Earlier this month, Anton and I received news that our suspicions have been confirmed that our crops were suffering from herbicide residues remaining in the soil from the past farmer. We had invited our extension agent to the farm to view our crops and take samples; the pesticide specialist at Penn State Extension confirmed that our crops are being affected by a particular herbicide which can linger in the soil for up to 18 months. While we knew we would be transitioning a conventional field to organic production, and expected to be dealing with issues of compaction, nutrient deficencies, and past pesticide use, we were startled to be facing a pesticide with an 18-month lag time. As growers who are committed to sustainable agriculture, we came to decide that we could not in good conscience offer our members vegetables from this land this season. This has been difficult and heartbreaking news for us—this farm is not only our livelihood, but also our passion; likewise growing healthy, nutrient-dense food for our community and caring for land and soil is the basis of our work, and having that be denied to us by the shortsighted practices of conventional agriculture was a great sadness for us to bear.
We began to act quickly—with the support of fellow farmers and the Lobach Family from whom we lease land, we set about mowing and plowing up a hayfield on a piece of land adjacent the farm, and preparing this land to bear the fruits of love, labor, and vegetable seeds. We offered our members the option of continuing the CSA for a shortened 14-week period, beginning in early August—and most of our members affirmed that they were willing and able to continue on this round-about journey with us, and wait a little longer for the bounty.
While there is no immediate antidote to alleviate herbicide residues this season, we are given an opportunity to commit to this land and to witness its process of healing. We are assisted by the gifts of time and rain and soil microbes, which heal, wash away, and digest all things. We will be extensively cover cropping the land for the remainder of this year, which will allow for nutrients and organic matter to be built in the soil, along with adding soil amendments, offering biodynamic herbal remedies, and farm-based compost, which will further lead to the health of the soil.
Harvesting vegetables and giving them to people to take home feed to their families or share with friends is the Communion of our work. I do not mean this in a sacrilegious way, but rather a deeply spiritual one. Through the process of eating we take in what the earth and elements have offered. It is, or can be for some of us, a deeply intimate experience—to take in this nourishment, this piece of the world, and let it become a part of us.
We are each in process of making our Peace with the world. We are working to build trust with the land—allowing the land to trust us, asking the land to trust us. Humans have severed that relationship as best they can. But now, with humility and vulnerability, we come back to the land, we ask forgiveness; we offer ritual, prayer, and good work to build what has been lost, hollowed, or forgotten.
The signs of blessedness and abundance have surrounded us during this period of difficulty; after my faith was shaken good and hard, I have found a trust built on the generosity and kindness of those who surround us. Each day we have neighbors stopping by to ask how they can support us, friends coming over to bring us plants and help us put plants in the ground. We are being lent equipment, being handed chocolate bars and bunches of rhubarb, adorned with loving words of strength and affirmation, receiving financial support from CSA members, friends, and family near and far. We are humbled by this generosity—I can only accept and receive it when I remember it is not, strictly speaking, for me—I hope I am only a vehicle through which these gifts are given, so that I can better work to serve the Earth—its maker, and its inhabitants, with something close to carefulness and grace.
We Thank you, and we could not do it without you,
Lisa and Anton
“There is a reality in blessing… It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.”
Gilead M. Robinson
If, as the saying goes, the footsteps of the farmer are the best fertilizer, has any bit of truth within it, then our farm should be thriving in fertility right now. My cramped feet have wandered all over this farm in the past week: seeding cover crops, seeding pasture grasses, seeding walkways of grasses, setting-up a deer fence, driving horses, planting potatoes, monitoring the deer fence for signs of intruders. Walking and walking, considering the thousands of individual plants I was (hopefully) giving life to, conceiving of all the other work that still had to be done, concentrating on sending psychic messages to the deer population to find alternate pathways and alternate food sources within the neighborhood.
And now, I have come to rest. With a sore pectoral muscle from an accidental, but firm, swift horsehoof to the chest, and inches of rain falling from the sky, a hiatus has been staked out for me to sit and heal and wait, until the walking begins again.
The plants, belatedly, are journeying from greenhouse to coldframe to soil, where they are hopefully rooting into the Earth and reaching up to the Sun. We’ll be sending out an e-mail later in the month with notifications as to when the first CSA pick-up of vegetables will be. We’re anticipating the first or second week of June… and we look forward to greeting each of you soon.
If you haven’t signed up for this season yet, I offer a little appetizer for thought, to warm your palate up to the feast which we’ll be offering you all Summer and Fall Long:
Top 10 Reasons why joining Good Work Farm CSA 2014 is a good idea:
(10) To pick flowers for someone you love in a field at dusk after a long workday in a bustling office or caring for children or serving the public or writing a thesis. To take this time for yourself, to breathe with unconditional breath the unconditioned air.
(9) To take on the opportunity for teaching: to teach your neighbors how best to prepare an abundance of zucchini, to teach your children how to tell when peas are ripe, to teach your farmers how to better support your health, your lifestyle, and your needs.
(8) To take your kids to a place without screens.
(7) To take yourself to a place without screens.
(6) Fresh Tomatoes in August. Remember what that tastes like? BLTs. Mozzarella, Basil, and Tomato sandwiches. Cherries right off the vine. Big fat heirlooms, succulent and sweet, sliced thick with salt and pepper.
(5) To linger on the edge of a field on a hot summer day observing cutting-edge 20th century farm technology in action, watching the strength of willing horses pull a plow—turning-in organic matter, making way for the planting of food.
(4) To preserve open space, to keep farmland farmed, to support a family farm in your neighborhood that is working toward sustaining and enriching an agricultural community by caring for land, to the best of their knowledge and ability, in a slow and thoughtful way.
(3) Tender lettuces, sweet carrots, fresh garlic, new potatoes, basil pesto, steamed greens.
(2) To be a part of a farm. We value our farm as a community asset where you, our members, are invited to aid in the formation of a culture of acceptance, food, exchange, art. It is a community of richness and delight, of humor and joy, of seriousness and work, of creativity and forgiveness, of growth and exploration, of building soil and space for the next generation, and the next.
(1) It is through an attunement with the Earth that we will each learn a love of patience. A patience for the seeds to germinate, the rain to slow and cease, the dry spells to turn wet, bodies to heal, a community to form, soils to thrive, melons to be in season, callings, questions, and prayers to be answered.
Of course, we want these things now, or sooner. But in so wanting, we deny the slow unfolding, we forget that our timelines and datebooks and anticipations lay false claim over a process of growth and decay which is timeless, and so is not ours to claim.
Keep in Touch,
Lisa and Anton
Join the CSA here.
Sign-up for a Daily Loaf Bread Share here.
Sign-up for a Ledamete Grass Pastured Chicken Share here. (Remember--May 19th deadline for this one!)
“To undertake the task of keeping a modern farm enterprise afloat is to also engage in a practice for refining the human spirit. The underlying paradoxes of the cosmos is reflected in the dichotomy of order and chaos that characterizes any farming system. After all, we may use a certain amount of machinery on our farm, but the farm itself is a living system comprised of a multitude of highly unpredictable yet completely interdependent entities and factors. To become ‘real farmers’ we must wed our individual process of self-becoming to the evolving reality of this living breathing farm.”
-Stephen Leslie, from Small Farmer’s Journal Fall 2010
There is this scene in the hit 2000 film Almost Famous (14-year-old Lisa Miskelly’s selected Movie Of The Year) where two of the groupie hippie chicks have a conversation entirely composed of the sentence, “It’s all happening.” While they were referring to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll in the early 1970s, this has been, of late, my mantra concerning growing vegetables in 2014:
Good Work Farm 2014
It’s All Happening.
March came to a close with the gentle pitter-patter of rain falling on soil just-barely-dried-out from winter snow melt, the pounding of rain on the outside of plastic greenhouses, the smell of wet horses and a wet dog. We found a small window in there to plow-up enough ground for potatoes, peas, onions, and other early-season crops, and even managed to put the horses to work discing the driest field.
The month has been a whirlwind of checking things off the expansive but sometimes-shrinking to-do list. Our barn and fields are finally full of all of the equipment we’ll need to plow, disc, harrow, and cultivate this season’s crops and pastures with a team of horses; we’ve nearly maxed out our capacity in our rented space at the Seed Farm greenhouse with baby chard, scallions, lettuces, broccolis, flowers, and herbs growing heartier every day; after completing the cold frame at our new site, we brought all of the onions over to “harden off”—to get ready for the wind, rain, and cold of the real world outside of a climate-controlled incubator environment; we’ve been on a continuous shopping-spree of consciously chosen treasures—from cover crop seed to greenhouse lumber—we are steadily acquiring all of the tools and supplies necessary to transition these stark fields into the vibrancy of flavor and color that a diversified vegetable farm provides a landscape.
When horses roll, it is magnificent. Work a horse hard, get him good and sweaty, take off his harness and brush him down well, turn him out in the pasture and he will give a good roll. Once, maybe twice. More than that could denote trouble (because horses also roll when they experience colic or other painful digestive difficulties). I always watch to make sure that he stops. He gets himself good and dirty on the bare ground, itching the scratchy spots, massaging out a sore back, throwing-up those limbs in the air in some announcement of freedom or boredom, and then hoisting himself up with great and awkward effort. It’s a nice pause to the day, like a commercial break or an intermission, where what is being advertised is the free and unconventional abandon of all dictated or unspontaneous movement. Plants and Animals offer up this gift: an obliviousness to the fickle concerns of humans. Unlike me, the horses do not care about the commuters along Kings Highway slowing their cars to gawk at horses working in harness. They are just walking, trudging, doing what is asked of them.
Quoting NPR, my yoga teacher said last week, “First you collect the dots, then you connect the dots.” So here we are: Spring, collecting and connecting some semblance of lovely dots which are forming plain and meaningful connections: community, nutrition, land, work, food.
Take a minute to roll,
Lisa and Anton
I suggest that a prerequisite for gaining a living relation to the world as human beings is the ability to open ourselves through attentive perception. This living relation begins when we go out, actively and yet in the mode of receptivity, take in, and then engage with what we discover. In the process we become beings of place, even if we are on the move. We are attending to and taking in some of what the world offers up. In contrast, we are placeless when we are caught up with or consumed with ourselves, when we notice only what we have known before. If we want to open ourselves and root ourselves in the world in a living way we need to develop pathways to get out into experience, to become more conscious of immediate experience, and to learn to work with our ideas in such a way that they do not place barriers between ourselves and the richness of the world.
Craig Holdrege Thinking Like a Plant
“We are the nuclei of fertile hope manifest properly searching to accumulate the golden intangibles.”
Lynn Miller A Mulch of Time in Small Farmer’s Journal
The onions germinated. If you have not seen onions germinate yet in this lifetime, I will try to depict this simple image. Onions emerge as thin bright green straight leaves perpendicular to the soil, with a neatly folded-over elbow pointing straight to the sky. Then when the plants grow a little taller, the tip of the onion leaf is freed from the soil, the elbow unfolds, and the tip begins its assent toward the sun. They do not bear cotelydon (first, or false, leaves) like most germinating seeds, but begin as true leaves.
Little steadies and comforts me so much as germinating seeds, reassuring in their commitment to grow new life, even with frozen ground and a 7-day forecast (mostly) predicting the continuation of the cold. But inside the greenhouse, seeds are abandoning their seed-ness and becoming living plant beings—rooting, photosynthesizing, reproducing (or trying to). Observer, Botanist, and Writer Craig Holdrege says of the seed, “It cannot be a plant-which means to be a becoming being-unless it gives up its isolation and draws from the world.”
A lot is happening. As promised by many—those friends who kept up the faith when it was waxing poetic and waning internal—after the long, confusing, labyrinthical journey to get exactly where we are, we got here. Two weeks ago we signed a lease on a beautiful 10-acre property and barn in Zionsville—situated not two miles down the road from our former home at The Seed Farm. It happened so anticlimactically, and was followed by such an urgent need to hasten work, I failed to announce it ceremoniously to my friends and family, and almost forgot what a generous gift this was—The Gift Of Good Land. We breathed a sigh of relief, we went out for ice cream, we got to work.
The same week, we visited the team of horses who will shortly become our working companions for this season and, we hope, a long time after that. Duke and Daisy, a team of Percheron-Morgan crosses with stocky build, small feet, and long hair, most recently have worked giving wagon rides out West in Dauphin County. With a work history which includes logging, farm work, and pulling carts on the road, we’re hoping they get along fine as produce farmers.
And so, as Anton likes to point out in the middle of a hard day’s work, “We’re Farmin’ Now, Lisa!—We Are Farmin’ Now.” And we are. Signing a lease in conjunction with purchasing horses launched us into Barn-Clean-Out-Mode, that special task of donning respirator and work gloves and sorting through the remains which some farmer left behind for mice, raccoons, and time to nest in, poop in, and claim for their own. It is beautiful work—to make what was unusable or unused both useable and good—full of the discoveries of small untreasured treasures—another door in an unlikely place, a hand-stitched pillow-case, a clean-swept wooden floor. To witness the work which went into the construction of such a structure, a vessel, and to notice the small acts which were offered so as to make a room suitable for some forgotten purpose.
In the luxuriousness of emptied space, Anton and I are learning how to build horse stalls. It seems we will finish this job just in time to learn how to build a greenhouse. Thankfully, we both noted today, our experience of greenhouse construction far surpasses our knowledge of stall-building, so, we’re at least limiting our challenges as we take on one more lovely and unlikely feat.
In fertile hope and golden intangibles,
Lisa and Anton
Caramelized Onions over a bed of Purple-Top Turnips in Rosemary-Oregano Cream Sauce
Serves 3-4 as a main dish or 5-6 as a side dish. Something filing and simple for an early spring meal.
You Will Need:
3 large Purple Top Turnips, scrubbed, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1-2 T lipids--olive oil, butter, lard, or bacon fat
1 T dried oregano, 1 generous pinch dried rosemary
salt and pepper, coarse grind
1 T plus of balsamic vinegar
1/3-1/3 C heavy cream
1 large onion, sliced as you like, into 1/2 rounds or strips, thin
2 T butter or olive oil
salt and pepper to taste--a touch
1. Heat heavy, large skillet to medium heat, add fats, then add turnip cubes. Add salt and pepper. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes until slightly browned. Cover and continue to cook, continuing to stir occasionally. Add a teaspoon of water from time to time, when pan gets too dry and vegetables start to stick. Add herbs. When turnips soften to a nice tenderness (not mushy), uncover and add balsamic vinegar.
2. Meanwhile: heat a second skillet to medium heat and add 2 T butter (or oil). Put in onions, salt, and pepper. Continue to stir regularly and keep a close eye on these onions. Let them brown to a deep golden, without burning. Turn down heat if needed. Leave uncovered and continue to stir.
3. When turnips are tender, add cream and let simmer for 3-6 minutes until liquids have reduced and thickened, and turnips are completely tender.
Serve turnips over a bed of rice, with onions setting on top. Garnish with fresh parsley, if available.
It is past 11 p.m. on a Sunday night in early-to-mid February, but it seemed urgent, lying in bed with feet too cold to fall asleep, that I look at the planting calendar and decide, based on any number of seemingly unrelated factors (planetary alignment, my niece’s fifth birthday, harvest schedules, when the greenhouse heat would be turned on), exactly what day we would seed scallions, spring onions, and parsley: the first sets of seeds to be sown in the greenhouse in 2 (yikes!) weeks. I seem to be taking this night to remind myself, in an orderly mental fashion, of all the things I have possibly procrastinated on over the past month, each of which may or may not catch-up with me in a haunting and not altogether easy way over the coming month. My mind is overwhelmingly occupied, alternating between my obsessive account of the work to be accomplished in the next 2, 4, and 6 week increments, and an ongoing reverberation of the word saturated. Saturated. I don’t really know why.
Merriam Webster Online: Saturated: unable to absorb or dissolve any more. Of a color: PURE.
This sums it up: unable to take on (absorb) any more than what I have, unable to let any of it go (dissolve). Then, in the pigment of a color: pure, dense, full, immense; looking into a sky so blue it seems to encompass you; feet crunching through snow so white it swallows you. To be saturated is to be heavy, stifled, and yet so full, like a color thick and rich to my senses.
As February dawned, and “blogpost” entered my To-Do list, I searched for that thematic element which would capture whatever truth was surrounding the plight and pleasures of Good Work Farm this mid-winter (or is it end of winter?). It seems no other meditation quite sums up our work these days, in an all-encompassing way, as the intersection of land and community. For what (and whom) do we do our work? On what ground will this work be done? On what piece of earth shall we land?
The tangibles of this involve the invitation to new members to join our CSA; and the frustrating, demoralizing, and omnipresent work to secure a lease—cross t’s, dot i’s, and jump through, on, or over any hoop, hell, or highwater which might stand in our way.
The theoretical endeavor toward land and community is empowering and joyful—a movement of assurance.
In his essay Good Farming and the Public Good, Donald Worster poses the question: “What is the public good in agriculture and what kind of farming will most likely achieve it?” The second part of that question is an easy one for me: we know (or spend every day learning) what practices we will use, and work toward, to farm well. Wendell Berry calls this “kind of farming” good farming.
What is the public good of agriculture?—so many phrases pop into my mind: land preservation, ecosystem resilience, human health (mental, spiritual, emotional). In order for farming to be good for the public, it must achieve more than providing cheap or abundant food, it must provide food which is nourishing, fun, delightful; it must care for land that is left open for the nourishment, fun, and delight of a community; it must gather people to one another to celebrate and mourn, to harvest, to acknowledge and share in good-ness, to saturate themselves in work and play and food and world.
Wendell Berry writes, “Human continuity is virtually synonymous with good farming, and good farming obviously must outlast the life of any good farmer. For it to do this… we must have community. Without community, the good work of a single farmer or a single family will not mean much or last long. For good farming to last, it must occur in a good farming community—that is, a neighborhood of people who know each other, who understand their mutual dependencies, and who place a proper value on good farming.”
In Good Farming and Mutual Dependencies,
Lisa and Anton
What else have we been doing with our snow days?
You’ll notice that the website and 2014 Commitment Form got a facelift, thanks to our good friend and designer Matt who has dedicated himself to helping GWF align the content of our work with a proper face to portray in image what we aim to achieve in deed.
We’re still involved in the daily work of securing those lasting partnerships of land and horses to find both place and traction for our farm.
Although our CSA Membership grows each week, we continue to seek new members to join us in 2014, and encourage folks to pass our information along to friends and neighbors who are looking to eat some delicious vegetables all season long. (Contact us if you can help us market by hanging a flier in your place of work or worship!)
I made these using our last mini baby pam pumpkin, so small it fit in my hands. This served two as a generous side-dish.
You will need:
1 pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into 1/3" to 1/2" slices
2-3 T (be generous!) of a blend of dried herbs (I used a grind of fennel, oregano, thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes, coarse sea salt, rosemary, sage, and dried onion)
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
a few gratings of a hard cheese (like parm or an aged cheddar/ gouda) with a micro-plane or other fine grater
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Toss pumpkin slivers in herbs (including salt and black pepper), garlic, and olive oil. Use hands to ensure pumpkins are properly coated.
Lay out in a single sheet on a caste iron or baking sheet. Roast at 400 for about 15-20 minutes. Turn over (the bottoms will brown) and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until flesh is soft (test with a fork, or by tasting a bite). Remove from oven; use a fine grater to grate a small amount of cheese over the top. Cheese will melt immediately, forming crispy morsels of flavor atop this delightful dish.
You’re Invited! -- Please Join us as CSA share members in 2014, Please Help us Outreach to the Community Now!
Please join us in 2014! We are currently accepting share members to join us this season. If you are new to CSA, new to Good Work Farm, or have questions about joining, please contact us at email@example.com to learn more about us and our growing practices.
Ready to join? Click here to download a membership form.
PLEASE HELP US reach a broader selection of the community. Please contact us if you can support our marketing efforts by hanging up a Good Work Farm CSA flier at your place of work, place of worship,
school, or other community center. We can drop-off fliers to your home if you have a place where they can be viewed by your community.
Pick-up Times Announced! Pick-ups will be Tuesdays and Fridays from 2-7 p.m. (Location TBA soon!) If you have already sent in a Commitment Form, please reply with your desired pick-up day.
“And I am in that delicious and important place, roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise.”
Mary Oliver, from Foolishness? No, It’s Not
Anton and I are engaged in something which Anton refers to as “computer farming.” It is not particularly fun or refreshing, and it is much harder to self-motivate when performing acts such as the movement of numbers on excel spreadsheets than the movement of a body in a field of silence and sun, engaging with the earth, growing food in that most tactile of ways. But this planning is necessary, and what the time calls forth.
In the warmth of an unexpected winter thaw, yesterday I put on overalls, gathered a cabin-fevered dog and our bucket of compost, and went to go wander around last season’s Good Work Farm fields: peek at overwintering plants, wonder after the remnants of green leafy vegetables, and be in a place where a dog can be a dog, and a woman can be a woman. Warm air, sloppy, saturated, soggy fields, and a few remaining rotting frosted kale stalks and cabbage heads welcomed me; it felt good to amble around a piece of land left open for the growing of food, a place in which I am most familiar and content. I moved back the thick bed of
straw to see what garlic stalks might be poking through the muddy earth—blanched pale yellow from sunlessness under their protective blanket; I moved through the rows of crops to see if any edible leaf miraculously made it through negative six degrees and could be salvaged for dinner . None did.
Then, we are also in the beginning, middle, or end of an unmapped process called Buying Horses. A process of adjudication and feeling, a process of carefully calculating pros and cons, and then listening to our oh-so-quiet-and-indecipherable intuition to tell us which horses we so deeply, gutturally, unambiguously, connect with.
So far we have visited, wondered about, and driven three teams, with unlimited more to meet, drive, and
discuss before we decide on the pair who will be our work partners for this Spring, and coming years. Buying horses is full of unknowns, for what can you uncover in an hour or even a day driving and working a team, when it will take the better part of a decade to learn the intricacies of a horse? But, we accept these limitations and try to decipher what we can: Do they pick-up their feet well? Are they responsive, engaged, slow enough for beginners? Do they have experience with all farm machinery? Are they short enough to lift harness over their backs with ease? Are they healthy, sound in (mind and) body? The process is something of a job interview—testing out a working partner who we will rely on so heavily and definitely—and something like dating—finding The Ones who we will be with in sickness and health, good times and bad, early mornings and late nights. And so, possibly, probably, any of these three teams could have worked with us and for us, but without a firm affirmative clarity, we are still searching, still seeking that stout, sturdy, “beginner’s team” who will readily accept their bridles, pick-up their feet, carry in the harvest, stand steady in the field, and help us do the good work of food growing.
In anticipation of what may come,
Lisa and Anton
I Go Down to the Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea
says in its lovely voice:
“Excuse me, I have work to do.”
Palak Salajama: Purple Top Turnips and Spinach
I made this tonight from last season’s frozen spinach, frozen whole tomatoes, and purple-top turnips from our winter CSA.
1 T butter and 1 T olive oil (x 2)
1 qt bag frozen spinach, thawed, or equivalent fresh (2-3 pounds)
2 large tomatoes, whole, frozen, and cut into chunks (or you could use dried, canned, or fresh)
3 medium-sized purple-top turnips
1 medium-large onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t grated fresh ginger
2 t coriander, ground
2 t cumin, ground
1 t turmeric
salt to taste
1 dried hot chili or cayenne pepper, or red pepper flakes (optional)
1 C heavy cream
1. Peel rough skin from turnips, remove tops and bottoms and brown parts, and cut into 1/2 inch square chunks. In large cook-pot with lid, heat butter and oil on medium heat. Add turnips and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, until soft, stirring regularly. If turnips start to brown too deeply, add a few T of water or stock.
2. Heat butter and oil on medium heat in frying pan, add onions, stirring regularly until browned. Add garlic and ginger. Add to turnips. Add spices and chunks of tomato. Add spinach. Cook uncovered, stirring regularly, about 5-10 minutes. Add heavy cream. Salt to taste. Serve over rice or with Indian Flatbreads.
Anton M. Shannon