Nature Runs Riot

23 09 2008

I know I have the excuse of having had a baby a few months ago, so no one blames me for the little amount of time I spent in the field from the beginning of June until now. But I have a confession to make. I kind of didn’t LIKE being in the field in the height of growing season. At first, I thought maybe it was weird post-birth hormones, or the fact that I didn’t want Sadie in the dirt and pollen, but today I read something that totally clicked for me. It suddenly made sense why I was reluctant to be as hardy of a farm-hand as I was in the beginning of the year.

I am just now reading Botany of Desire. I know, I know; I talk about Michael Pollan like he is my best friend, and I have read everything else he has written, but I somehow skipped the one that made him famous. Well, now I am reading it (and if you are like me and have managed to get through the past few years without reading it, do yourselves a favor and don’t let another year go by–READ THIS BOOK. It is fantastic!). I am almost done with it, in fact. I sped through the beginning section on apples, made particularly poignant by the fact that it is apple season around here and when we go on our morning walks, Chad and I are sampling fruit off all the trees in the neighborhood. The second section is on tulips, which was interesting to think about why we find some flowers more beautiful than others. The third section is on marijuana, and was fascinating in its discussion of why animals of all types search out consciousness altering substances. And now I am reading about potatoes.

Potatoes were one of my favorite crops here at Mud Puddle Farm this year. They were fun to plant, they were exciting to watch grow, the flowers are beautiful, and the crop was delicious. We planted 4 different types of spud, all funky heirloom varieties, all gone now (they were all smaller sizes, so harvested quicker than big potatoes, and we didn’t plant any storage varieties. We know what to do for next year, but it is depressing to have to buy boring grocery store potatoes until next July…). So it is cool to be reading about how the potato has changed and co-mingled with humans since the beginning of its cultivation. Pollan also discusses Monsanto’s genetically altered potatoes that are pest resistant. But his musings than struck closest to home with me were right at the beginning of the section when he talks about our attempts to reign in Nature. He says,

“It is only the suspension of disbelief that allows him to plant again every spring, to wade out in the season’s uncertainties. Before long, the pests will come, the storms and droughts and blights, as if to remind him just how imperfect the human power implied by those pristine rows really is.”

Before Sadie’s birth, my rows were, well, not pristine, but not overrun, either. And the plants were still “cute”–that is, they were on the small size and still needed nurturing in the hope that they would produce for us. And then I disappeared from the garden for 6 weeks. Yes, I would walk through to see what was going on, but I was more focused on the perfection I held in my arms than I was on the state of the rows. And then, when I could be back on the team, I found I really didn’t want to be.

These giant plants bore little resemblance to my “cute” plants which I started from seed. Yes, they were producing, but they were producing quantities I had no idea what to do with (even after we gave away a ton to our CSA), and the weeds and the bugs and the sun were unlike anything I had dealt with in the cooler spring weather. So, I did as little as I needed to to get by for the rest of the season. I knew I was dragging my feet, but I had this great little excuse.

Now that the weather is cooling off, and the season’s end is in sight, I find myself wanting to be out there again. And next year, I plan to be out there every step of the way, so it won’t ever feel like I am stepping back on to foreign territory. There will once again come a time when the weeds and bugs and heat will over-power us, but next year, the rows (even in their non-pristine state) will be mine.


Report from the Field (homecoming guest post)

22 04 2008

I flew into Portland for a high school buddy’s wedding… it all went down at McMenamins – Edgefield outside of Portland. It was really great, lots of black and super casual. I ate a mushrom spinach canneloni the size of a loaf of bread. If you haven’t been to any McMenamins in Oregon you must check them out. This one in particular used to be a sanitarium and was converted into this resort type grounds… they make wine there, garden, have a whiskey distillery, brew pub… everything. Oh yes, a nine-hole golf course also. What a blast they must have had getting their hops to climb up the old water tower and showing old movies in what looks like the old lecture hall. It’s inspiring how they’ve transformed this place into a lush, green, lush, vibrant, lush compound of happiness and giving back to the earth.

Inspiring for us where we are now:

In case Gabrielle hasn’t gotten this across in previous posts… the list here never ends. I mean… as an outside witness… it never ever ends. What was that Bush Admin. quote? From their press secretary… ‘It doesn’t matter, because while you’re reporting on these realities, we’re making decisions that create new realities…’ It is like that here… except, ya know, we’re farming. One thing done and another thing creates a new reality.

Each day there are five projects (or more) going on, and then because the way the land is laid out you try to make yourself the most efficient for each one. You start to work on a greenhouse door, the battery for the power tool you need runs out but the new one is re-charging back at the house. So you run up there, and while your there you clean off the old deck and power wash it… then water gets on the automatic safety shut-off so it stops the power washer and the sun comes out so since your up at the little house you pull some weeds in the Landscape Gone Wild of a front lawn and stack some firewood in-between downpours. Remember that greenhouse door? Back down there with charged battery… only to find out that you can make a semi-finished cut with the ‘power’ saw until it quits. You finish with a handsaw and you’re starting to get tired.

But you think you’re wiped out now? You put your door to the greenhouse up and it’s totally FUBAR. Improvisation is a must, yet the more people that get around you with ideas, the more tired you are. You send faithful helpers along to finish other tasks and start dinner… and then it’s you and the door. And you have it figured out… and it weighs a ton… and you screw it all together, the plastic is on the wrong side, get the damn hinges put in for the third time, dig a trench so you can move it along the un-even ground and then… yes… the door is up… and you have crossed off, more or less, one thing from your list.

You eat dinner, and as the light goes down you check in on the PA Primary… and decide to power-wash some buckets so you can get a white-wash mixture made and some chicken nesting tubs prepped so they can get out of your damn dining room.

It is like this every day from 7:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night. In case you haven’t read this article, check it out… ‘Why Bother?’ it’s called.

Pretty much sums up why people want to do what Gabe and Chad are doing. And Kirby and Lee. And me. And why not you? Start small, because the list is really long people, but when you are doing things like this because you know it’s what makes us humans… and deep down, for me at least, it feels oh, so good.