Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Contorted



Recently I read a Wall Street Journal article which states that according to USDA stats, 82% of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year. One farmer interviewed wakes up at 4:30 am 4 days a week to drive an hour to a 10 hour shift inspecting rail cars in need of repairs. 6 months out of the year he then drives home to tend 350 acres of corn and soybeans and spends his weekends managing a small herd of cattle.

“For now, Mr. Morrow said, he is content- he doesn’t like to sit still and thinks farm life teaches his sons good values and a strong work ethic.”

I knew a man in Wisconsin, a retired veggie CSA farmer whose farm was bought out by a non-profit. He said there should be a support group for people who have the “farming addiction.” Even after moving his farm and retiring he was still raising beef and dairy cattle, goats, and enough veggies to sell to a CSA and wholesale.
There are times when I think he’s right. We sound like veritable lunatics when we try to explain about intangibles like “good values” and “work ethic” while barely scraping by financially. But one has only to continue to page through a newspaper to find that dirt farmers aren’t the only zany ones out there- it seems to be a condition of the human race, and there are all kinds of crazy.


In that same paper, a few pages later, is a story about a New York lawyer who pays $175/ hour for a weekly session with veteran contortionist Jonathan Nosan. The pictures show him gleefully squatting, in a handstand, and pressed down with a 45 pound weight. So while we read disinterestedly about a guy working 12-16 hour days managing 600 acres in crops and beef cattle, and taking on another job as a rural mail carrier, there’s another guy in New York so much smarter than all that making thousands and thousands of dollars as a lawyer and responsibly ingesting raw fruits and veggies for breakfast, seltzer water in between, nuts for snack, salad for lunch, and an omelet for dinner to stay limber for his “Contorture Training” workout. “I’m doing it for its own aesthetic and own benefit.” He told the Wall Street Journal.

It’s undeniably more interesting to read stories of people who learned their art from master Chinese acrobats and appeared on “America’s Got Talent,” than to look at pictures of guys in ball caps and beat- up Carharts pulling baling twine off a large round bale of hay in the Winter to feed some patient beef cattle that stand idly by. But it’s hard to shake the notion that somethings off in a country which pays a guy more to bring lawsuits than to grow food.

A Palliative Care physician on NPR the other day said that the State insurance system is in bad need of repair, as it financially incentivizes unnecessary medical procedures, and will allow her to write out a prescription for a $2000 medication (which it will pay for,) but not give that $2000 to the elderly patient to buy food, ridiculous, she says, because most of her patients are unable to afford dinner and need the cash more than the mammogram.

At the nursing home my Grandma is in, the days are filled with all kinds of activities- concerts, art projects, school childrens’ visits…but meanwhile the average resident is calling out desperately from their rooms for someone to help them go to the bathroom. I’ve met a lot of new people there simply because I happen to be passing and the staff (which I am assured numbers well beyond the state requirement) are unable to assist Clara or Jane with getting to the restroom. Water and the Loo. That’s what people are desperate for, on a day fill with scheduled life enriching activities.

I mention this because it’s about priorities.

Nobody stays on a farm, when they are struggling to make even $30,000 profit from it, without taking serious stock of their priorities. The deceptive thing about most articles on farming is that they make us think either: “Poor guy.” Or “What an idiot! Get a real job!”. But every article on farming is written about all of us. We all eat. Agriculture is the serious business that concerns all of us. As small farms go the way of extinction, so does accountability and future farmers. It’s hard to inspire a new generation from a cell phone wearing noise canceling headphones inside the cockpit of a combine guided by a satellite GPS system, farming hundreds and hundreds of acres.

I propose food,water, and bowel movements be our nation’s top priorities. When we start making it as financially feasible for a man to provide for his family by growing food for the rest of us, as it is for a lawyer to make money bringing a Hollywood movie-star’s anti-defamation lawsuit, we’ll have something worth doing handstands about.

Sign up with a local farm. Vote with your food dollars:


And go see Grandma.





articles: “To Stay on the Land, Farmers Take Extra Jobs” By Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman, Wall Street Journal Monday Feb. 26 2018

“Contortion That’s No Circus Act” By Kari Paul,  Wall Street Journal, Monday Feb 26th 2018

Scrooging Spring


Some time ago I heard my Una muttering something to the effect of: “she scrooged and scraped and scrooged some more….” And I mistakenly assumed she was using good old Ebenezer’s (of Christmas Carol fame) last name as a verb…Arrogantly, I chuckled over the nonsense world of children, then, and watched her busy about the work that is Child’s play. Only later did I realize, when reading Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”, that she was referencing a delightful verb he coined of the mole, when tiring of his


Spring cleaning, and unable to resist the call of Spring overhead he “scraed and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged, and then scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.”
Scrooging is the perfect word for it. Anyone who has seen a child build a fort, or burrow through a snow tunnel, or corkscrew perfectly warm mud up with a stick knows that scrooging is the ideal verb to describe most of what children and moles do. It is exactly how to describe trying to get a weak newborn kid to latch on in the early hours of the morning, like trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks together, trying to get, by shear willpower, by hook or by crook, that divine spark to ignite, and nature to take over. Last night in the barn we all tromped out in the cold to check on the three does. We found Bluebelle, new mama to three, throwing her weight around in the goat shed, defending her little ones with more than necessary enthusiasm. It was a veritable hormone-palooza as Daisy was in active labor, and Lilly was ornery, in pre-labor, and protecting Daisy, her adult child. We played shuffle the goats, and brought Bluebelle back into the kidding pen, in case her ramming could cause the kids in utero in Daisy and Lilly harm. We’ve experienced stillborn kids before as a result, we think, of the rought re-shuffling of the pecking order when the Queen of the herd has been absent for 3 days in the kidding pen, and comes back to reassert her dominance.
Between Midnight and 5 am Daisy gave birth, and we woke early to rescue her little buckling. Too weak to stand, and lethargic, we followed our usual protocol, which is to give a quick half-syringe full of sugar water and reattempt nursing…and when all else fails, milk some colostrum out into the syringe, give him a belly full, blow dry him off with a hair dryer (heat is sometimes all the babies need to get the energy to show interest in nursing), and leave for an hour to let nature take over. In such times as these, it feels like one is scrooging and scraping, scrabbling and scrooging some more to coax life into full flower. Most often times the farmer is not needed in the kidding barn…but there are times when a steadying hand is called for, and it is always humbling and inspiring to be there to lend it. We usually never provide the motive power, just a guiding grip on the wheel to steady her as she goes. With Bluebelle’s triplets, they all came out so strong and healthy there was little need for aid, except, with all three to tend to, and the last one born in the caul, Bluebelle had her hoofs full, and we had to leap in and peel away the birth sac so the little one could breath. It was all done so quickly, in the blink of an eye, clearing the nasal passages while she licked and nibbled at the other two, and pulling him near to her nose, where her strong mothering instincts were fully in play; her tongue whipping up all the life force within her young, drying them off and readying them for their first take to their legs.

A.A. Milne said that of Wind in the Willows that a “young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew and alters his will accordingly….” It is the book we turn to for reading aloud in the Spring, because it is the perfect way to celebrate the new season, as Grahame writes so eloquently of it:

“It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows (mole) rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting- everything happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering “Whitewash!” he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens, After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.”

When the goats start kidding and the Sheep start lambing and the seedling start popping up soldierly in their rows in the cell trays under the neon lights, there is such a persuasive force to it all, that we can’t help but be shaken out of our winter doldrums and easy chair stupor. It’s good medicine after a long winter, and gets the blood moving just in time for the big transplanting days out in the field.
As I type, I am facing four shelves, laden with 48 flats of broccoli, lettuce, onion, leeks, swiss chard, kale, peppers, and herbs, all germinated, and just getting their true leaves. They bask before a south window beneath rows of humming shop lights. Most people don’t think of signing up for a veggie share until at least all the snow is gone….but we’ve already begun seeding by the middle of February, and other that the succesions of lettuces and other veggies, only have tomatoes and cucurbits to seed in April, when we begin the mass exodus of our veggie babies out to the greenhouse.

That audacious line: “the Kingdom of God is within”, a line so extravagant that only God could get away with it, comes to mind when you watch a seed germinate and live in a soil-less mixture. Many faiths espouse some kind of understanding of Divinity within, and not just without, and we have an annual reminder of it in these tiny seeds, which contain within themselves all the nourishment needed to sustain life in their baby-hood, until transplanting, and can be potted in mixes containing nothing but vermiculite, and peat.
As the snow melts, and the days lengthen, we feel like seeds ourselves, that have been buried in the house all Winter, sprouting recklessly, little by little, grateful for the excuse of birthing does to dash out to barn and back and out and back again, lending a hand to the birth of a new season, and finding ourselves coming back to life again as, covered in mud, and afterbirth, hands chapped and eyes wind bleary, we scrooge and scrabble and scrape…..and scrooge some more.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Wearing of the Greens


My Mother-in-Law is a gifted knitter. From her, we have a treasure trove of heirlooms
woolens,-hand-made baby sweaters and socks and rompers.  I was admiring a blanket she had pieced together of samplers of different cable knit patterns she had learned. Each cable knit unique, symbolizing a separate clan or livelihood. She told me that each intricate pattern is created with only two stitches. Knit and pearl. With this meagre pallet a vast array of design can be achieved.

I marvel at this. Knitting has become the realm of little old ladies in church basements, or natty grans in yarn shops on Wednesday nights. Sometimes it becomes the fad of college girls or homeschool extra-curricular clubs…but to think that it originated with sailors, swarthy men caked over in whale grease, become adept at needle and thread while bent over broken nets, mending. Stuck on board a ship for months at a time, it is little wonder that such artistry was born of necessity out of two little stitches.

I often wonder how much more productive we would be if we also had less to our disposal- had less to cushion us. The Vikings had little in the way of education or faith, and yet they produced stunning metal work, with artistry ahead of their time. While the sophisticated Europeans cowered along the shoreline, at the edge of the oceans, and fretted over sea monsters out in the deep, these “barbarians” were braving the open waters and discovering new continents with stunning imagination and courage. Isolated as they were, no complications could arise for them from the naysaying of the crowd. They took their two stiches of metal and wood, and created a myriad of adventures from them, founding new countries because of, and not despite, their deprivations.

St. Patrick found God as a slave watching sheep in the hillsides of Northern Ireland.

He was without liberty, without education, and without a country. In such utter lack, he received the heading he needed to navigate his life and bring an entire nation out of darkness and superstition. His work in Ireland paved the way for what is often called the saving of all of Western civilization, by monks on that isle quietly copying and illuminating texts all through the Dark Ages. Quite a lot began with keeping company with ewes.

After visiting Ireland, G.K.Chesterton was inspired by the sights of patchwork gardens all over the countryside. He said:

“Where there is a real kitchen garden, there is also a real kitchen.”

He joked that the war song of such a nation ought to be “The wearing of the Greens”, because so much of Ireland’s political strength seemed promised in this commitment to the growing of local produce. I have often been humbled by the effect kitchenry has on a little community. Tradition is the stitching that binds a culture together, and fuels personal identity. Tradition is always upheld with some kind of cookery, a cake or bread, or roasted beast to crown the feast and make speeches over.

Musing on the Irish countryside, G.K. Chesterton called property (to grow things on) the poetry of the average man. In print it seems a stretch to link the legal heavy sounding word “Property” with the romantic laden “Poetry”. But the coupling is easy to digest when observed not in stodgy rooms bandying about political and theological notions, but on the land, observing a newly transplanted row of broccoli.

As the Spring thaw continues, and the smell of the earth recalls to us memories of cable-knitted samplers of vegetables stitched into the soil in varying patterns, it is hard to resist a tendency toward song. Spring makes bards of us all. But thank heaven, Mother Nature herself is always ready to douse us with a good measure of humility, even as we crow our loudest in exultation.

Baby ewe born Thursday
Thursday afternoon, just as our little black lamb was being born, I noted a Robin redbreast singing on the branch over hanging our porch. In our family, we have always considered the Robin to be the most surest sign of Spring, so I caterwauld to the others: “A robin! A robin! Guys! I see a Robin!” We were all, in our quiet desperate ways longing for Spring you see. The crew was taking a break from seeding flats, busy playing wiffle ball on a paltry patch of grass beneath the pine trees, surround by heavy snow, eager to soak up any time at all enjoying any visible scrap of green. As soon as I cried out, the bird flew off behind the barn, silenced by my most un-Scandanavian exuberance.

My own attempt as a missionary was with the Am-ish rather than the Ir-ish. It consisted in the infiltrating an Amish community in Southwest WI with an Irish pub instrument, the tin whistle. We were living smack dab in the middle of the Amish community of Hillpoint, WI with a flock of sheep on 40 acres square. As I said, a lot happens when watching sheep!

 Aside from the “mouth harp” or harmonica, traditionally the community we were living near discouraged all other musical instruments, lest they lead to dancing, I suppose. But the pennywhistle is an irristable delight. Soon we were getting together with a couple Amish families and trading songs. They would sing an old German hymn, and we would sing an Irish folk song and pipe a jig. In the presence of fellow members of his Amish community, our friend Aden accepted a tin whistle, and simple instruction book, and I felt the first glow of success as a missionary of jigs and joy.

St. Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes from Ireland. I have often found an Irish folk song does the same thing to the soul. It’s also a way to join the Robins of Spring without scaring them off, bless the buggers.






Friday, March 16, 2018

Sign up for a Share in the Farm!


                                                         little flower farm

                                2018 Shares now available!
Sign up for:
$600/17 weeks of FRESH VEGGIES delivered in a 3/4 bushel box to a drop-site near you! Share cost amounts to roughly $36/month for SUPER DELICIOUS fresh and cheeky veg!
Boxes include our (world famous) weekly newsletter. Starts June.

$25/ 4 weeks of GOAT CHEESE! The does are due to kid any day now, so Spring production of our fresh chevre will be ramping up soon. Shares start April.

For more info email us at littleflowerfarmcsa@gmail.com
or call: 651.433.3611




Working on the Masterpiece


 “I learned one of the great lessons of my life from Andrew Wyeth, whose paintings have riveted me from the first time I ever saw one. Then I learned that he had painted all of his world-revered masterpieces within walking distance of where he lived. Talking to him and reading what he said about artistic creativity, I realized that only by a continuously deeper and deeper examination of the familiar could I find real meaning in life, as he did, and thereby gain some genuine satisfaction from it… only by the deep familiarity of being rooted a long time in a place could produce real art-and art- or artfulness-produced in joy.”

Gene Logsdon from “The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening”







A few years before Gene Logsdon died sent me an email.

“Enjoy your blog. You do wonderful work.” It simply said.

I have not written a piece for our farm blog for 2 years and 8.5 months. Yet not a day of those 989 days went by that I didn’t think of writing. Trouble was: I had no idea what to write.

This went beyond writer’s block.  My inability to find my voice stemmed from my dazed and wandering state after the move to our 5th farm. The Russians have a saying: “Better to survive fire twice than to move once.” I heartily agree. It takes 2 full years before you stop moving the furniture around, and 3 for memories to come back. Our move to our heavily wooded river’s edge farm coincided with Mr. Farmer returning to teaching, and that added to the disorientation.

“Why is it, that when you finally have everything you want, you can’t think about what to say about it?”

That was my response to Gene. It was a misleading one, as it implied having arrived. No one in paradise is busy writing postcards home. They are home. The journey, the struggle is over. The need to sift through the daily grind to find the warm satisfying brew: gone. But sometimes you can’t think of what to say when you are lost too, and especially what to say to a mentor you’ve long admired, whose words have sustained a hard-won conversion from city kid to farmer.

When we first set out to farm is was a way to answer to call to a deeper more fulfilled life as a family. We wanted a way to earn our living working together, a way to knit the breadwinning to the daily life of the family. Work we could all share, from the adults to the tots.

Eventually, as seasons passed, and the distance from Graduate school to farming increased, the path became the only option, and we began to farm simply because it was the way we had chosen and the thing we did. All work can become like this. All love can eventually fizzle to this going through the motions, the inevitable habits that have become ingrained. All jobs eventually become “just a job.”

Now we farm for a newfound reason. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, founders of the Catholic Worker movement were often saying that they were “fighting for a world in which it was easier to be good.”

That’s us too. We’re not trying to create a movement. We fill plastic 50 cell seed trays with Metro Mix 360 and pour bitty onion and parsley seeds into our palms and place them painstakingly into the trays because we are clinging to a way of life that doesn’t require us to lie, cheat, or steal.

Photographs of physical work are often eloquent enough. We modern men and women are quite an educated lot, compared to previous generations, and we have a romantic tendency toward finding manual labor “clean”, “inspiring”, and “vivifying”, that is, from a distance.  I confess, that when we began this farming venture I was like Tolstoy, admiring the life of the peasant as an antidote for stultifying society life, and going so far as to join in the work and revels of it. Take two fresh out of grad school young adults, busy bringing into fruition a new family, hung all over with dreams and ambitions of Christmas puppet shows and feasts with friends and traditions and lore to raise our children with, and it is little wonder that the simply act of scything a field would send me into poetry and musing.

But I remember reading with recognition of one of my favorite artists, Carl Larsen, who painted his family and farm life so beautifully, and introduced the world to the wonders that can be achieved in one’s own home with a little paint. He soon realized that although he wanted to be, although he admired the life, he was really in the end, an artist, and not a farmer.

And so, after 5 years of farming full time, we began to transition back into teaching and music, our original respective “gifts.” We kept the goats, we kept gardening, but all on a smaller scale. We talked of a return to grad school, but always the goats would get in the way. “But, could we hide Daisy and Bluebelle from the condo association?” we would ask ourselves… We spoke of moving into the city to be closer to the school Shane was working at, but again we’d find ourselves thinking of yards big enough to have raised be gardens in, and a garage big enough for the dairy goats. When our little Jane was born, and occupied so much of our attention, rocking our little ark with her arrival, we came close to liquidating the herd…but when Spring arrived, and the kids started coming fast, I began to bring my 4-month-old out to the barn, and the rest was history. She became an omnipresent sidekick at milking time. One morning I went out for chores, to find that a first fresher had just kidded, and I left my baby in the stroller while I brought mother and kid into a well bedded jug for our customary 3-day bonding and nursery time…the little one was weak and half-heartedly attempting to nurse on a doe not quite ready to relinquish her footloose and fancy free single days. The poor little thing was staggering around trying desperately to get near his Mama to no avail. With little Jane watching I abandoned my coat and mittens and got in with the baby and mama to force the issue and insure a good latch on. This has become routine and habit, but the intensity of the necessity never fails to sober me. My intervention in these situations often means life versus death for the baby. Eventually I emerged, hay in my hair, smelling like afterbirth, but triumphant, and I sat on a hay bale and nursed my own little one as Inga nursed hers. As I sat there I realized that the goats were rapidly becoming little Jane’s as well as my own, and it was an inheritance I felt I had no right to send down the river without her chance to give it a go as well.

So, the farming circled back around on us, like a puppy that we couldn’t scare off.

And I had forgotten how the farm farms you. How it changes you to work with the weather, and providence, often in solitude, bending, pulling, pushing, lifting. And best of all, one experiences the infinite variety of a life lived entirely in one place. Every time we’ve worked off farm, it was as if real life was on pause, as if we were all waiting for it to begin again eventually.

“The beginning of mankind began in a garden and ended in revelations”

-Oscar Wilde

I think we all recognize something in the life of a farmer, like we recognize an old relative or flame. Someone (something) we knew once, from our very bones, and which we want in some measure but are unwilling to suffer for. And so, we remain tragic figures. The other day at the River Market Co-op CSA fair I met a young man whose stand was bustling for a good portion of the afternoon with customers eager to sign up for shares of pastured meat. He told me that he and his wife had been tempted to quit farming last year twice. He said it quickly and casually, as if it was hardly worth a thought. And then he went on to rhapsodize about the amazing rejuvenation simply rotating animals in a timely and consciences manner can do to neglected pastureland. He too had left graduate school months away from completing the requirements for a Ph.D. They moved to their family farm, and it is clear that he has taken up the life of an artist, by means of staying put.

Staying put often results in being left behind by a goodly portion of the world.
There is no small measure of chagrin in that.
But as Gene Logsdon mused on his inspiration, Andrew Wyeth, it’s also what results in a masterpiece.

read more of Gene Logdson's Writing here


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sign up for a 2018 Farm-Share!


Over the years farming has rendered me more and more reticent.

The soil and the rain and the hail and the hay, the death, and the afterbirth and the chores and the seedlings all have a quite way of pushing you out of the realm of talking and into the way of being.

I began this site as a way to advertise shares in our farm.

Eventually it became a place for me to process how the farm was farming us- and writing became a way to lift the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, and see the deeper meaning in the down and dirty nitty gritty, to take the long view.

The long view is not an easy thing to sell.

It doesn’t glitter and glitz like the shimmery desireability of the more immediate gratification.

The fact is, you can buy your vegetables as you want when you want at the grocery store.




They will not be as fresh or as delicious as those grown on a local farm, but after all they are just vegetables and they will be quite serviceable for your salads and sauces and soups. There is a way in which “buy local” has become a new kind of religion, and not a very good one, as everyone deep down realizes that earth can never compete with heaven in inspiring better living…

For us, it’s very simple:

calling in the seed order
We have this honey of a farm. She’s nestled along near the bluffs of the St. Croix.
A creek edges her like a handkerchief handsewn with the blanket stich. A gravity fed spring trickles down the Western hill and provides all our goats and chickens and sheep with water from the pump in the barnyard. Once, when Hiway 95 was still just a footpath that the native people and loggers used to travel along the river, our road was the only road going North from Stillwater, through the town of Vasa- later named Copas. A silver sliver of fenceline jealously guards our 100 ft white pines, which tower gentle-giant like out front-a vestige of the days before the logging companies stripped the shoreline and sent the logs down the river to the mill at Marine. The vegetable garden lies in tidy beds and rows beneath a windbreak of gangly Norwegian pines that have formed a windbreak there for 104 years. But best of all the old Swedish barn, with its cozy hay loft and three horse stalls where we bed down new mothers with their Spring kids and lambs, the staunchion where we milk the goats, and the walls drilled with screws where we hang the hoes. When we first saw this place 4 years ago it was the barn which smiled a welcome at us, as we came up the drive. When we turned to go it wrenched us to leave that barn. It pulled on the heart the way a first love does, or a happy child, or a moist chocolate cake.
It was home.

When you have a farm like this, and when you find that the moist humus-rich soil grows the best brassicas, the zestiest greens, and the sweetest snap peas this side of the Rio Grande, it becomes a treasure too singular to hoard.



first farm baby of 2018
So, we are offering shares in it.

$600 buys a weekly portion of whatever is in season on Little Flower Farm from June-September. Each box will be a snapshot in time of the farm, and tucked inside will be a newsletter each week, with recipes, news, and that good ol’ inspiring longview.