Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Twin Cities Dropsite!

If you're from St. Paul or Minneapolis and have a hankering for a taste of
little flower farm 
chevre
you can sign up for a share now!

We will begin deliveries of our fresh goat cheese shares first week of May. Bi-monthly delivery of 2 cheeses per member each time.
Twin Cities Dropsite:

853 Iglehart Ave 
St. Paul, MN 55104

(Conveniently located in between Mpls and St. Paul, right off 94.)

To sign up, please send your contact info with a check made out to Chiara Dowell
Little Flower Farm
20200 Quinnell Ave. N.
Scandia, MN 55073

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Meet the Girls!

Introducing the cast and crew of our 2013  chevre production team. Step right up folks to meet our bevy of beauties. Ladies all of them, with impeccable manners, winning ways, and luscious milk!
                                                                                     ..
..
Barli
oberhasli/alpine
Barli is the "sophisticated lady" of the group. She welcomed motherhood for the first time with a graceful nonchalance, as if holding a cigarette holder, with a bored look and the barest hint of a motherly "nicker"...as if to maintain that mothers can saunter and swing pearl necklaces around too. She's shaping up to be our next Queen of the Herd. Birthed twins 3/6/2014.

status: currently raising twin does, milking
alter ego: Lady Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey






Muffin
Nubian
Muffin is our stunning and soft-spoken glamour girl. She is Zita's daughter, born in 2012 on the farm.  She has that helpless "draws you in" quality reminiscent of a certain Hollywood bombshell of yesteryear. She's quiet, sweet, and gentle. Hoping for kids from her in early Fall.

status: currently open
alter ego: Marilyn Monroe







Mandy Mae a.k.a. "The Kid"
Nubian/French Alpine
Every gang needs a kid. Mandy Mae is ours. She was a surprise born in the summer of 2013 to our late great Nubian, Lupe. Weaned early when we lost her mother to a broken leg, she quickly demonstrated spunk and stamina, becoming everybody's favorite and most annoying goat. Her favorite trick? Waiting till we are up and milking to climb the walls of her pen, escape, and get into the grain bin. We're hoping she's just going through a phase.

status: open
alter ego: d'Artagnan, the fourth musketeer!


Angelica Rosa
Nubian
Angelica Rosa is our grande dame. She's tough as nails, a no-nonsense brawd who's been there done that. She's part of our "Nubification" program here at the farm. Nubian's are known for the high butterfat content in their milk, making them a great choice for cheesemakers!

status: pregnant
alter egos: Angelica Huston and Angela Lansbury






Lillie
saanen
Lillie is our bearded lady. At the bottom of the pecking order, she is well named. Not the most courageous of creatures, you will always find Lillie peaking over the gate trying to find her only friends...the humans! Saanens are known for their high volume milk production.

status: milking
alter ego: Hester Prynne of the Scarlet Letter



Zita
Nubian
The beautiful and affectionate Zita camed to us from our friend Pam in Michigan. Pam kept a secret farm right on a busy road, with nosy neighbors. A hidden world of Nubians, all surrounded by a high privacy fence. Driving by, you would never know a mini-farm graced her lawn. Zita is the goat, who, in a moment of tranquilty when you are admiring the fine weather, will come up to you and gentle snuzzle your face as if to say: "Hi sugar!"

status: bred for mid-summer kidding
alter ego: Dolly Parton and Mother Theresa




Dixie
Alpine/Toggenburg
Dixie is an original member of the milking crew of Little Flower Farm. She's the queen of the herd, and next to Angelica Rosa, is the eldest doe in the herd. She's all brains and all moxie. Constantly reminding the other does who is boss, she plows into any animal in her way...but is all p's and q's with her human compatriots. Dixie can open doors, work latches, find grain no matter how hidden, open coolers, and leap fences. We think she walks on all fours just to humor us.

status: bred for mid-summer kidding, water pregnancy in 2013
alter ego: Katherine Hepburn



Penny
Nubian/Alpine
Penny is all things 1980s. You can almost even see her wearing a side-pony tale and purple sweatpants. She's a belted Nubian/Alpine grade. Excellent confirmation and great attitude. She gave birth to an big buckling on 3/4/2014.

status: currently milking, raising 1 buckling
alter egos: Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan














Bluebelle
french alpine/ ?
After losing her twin bucklings in the cold snap during the end of February of 2014, Bluebelle quickly became the darling of the dairy. She is currently supplying almost a gallon a day for our chevre-making. Bluebelle is affectionate, curious, and motherly with us. She has taken us on as her adopted kids. The is the sweet southern belle of the bunch.

status: currently milking
alter ego: Melanie Hamilton from Gone with the Wind












Ginger
Nubian/Oberhasli
Ginger is our most graceful goat. Whatever they can do, she can do better! She came to us from an Amish goat dairy in SouthWest Wisconsin. Birthed twins on 2/25/1014.

status: currently milking, raising one very big buckling
alter ego: Ginger Rogers



The new generation of 2014!
Support our Girls! Sign up for a Little Flower Farm chevre share!
    Choose a goat you wish to sponser with a share in our herd.
   
   Dorfli Share: $20/4 weeks of fresh chevre

Heidi Share: $100/5 months of fresh chevre, monthly newsletter, invite to our Fall goat lover's gathering
Alm Share: $200/ 5 months of chevre, newsletter, invite to Fall gathering PLUS 20lbs Cabrito harvested mid-summer

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Little Flower Farm back in the St. Croix River Valley of MN!

Little Flower Farm is back home in the St. Croix River Valley!
Our new location is just minutes north of William O'Brien State Park on Hiway 95:
20200 Quinnell Ave. N.
Scandia, MN 55073

Questions about our CSA offerings? Call us: (651) 433-3611
Come see us at River Market Co-op's CSA Fair this Saturday, March 8th 1-4 pm.
You can sign up for our chevre shares, grass-fed lamb, and veggie shares.

Moving day at the new farm in Scandia

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sign up for 2014 CSA Shares!

This morning we'd had the first whispered promise of Spring.
An icicle dripped. The ewes "bagged up", their udders swollen with the sign of impending lambing. The sheers clip clip clip across their bellies and backs, and Winter fleeces are bagged and awaiting washing, carding, and spinning. I heard the birds "sweetly tuning" on bough and branch: they were singing something about signing up for our 2014 CSA. Don't take my word for it...go out on your own front step and listen to em sing their blessed hearts out! The lyrics are unmistakable:
"Sign up! Sign up!"
Because here's the thing of it:
In order for a farm to inspire, it must be small. It must be the stuff we all secretly dream about from our "I wanna be a fireman or ballet dancer and eat that cookie now" days. There must be rabbits, and ducks, and hens, strutting about the lawn. There must be little twin lambs nursing at their mother's teets. There must be goat kids to jump about with. There must be hand-milking in the barn and farmers with grins and nobbly dirty hands. We must see something in the composting and the cover cropping and the greenhouse and the ground that stirs something better within the breast...

And...in order for the farm to be small it must be the work of city and country folk alike. The bare earth can only sustain for so long. A community of eager expectant willing people are waiting together for that first smell of good growing dirt, and that first forkful greens...that will sustain a farmer. Not acres owned. That's why the CSA farmer hums to himself as he sheers the sheep in the barn in the end of February. His long Winter alone with animals and watering and feeding out hay and spinning wool, and stacking wood, in short: his long Winter alone with the farm is coming to an end. His hope of real community is being born again with the Spring thaw. As the work mounts, his grin spreads wider.

Community Supported Agriculture has to be born anew every year on a veggie farm.
With a kind of faith akin to craziness, the farmer waits for folks like you, reading this, to sign up.
Together we bring a new season into being. We would not be here without you.
It's your notes about how your 4 year old scarfed down bok choy last night, and how much you look forward to each box and newsletter from our farm...you folks keep us going.

Our 2014 CSA Season promises to star the goats:
The Little Flower Farm dairy herd is larger now, due to the amazing demand in the area for our fresh goat cheese shares. We have 10 does due to freshen this year, and each one with a personality all her own. We are looking forward to introducing you to each one of the girls in the coming weeks, as they begin to kid. If you are new to chevre, consider trying a share: a month's worth of fresh cheese delivered to you for $5 per week. Goats are picky browsers, making their milk one of the most medicinal foods, filled with more vitamins and minerals than cow's milk. Then there's the delicious factor. 1/3 of our herd is Nubian, to capitalize on the higher butter-fat content in their milk, and lend it's creamy flavor to our cheese. If you are an old fan of the chevre shares, consider signing up for our "Heidi Share" which is a longer investment in the Little Flower Farm herd: 5 months of twice monthly chevre, and a monthly newsletter with recipes, news, and photos from the farm as well as an invitation to a year end "meet the girls" celebration.
Little Flower Farm Herd-Shares:
             " Dorfli share"………………….$20.00/4 weeks of our fresh goat cheese.
             "Heidi Share".............................$100.00/5 months of fresh goat cheese delivered twice monthly, our monthly newsletter, and invitation to a gathering of goat fans in Fall!
             "Alm Share"...............................$200.00/ 5 months of fresh goat cheese delivered twice monthly, our newsletter, invitation to gathering in the Fall PLUS 20lbs of Cabrito butchered mid-summer.

Grass-Fed Lamb is available for pre-order. Space is limited, so get your reservations in now.
Your check for $250 reserves your lamb. $65 will be payable to the butcher upon pick-up. Your lamb will be cut to your specifications, and will weigh in around 35-40 lbs. Fall Harvest

Your support of our small herds allow our CSA farm to be a closed circle of fertility. The sheep and goats provide us with their pelleted manure, ideal for spreading on our veggie gardens in early Spring and late Fall. They help us manage the land better, eradicating invasive species, and managing our woodlots with aplomb. A farm without animals limps. We make use of natural symbiotic relationships between the animals and the land, and the end result is a symphony of stewardship.

2014 CSA veggie shares are $600/share. Payment plans are available this year if you need to break up payments to make the share price more manageable. We want to work with you to provide the freshest produce possible for your table. This is food grown without chemicals, by fjord-horse, and hand-harvested. 2014 space is limited, so please contact us early.
We are looking for people to host drop-sites. If you are interested in hosting a dropsite for our CSA veggies and chevre shares, let us know! We'd appreciate it!

Plan a CSA info night! We love it when members take the initiative and plan an info meeting with their friends, family, and co-workers! Help spread the love! We can bring slides and samples to the meeting, as well as answer any and all questions!

Visits:
Our farm is your farm! Schedule a visit! Transparency is what you deserve, and what we thrive on!
Call ahead and plan to bring friends or family. We'd be glad to show you around, and introduce you to the Little Flower Farm family!

email: littleflowerfarmcsa@gmail.com
phone: (651) 433-3611

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent-time

There is a beautiful German folksong we sing every Advent called “Maria walks amid the thorn”. It has the sound of a clockwork chime when you sing it in harmony. We learned it from Maria Von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame,) who included it in her book “Around the year with the Trapp Family…keeping the feasts and seasons of the Christian year”.

            “Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie Eleison
Which seven years no leaf has born,
She walks amid the wood of thorn,
Jesus and Maria”

It is a song about the blossoming of the extraordinary amidst the ordinary, common, and even ugly. It is the perfect welcome to Winter, when the landscape is barren and desolate…and the ground is cold and hard.  The best surprises are usually preceded by a gentle expectation of fittingness that something delightful is at hand. It is a strange thing to try and convey….because it would seem that this expectation would diminish the surprise…but it doesn’t, it cushions it…or readies the heart for it, like a mother with a set of swaddling blankets and a bassinet readies a home for a baby. Sometimes I wonder if this readiness brings the delight on…like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is always present amidst the ordinary, and it is characterized by a willingness to believe that something beautiful can come from ordinary life. I have fallen in love three times this way. Once, when I was told I would be picked up from the airport by a young man named Luke, once while singing “Red is the Rose” at a choral concert, and lastly, when a friend suggested we play a game of doubles with his tennis playing roommate. In each case I knew the end result would be falling in love, and so it was. The first resulted in tears and poetry surprising me wherever I looked, the second in two years of correspondence and soul-friendship, and the third in a marriage proposal (which I happily accepted.)

            “What neath her heart does Mary bear?

            Kyrie Eleison

            A little child does Mary bear

Beneath her heart he nestles there

Jesus and Maria”

It was the same way when we spotted the little bird’s nest on our way down to our favorite sledding hill. It was nestled in the branches of a patch of thorny underbrush. It seemed to crown the thorny canes, and was position in such a way as to have the peculiar effect of a lamp-post beside our path, welcoming us to the dip and dell which funneled us to the very best sledding on the farm. Even at a distance I knew the nest would be special…that soft “about to fall in love” fog stole over me…and over Bothilde who asked “Can we just take it down to look and then put it right back?” I eagerly assented and as we drew near we could see fluffy feathers interwoven in the outside of the nest….it was a cup of a thing, fitting perfectly in the palm of my hand…and most wonderfully of all it was filled to the brim with little red-brown nuts. The intention of it was overwhelming in the tundra-like barren surroundings. Here we were, wind whipped on a lower hillside, with not a sound of birds to be heard, and yet we had stumbled upon a little bird’s larder…and been surprised by the intent industry of a little creature made of feathers and brittle bones, with a heart beating fast beneath its stalwart breast, bearing in its beak carefully foraged fodder…it was as if she had left a note for us to read: “I will be back! Keep it safe for me the while!” We replaced it a-top it’s thorny perch. The ugliness of the branches, the nastiness of the thorns and the completely surprising beauty of a nest filled with dried berries and nuts was heartening…it made us believe that all good things came from briar patches or similar seeming desolation and ordinary ugliness.

            “And as the two are passing near,

Kyrie Eleision,

Lo! Roses on the thorns appear!

Lo, roses on the thorns appear!

Jesus and Maria”

Anyone with a spouse will understand this paradox. There are few sweeter things in this world than a heartfelt apology from a spouse that loves you deeply and has hurt you deeply. I think it’s because there is something of your wedding night in a true apology: there is gentle humility that perseveres because of a vow however freshly made or old. One minute you are fuming at the sink, with your arms up to the elbows in sudsy water, using your anger as a scrubbing pad to remove all stubborn stains, and the next you are softened and changed, dissolved in the warmth of contrition, realization, and forgiveness. It seems to be part and parcel of the roses of life that they bloom amid thorns. Even the sledding hill itself, which was murder in summer to climb when seeking a wandering dairy cow or straying pregnant goat becomes the stuff of ballads with a fresh powdery blanket of snow over it. The terrain you grumbled and grunted over not a month ago now incites fresh squeals and giggles from adults and children alike, as we fold ourselves up in little plastic sleds, grab out courage with two mittened hands and plunge down the hillside.

Given a chance, I think most everything in this funny world of ours can inspire and enthrall. You certainly don’t have to live on a farm to see this. The way light can spill in through a window all over a wood floor is enough to rouse gratitude in the human heart…and it is that gratitude that makes the atheist nervous. Because there must be someone to thank!

Before we came upon the nest, we had passed the sheep returning from their daily sojourns, grazing through the snow on the Northern slope. They paused at the remnants of the piles of hay Shane had tossed out to them this morning on the future CSA veggie field that lays just Northeast of the barn. (This is part of our Winter manure spreading…and is much easier on our backs this way, letting the droppings lay where they may in a carefully choreographed fertilizer ballet). I was tugging the girls in the big black sled and we stopped to look at the sheep, just as they stopped to look at us. Each one was different. I was transfixed by the unique face of each sheep, and what had been before “ye old herd of white blobs” was suddenly transformed into 26 funny little characters. There was freckled face “Conchita” the short squat one from Mexico, and “Madame Pierrot” the elegant one with black lipstick and a Elizabeth the Second collar of ruffled wool. “Angelica” had a soft white face fringed with pink ears, pink nose and mouth.

Yesterday we were over a neighbor’s house to see about his restored Canadian Cutter, and pulling it with the Fjords this Christmas season. The cutter was beautifully rosemalled with roses and pansies and sprays of baby’s breath. The human heart always stop short and breaths more deeply when abruptly confronted with such beautifully detailed work. Work which signifies time standing still for the artist while painting it…the kind of standing still that requires love and defies counting. Over cocoa and peffernuse he confided that he finds nowadays that he has “a lot of money and little time”. He has exchanged one for the other for 34 years of his life, and now suspects the deal too raw to continue…it was something of the same observation I stumbled upon house later when we stood in front of the flock of sheep and it suddenly struck me that the pause is what gave me the moment of recognition and nod to the wonderful individuality of the flock.
Had I not halted the march of boots through snow, I would not have known them enough to love them that afternoon. For a farmer, it is his knowledge of the farm that keeps him hanging on to it: the knowledge of where the grass grows thickest (and thinnest) and which blossoms gave the honey that flavor this year, and where the black raspberries grow, and where the asparagus hides, wild in the Springtime. Other kinds of knowledge, like how to turn a hayloft into children’s laughter, or make a hobbit hole out of a hillside, or find adventure down a woodland path not tried…those kinds of knowledge too, tie the knower to the known. Knowledge is the wool that Love is spun out of.
 If time is the measure of motion, Love is the measure of Life.



In the Advent hymn, we mutter “Lord have mercy” as we peer into the gentle mystery of the incarnation. The rose has thorns…but the rose gives the why to the thorns. Perhaps the reason why there was no room at the inn, in the ancestral town of Joseph, filled no doubt to the brim with relatives of his who could have offered at least a floor to sleep on, was because the coming of Jesus Christ into the world seemed very much to those without “eyes to see” the birth of a bastard child. But belief born of a waiting and expectant heart, eager to see in the ordinary something extraordinary and beautiful, sees the “fatherless” child fathered by a Father more Father than any, and from whom Fatherhood receives its name. The Prince of the Universe turned the world on its head when he was born in a barn, with ox and ass as courtiers. He greeted us with a baby’s coo as the “Son of He who delights unexpectedly!” Forever after giving royal dignity to poverty, and making ballrooms out of barnyards.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lambs are going to the Butcher!

The Lamb harvest is upon us!
We took lambs to Straka Meats, in Plain WI this morning.
They should be ready for pick-up early next week. Stay tuned.

Minnesota lamb will be delivered on Monday, 21st. We will keep you posted on pick-up date.

If you are still interested in purchasing a half or whole of our Grass-Fed lamb, we still have a few available. Call: (608) 466-0905

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Of Fall and Fungi


 
Cabbages are so patient. They sit placidly, watching you grab up the sensational summer veggies, the tomatoes and the summer squash…they are silent as you devour the last of the cantaloupe and the watermelon, juice dribbling down your chin.






Occasionally they are called upon to partake in an impromptu stir-fry…but resilient as they are to the elements and to the insects, they are often the last garden vegetable to be celebrated in the kitchen. When their time finally arrives, and they are plucked from their watching places beneath umbrellas of Winterbor Kale, the farm is a quieter place. The broilers have been harvested, thanks to one day of non-stop clucking and plucking. The horses have put the gardens to bed. The last tuber has been unearthed, and it’s cousins have already graced the soup pot for potato-leek soup suppers with hot biscuits and butter. It is the plump and humble cabbage we find ourselves most admiring before the wood stove fires of Fall and Winter…as we comfort ourselves with sausages and homemade sauerkraut. It takes 6 weeks for cabbage to ferment and become proper kraut…well worth the wait. Condiment becomes King then…when we find our farm-raised pork a good excuse to eat copious amounts of kraut.


Our wee dairy herd of goats are becoming cabbage –shaped themselves, as their bellies bulge with babies, thanks to the late, not-so-great, obnoxious French Alpine goat we were given last Fall. He had been found as an orphan in the woods, and like so many other literary orphans, was possessed of singular character and brash boldness.
 
I am continually amazed at genetics, on the farm, as I watch his daughter, Mandy Mae, sprint and spring about, the spitting image of her pops. Mandy Mae is 8 weeks old and she can leap up onto our round bales as if they are mere stepping stones… sprint the whole row of them, leaping over the little chasms between them and scampering downs their sides to skid to a halt at the gate. Her mother was a Nubian and being a cross-bred creature, her ears flop straight out like side pony-tails whenever she is careening about on one of her sprees. Her spunk has already served her well, as we had to put her mother down before Mandy Mae was properly weaned. Shooting a dairy goat in the head is like putting down your own dog. It’s the toughest of all farm culls to bring about. But it is your affection for the doe that pulls you through it. We found our Lupe with a broken leg on evening, as they were coming up from their bottom pastures. Her leg dangled from the hock, and you could bend it sideways. It was stomach lurching to see. Because the goats and cows graze at different lengths, and often different plants, we graze them together during the summer…I suspect that somehow, Honey may have injured her, as she plodded on oblivious to all except the routine of barn and comfort at day’s end. It is bittersweet to see her image on the cover of this month’s issue of the Voice of the River Valley.

During the summer the continuous work of planting, weeding, and harvesting in the heat tends to desensitize us to the miracle that is soil…and the unseen biological forces at work beneath our fingertips. Fall’s arrival, and the fruiting of many kinds of fungi as we take our leaf collecting walks along the Southern fence line of the farm, and down into our “hidden valley” reminds us of how very much we depend upon these organisms which we cannot see and do not begin to understand working within our dirt. I have read of a fungus that was discovered in Washington and covered 1,500 acres, connected by an underground web of hyphae, and and observed above ground by many mushrooming fruits.
But numbers of mushrooms found in European forests are down, and their weights are decreasing. Some speculation is that this is due to pesticides and to air pollution. The average Joe of us, pulling on our shoes in the morning, and getting on with our coffee and bagels and commute to work may not feel prodded to pay attention to mushrooms, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. If the idea of terroir appeals to our sensibilities, as it does to many now, trending as it is, we should very much pay attention to our fungi, as they are responsible for the different regional varieties of cheeses and sourdoughs and wines that we enjoy. The “Cheese Nun” from Regina Laudis Abbey, has pointed this out, finding during her research of regional mycelliums in France, that we are in danger of losing many different bacterias that used to thrive in family cheese caves on farms in the countrysides of France…but are not seen as much anymore because state laws have made it more financially difficult to pursue the licensing required to sell the cheese legally-cheese many of these farm wives have been making for generations. I admit my own dalliance with mushrooms has not been the stuff of inspiration in the past. One particularly uncomfortable memory brings me back to my parents’ kitchen table during a weeknight dinner. My Dad and Mom were enjoying one of my Mom’s latest attempts at something more gourmet than tuna-fish hot dish, Sloppy Joes and French fries, or Chili. She had stuffed Portabella Mushrooms with some mixture of spicy sausage and sweet peppers… Never having ventured beyond the button mushrooms one usually finds in blue Styrofoam pints at the grocery store…and having hidden a great many of even those mild fungi under the (oh happy design!) corner eves of our table, I was much dismayed at Dad’s mandate that we may not leave the table until the shrooms had disappeared from our plates.
My siblings valiantly swallowed theirs down with little difficulty, and in solidarity had suggested many helpful hints at accomplishing the task: “Don’t bite down, just take a small piece and swallow it like a pill.!” Or my favorite: “If you plug your nose as you eat it, its not half bad!” After a feeble attempt at asserting myself as a teenager too old to be cajoled into the “clean plate club”, and an equally unsuccessful recourse to my medical state, a weak stomach which reacted adversely to mushrooms, I popped the round and squishy fungus into my mouth and held it there in resolute defiance for a good half hour much to the chagrin of my parents. To this day I do believe my Father would have held firm, had it not been for the rescuing wings of nausea that swept over me, and tossed back not only the undigested mushroom upon my plate, but also the remnants of the rest of my dinner as well. Needless to say it was a dish that my dear Mother chose, mercifully, not to repeat…nor had she any need. For it left an impression of edible mushrooms upon all of us that is still quite vivid to this very day. And that was a good 15 years ago.

My other early impression of mushrooms furnished me with something of a folklorian superstition about them, and occurred during an outing while attending college in Santa Paula, CA. My then boyfriend, now husband, and I had been invited to the tennis club in Ojai, and eager to shed the furrowed brow and mental overloading an afternoon of Euclidean Geometry has wrought in us, we suited up and jumped in the car, to navigate the switchbacks along the narrow road to Ojai. On the courts, we met Bill, “legal council to the stars” who peppered his conversation with so very much name dropping I found it very hard to stifle fits of giggling, so farcical was our discourse. 
 He spoke so casually of Brad and Jen (this was back when Brad and Jen were still Brad and Jen) and most enthusiastically of all of a Native American medicine man, who he had gone to see, and who had given him this very special mushroom, which gave him visions and flushed his whole being of emotional toxins which he had been laboring under for years. Soon we found ourselves in his backyard, gazing at the works of art that he had painted while under the kaleidoscopian influence of the magical mushroom. “Different shrooms do different things” he said to us, with a knowing, nodding glance. Just as I found myself wondering how on earth we had gotten there he offered us two pieces of apple pie, and we were off…pausing only once on our journey back to campus, to dump our desserts into a trash bin…lest they contain some kind of hallucinogenic shroom.
When we began farming my acquaintance with mushrooms was not much furthered, and certainly not positive…as the observation of them in the garden or in the flower pots indicated too much moisture. Lately the field mushrooms, puff-balls, and psalliota have brought our “homeschooling” into full swing again. The girls have been snatching up the golden and fiery leaves that the oaks and aspens and maples are now shedding,as well as the last of the queen anne’s lace, and are pressing them between parchment paper in our heavy coffee table collection of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Invariably, during these rambling we find mushrooms…and not being versed enough to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous, and thus put them to use in the kitchen and Winter store cupboard, we are taking advantage of them for the purpose of study . We make spore prints of them on paper to determine whether they have simple or forked gills, and slice them in half to make diagrams of the structure of their gills. We illustrate their veils, and volvas, and caps. We note where we found them...and last of all we sniff them. To be sure, we are beginners, uncertain as to whether our olfactories are up for discerning the difference between the “radish” smell of the amanitas from the “almond-like” scent of the psalliota. The reward of my own perusal of the better part of the fungi section of the local library has been the discovery of a particularly poisonous amanita mushroom called “amanita virosa” also known as “Destroying Angel”.

Imagine our goose-pimpled delight, when after walking some distance along a woodland trail at the county park near our farm, and discovering various mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, I regaled them with the details about this extremely poisonous mushroom, one nibble of which will kill an adult. “It is called the Destroying Angel because it is all white,” I told them “White gills, white cap, white stalk…there are other all white mushrooms, but this one is particularly beautiful.” As I spoke I pictured the illustrations of the amanita virosa that I had seen in multiple Mushroom and Toadstool guides. I could see the cup shaped volva at the base, frayed ring above it. The illustrations had shown the fruit in various stages of growth, the young mushroom with a egg-shaped cap, and eventually maturing into a bell shape before flattening out. I could not have scripted the drama better had I been the author of this particular family nature walk, for not ten minutes after I had told them of this mushroom, Una discovered a patch of three or 4 of them right on our path, had plucked the largest to bring to me, and we gazed at one of the most deadly mushrooms known to man. Its flesh was cool and clammy…and it was quite beautiful. Our revelry was broken by Grandma’s practical voice calling out “okay everybody go to the lake and wash your hands!”

Spending these bits of time paying attention to these fungi has been eye opening. When you realize that the mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, that it is the well nourished fruiting body of an underground network of cells that form a web scientists call mycelium…you cannot look at that innocent hayfield or unassuming woodland path the same way again. In tough times, when I find the work of the farm and family life overwhelming, invariably I find myself spread out in a field, with back or belly pressed to the earth…an uncharacteristic pose for someone usually found at the kitchen sink, or stove, or on the milk crate grasping goat teats…but if you are quite, and close your eyes in such a position you are conscious of the little buzz and hum of insects as they go about their work, and of blades of grass parting around the ants and beetles…such a strength of being and activity rises up from the earth, it is tangible, though I blush to say so, fearing to be branded an earth-hugging hippie. It is impossible not to to be drawn into thought of the underground inner workings of the soil…of the spreading hyphae, the earthworm, the microscopic creatures who with their tiny limbless bodies hold up the entire bulwark of our civilization.

Our world is changing. An unprecedented number of people now dwell in urban areas, rather than the countryside. There are many advantages to city living, chief among them close proximity to Art in all of its forms. But there are many disadvantages to the city as well…and ironically, one of the biggest is the raising of our modern families amidst art-appreciation which is fundamentally uncomfortable with dirt. It is the great temptation of educated families to surround their children with aesthetic beauty which is itself divorced from the means of artistic creation: nature herself. We live in a society in which people are reminded of lipstick when the bold rouge of a beet is cut upon the kitchen counter, when it should be the other way around. Imagine the fairy tale of Snow White re-written for our modern sensibilities: “Hair as black as asphalt, skin as white as marshmallows, and lips as red as cherry ices.
Fungi reminds us to renew our attention to dirt. But paradoxically it also reminds us not to underestimate that which we cannot see. And that far from being simply an intellectual exercise, it is an acknowledgement that we in fact depend most upon that which is least visible and least intelligible to us. It’s a clarion call in our Industrial age: “Be comfortable-no, be delighted- with MYSTERY!”