Thursday, April 29, 2021

What Peter Maurin would have said 100 days into office

Peter Maurin at St. Isidore's Farm, Aitkin MN 1941
 The world would be better off

if people tried to become better.

And people would become

better

if they stopped trying to become

better off.

For when everybody tries to

become better off

nobody is better off.

But when everybody tries to

become better,

everybody is better off.

Everybody would be rich

if nobody tried to become richer.

And nobody would be poor

If everybody tried to be the

poorest.

And everybody would be what

he ought to be

if everybody tried to be

what he wants the other fellow

to be.

                                                                                      from "Better and Better Off"

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Spring Salute

 
On April 17th Prince Philip was laid to rest in St. George's chapel at Windsor Castle. That same day we were in the field planting out onions.






 It seems like most seasons during the early plantings of potatoes and onions we are murmuring prayers for the recently deceased as we bury root balls in newly tilled loamy soil. Sometimes for the young- as in 2018, when a high school friend's brother died of cancer half a year shy of 35. Sometimes for the old- as in 2011, after watching by the bedside of a fellow farmer's beloved Baka. 

At times it feels like only the massive body of the earth, the wide expanse of a tilled field, humbled, open to receive- only that, only that is a large enough vessel to collect grief.




new lettuces


Transplanting is repetitive work, and there is a mercy in that. One can knead one's thoughts like bread as you stoop to space and place transplants, your crew scurrying behind cupping soil to mound around each plant, begging God to be generous with the crop, with his weather, with the soul of the recently departed. It all runs together. The other unsung gift of this work is the monastic silence 9 50- cell plug trays pulls you into.
2021 seedlings awaiting planting time
planting potatoes 2021

I have that all-American soft spot for the UK. The BBC period dramas alone are enough to make me eternally grateful for that country. Just the thought of the pomp and ceremony that so often comes with the British monarchy can be a refreshing mental break from mud-caked muck boots and back aches in spring. 
newly transplanted brassicas

One of the lovely things that the Prince has left behind him is the kitchen garden at Balmoral Castle, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It was his addition to the family estate, and favorite holiday spot of Queen Elizabeth.

Balmoral Kitchen Garden (Getty Images)



Royal Family on Holiday at Balmoral Castle

So it seemed only natural to dedicate our planting of "Guardsman" bunching onions to the late Prince Philip. Bunching onions stand tall and slender, and when harvested never loose their "at attention" military stance. They are elegant, useful, and dignified in bearing. They add a little zip to the daily salad mix....but not too much to be scandalous! They seem a perfect country garden salute to the late Duke of Edinburgh.

potato planting
Royal Navy Hymn (click on title to hear a special performance in the Duke of Edinburgh's honor)

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep,
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep,
O hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace,
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea!

Eternal Father, grant, we pray,
To all Marines, both night and day,
The courage, honor, strength, and skill
Their land to serve, thy law fulfill;
Be thou the shield forevermore
From every peril to the Corps.

Lord, guard and guide the ones who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair."


2021 Season Drop-Sites updated

 As of this writing we are delivering to

2021 Spring Brassica field in the ground, 
planted bio-extensively to help clean the plot
 Marine on St. Croix

Stillwater

  Saint Paul

White Bear Lake 

 Centerville

 Drop-sites will be added as needed. 

For a complete address listing of our 2021 drop-sites, please click on the sidebar page to the right titled "2021 Drop-Sites".

Monday, April 12, 2021

6 Opossum Pile

 In the kitchen garden behind their thriving veterinary practice, "James Herriot" and "Siegfried Farnon" buried many an animal carcass, and reaped the wonderful rewards in the form of fantastic vegetables for years. Alf Wight (the man behind the pen name of James Herriot) recounted this practice with some amusement to his son Jim. In his book "The Real James Herriot" Jim writes, 

The real James Herriot's Garden
photo credit: hillmanweb.com

"Another reason for the (garden's) rich soil was that it contained the deeply- buried bodies of inunmerable dead animals.....When the knack man failed to arrive at the surgery-which was frequently- the vets had to roll up their sleeves and dig the bodies deeply into the ground. The garden gradually turned into a giant cemetery, one that grew giant vegetables."

On our farm we've found the compost heap has be come an indispensable graveyard. Last Saturday we spread a pile on one of our fields that had once contained the mortal remains of no less than 6 opossums, 2 stillborn baby goats, at least one or two cats, the body of an old fox that had one day come to the barn to die in peace, and any moles or voles or mice that the barn cats didn't finish off. 

The Oposum winter was a strange one for us. Each morning for one week, one of the girls would go to open up the chicken coop and find a sleeping opossum inside one of the nesting boxes, trying to doze off a night of egg orgy. So Mr. Farmer would bring out his .22 and after a moment of appreciation for the strange beauty that is the slumbering opossum, the creature would meet its end and into the compost heap it would go. This happened for 6 days, until our collection (and compost pile) grew. 


At it's tallest, the heap reach a height of about 4 feet. When we shoveled by the cartload onto the future brassica field, it had sunk to 2 ft. It what can only be described as the unsung and invisible miracle of geo-thermics and bacterial action. This act of spreading compost each year, and the daily work of mucking out, and stock piling our future pile of black gold is perhaps the most important and most responsible act of stewardship that we perform on our farm. And the results are rather magical. Not a trace of hide nor hair was found in that pile as we spread it. Thought we did see a few bones- many of those too seemed to have decomposed. The heat that the manure generates in the pile causes the bodies to decompose at a surprisingly swift rate.


A few years ago at a MOSES conference, we were at a talk in which the presenter asked the farmer audience to raise their hands.

"How many of you raise vegetables?"

3/4 of the room raised a flannel shirted arm and hand.

"How many of you raise livestock?"

About of 1/3 of the room answered in the afffirmative.


"How many of you raise both at the same time?"

As hands begun to reach for he ceiling, the presenter shook his head.

"YOU'RE CRAZY!" he shouted as we sheepishly chuckled. 

And, at times, given the workload and the amount of conflicting jobs that vie for our attention in spring I remember him, cringe, and feel prone to admit he may have a point....but then come days like last Saturday. 

The magic of watching the manure and urine of goats and horse and



cows, 6 opossums, 2 baby goats, 2 cats, a fox, and wee little mole and vole bodies fertilize our field, and feed our future broccolis and cabbages and kale...and it is hard to see such a practice as crazy. Buying in chemical fertilizer or purchasing someone else's organic manure pile seems like the crazy thing to us.  And we haven't even begun to discuss the inestimable value for soil structure that organic matter brings. We're after a closed loop of on-farm generated fertility. We're after giving back to our piece as much as we take from it.

There's magic in the muck, and a beauty to the patiently built compost heap that we feel privileged to be a part of. Christ himself was born in a barn. So there's some precedent for finding incalculable value where you find piles of animal manure and bedding. The story of Resurrection began in a Stable.  Every old-fashioned farmer knew that.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Spring

seeding tomatoes and zinnias




spreading compost

tilling in the compost and preparing the gardens

hens moved out of the greenhouse and ready for 2021 seedlings and tomatoes

 



Beatrix Potter and the Postman


Agaricus Sylvaticus
By Beatrix Potter
Perth Museam & Art Gallery
Beatrix on Holiday in 1889
Beatrix Potter had a passion for mushrooms. For the better part of 14 years she spent her time studying them, drawing them, sprouting them. Their postman in Dunkeld -where her parents rented houses for extended holiday stays, was also an avid Natural Historian and fungi enthusiast. They exchanged several letters on the subject, via the twice daily mail, and I love to imagine them both, contented in their obvious solitude, but granted the unexpected delight and gift of friendship.

“He is a perfect dragon of erudition, and not of gardener’s Latin either. His successor has a tricycle. It will save his legs, but modern habits and machines are not calculated to bring out individuality or the study of Natural History.”

Charlie McIntosh with
his grizzly beard and aquiline nose, swinging his one good arm, would wend his way through the Scottish countryside, at home in his outdoor lab, picking up specimens here and there on his mail routes to bring to the lonely girl on the hill with the large eyes and quiet ways.
Locally dubbed as the “Perthshire Naturalist, he could appreciate her sketches of fungi:

Charles McIntosh 
Perth Museum & Art Gallery

“His judgements speaking to their accuracy in minute botanical points gave me infinitely more pleasure than that of critics who assume more, and know less.”

Neither of them would have papers published on Botany- though Beatrix’s Uncle did try on her behalf, to publish a paper titled: “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae”. When the paper was eventually rejected after several months of revisions and several more years of work, she stopped writing in her personal journal and the paper itself disappeared.

Letter to Noel Moore 1892
The Pierpont Morgan Library, NY
Were it not for a letter she wrote to a friend’s little boy in which she recounts a family of rabbits living under a tree, and for her friend’s encouragement to turn it into a book and self- publish it, we might never have heard from the quiet self- taught naturalist turned farmer who lived in the Lakes District.


I like to think on that postman, and his long lonely walks which were never dull to him, and which he found a quiet contentment in, because of his fascination with things that grow…and this independent study, this love of his, prepared him to be a great wealth of comfort for another human being greatly in need of some support and mutual sympathy.

Who can tell? Perhaps the world would never have met Cecily Parsley or the bunny in the blue jacket if Charlie McIntosh hadn’t had the habit of bending his long limbs and scanning the ground for toadstools, and other oft unnoticed treasures, like the silhouette of a girl bent over a sketchbook alone by a marshy wetland.

 We are celebrating Easter Week here on the farm. Work preparing fields for planting is interrupted and punctuated by gentle rains and drizzles. All the water is waking the trees and shrubs…they are slipping into their gauzy underthings. The garlic is up. The bloodroot is blooming, with its white blossoms and blood red juice: a living ode to the Resurrected Christ. I love to think of Mary Magdalen. How she was first to the tomb. How she mistook the Lord for the gardener.

flats of seedlings awaiting an Easter bath 
at Little Flower Farm
How he must have been doing the things that gardeners do. Encouraging new growth. Playing about in the dirt. Pushing aside mulch to ease the emergence of bulbs…conducting a symphony of resurrection. She thought he was the gardener, and found him to be the Christ…like Beatrix Potter going to retrieve her mail and finding a friend, like anyone who finds the unexpected treasure in the ordinary and rejoices. It is the experience of spring.




inspiration, quotes, and pictures found in Marta McDowell's lovely book "Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life...The plants and places that inspired the classic children's tales" Cannot recommend it highly enough for a delightful spring read! To visit Marta's page go to www.martamcdowell.com



Saturday, March 20, 2021

Writing a Libretto

 Some years ago we were looking at a farm for sale in Utica, MN.

As soon as we hit the rambling rural backroads of “Amish Country” we found ourselves pressed against the car’s windows in a spellbound silence. One particular sight that is seared on my memory is that of a young towheaded boy nor more than 4 or 5 years of age, tending a bon-fire of trash in the backyard of one of the white farmhouses. It struck me instantly that to our “English” sensibilities, both the fire and the fact of the child working were something distasteful and frowned upon as too risky…at the same time I found myself keenly desirous of the pluck and initiative of the little fellow in the blue trousers, both for myself and my own children.


In stark contrast, the “farm” we visited ended up being something of a rural leisure estate. The family had come, hoping to “raise their children in the country” and had left. All that remained now were the trampoline, the large home, with its cable TV hook-ups, and the multi-car garage and boat storage. There were no signs of fields tilled, trees planted, or even a garden.

There are two ways of living in the country “for the children’s sake”. One involves them as partners, and makes them as much a goal as any crop, and the other manages them like an retired old gelding that is put in a paddock with food and water and left to itself for the rest of the time. Living in the country does not magically make for a family filled with “down home values” and a serious work ethic. Joel Salatin’s 1st and 2ndcommandments for family friendly farming are “Integrating children into every aspect of the farm” and “Love to Work.”

“Children in diapers need to be involved with the activities. I have no idea how many times our kids fell asleep in my arms on the tractor seat. I’m sure someone will jump on me about safety here, so let’s talk a little about safety to get it out of the way…..The simple truth is that a life worth living is fille with risk. Anyone who wants to eliminate risky from his own life or the life of his children does so at the cost of taking the zest and fire out of life. The rough and tumble part of life teaches wisdom and caution. One of the things we’ve noticed since our children were tiny was their caution compared to the recklessness of non-farming children.”

                                                                      Joel Salatin, “Family Friendly Farming”

People squeamish about risks need to listen to more opera. Or sing it.

I’ll never forget a college chum’s birthday party in CA. She came from a singing family. One of her cousins was a tenor with the San Diego Opera. We were stretched out on the ground in front of the grand piano in their living room, with all the languid loveliness of college girls unencumbered by any serious responsibility or self-awareness. All of the sudden Ernie began to sing. My chest wall began shaking with the physical vibrations of his vibrato. I was shocked by the confrontational reality that was opera- at point- blank range. It suddenly felt like I had been living my life at half-volume, half-pressure, half-heart. The music made me aware of the rewards of confrontational risk. You cannot sing full-throated without taking risks.


When she was 1, Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” became my daughter’s theme song. She would brandish her baby spoon whenever he belted “Vincero! Vincero! Vincero!!!”  We were making bread the other day listening to him and she looked up with a grin and said: “Mama, isn’t it great to be alive?”

More from Joel Salatin:



“If you teach a child that he’s above mucking out the manure or pulling weeds you’ll raise an arrogant, uncompassionate hard-to-please master.”


“Require and allow children to work. And work with them……Parents, don’t cheat yourselves into thinking you’ll have the same bond over recreation and entertainment that you would over work. The emotional depth and the import of work is far greater than a shared recreational experience. That’s just play. And please don’t think I’m suggesting that we should not play or participate in recreation. I do, however, believe it is greatly overrated in our culture, and has tended to cheapen the value of the human experience.”

                  - Joel Salatin, “Family Friendly farming, a Multigenerational Home-based Business Testament”

In our own family with our children, and the unique age gap between our older and younger daughters, we find ourselves marveling at the particular gift of work that is specific to the different age groups. Yesterday we seeded 25 flats of brassicas and flowers. We found that the time flew by, largely because of the genius the two little ones have for making dirty work fun, and the deftness which the two older ones have at making detailed work efficient. The little ones stripped down to their skivvies and helped Papa fill the flats with soggy metro mix, and the older ones rolled up their sleeves and painstakingly placed tiny broccoli seeds in each cell. Label. Place. Mist. Cover. Spray. Shelve. Done.

This is definitely a case where small farm/domestic economy differs from industrial economics, or from any model which pushes for more efficient production and invests in time and labor- saving devices without thought for the human quotient.  If I had a vacuum seeder I could do the job perhaps as quickly or more quickly by myself, but I would stifle the larger goal of raising my children alongside me in work and play. I would lose the conversations about Fabre and Agatha Christie.

“I can’t remember which one the murderer used….what is that poison that smells like bitter almonds?”

“Oh! I know that one, I just read about it in my Fabre.” (brings a newly seeded flat of kale to the shelves where she slides it under the lights. Grabs a book from the table.)  “Yes, here it is: the cherry-bay.”


 There would be no singing along to the “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”  in the kitchen, reveling together in the smells of lunch in the oven and sap on the stove. Perhaps most importantly, we would lose the cultural collective memory of farming and how to live and work together as a family. Gene Logsdon was always remarking on how the Amish view their labor as part of their gain, their net profit, not loss. This is part of the genius of the Amish way of life, and that of the small family farm. 

There is no real secret to it, except that the crop being raised is not just oats or peas or organic vegetables, but also people.