Saturday, July 24, 2021

Breeding Buttercup Back

 This past week we had a once-a -year visitor to the farm: Claire arrived toting two tanks filled with liquid nitrogen and long slender tubes filled with bull seed for breeding our jersey cow, Buttercup. We had heard that Claire was 1.) “The Best.” 2.) The only one for miles who is still handling small herds. 3.) Hard to get a hold of.

We soon found the first two rumors to be true, but he was quick to get back to us and schedule a visit because he immediately understood how important getting her bred back was to a family with one cow. His affection for cows was apparent right away. He arrived, pulled on his boots, regaled us with the fascinating wonders of liquid nitrogen (many times colder than dry ice! Over negative 300 degrees! And we talked “Bull”, eventually choosing a Red Angus to get a more muscley calf to rear for meat next year.

A compact man with a light in his eye, and a steady stream of causal wit and humor, he rotated one of his strongly built shoulders.

“I’ve been doing this for 43 years. Used to do 10,000 cows a year. Now it’s more like 5,000. Not too many smaller herds anymore.” He pulled on his boots.

“Had to have my shoulder replaced. It wasn’t cheap, but they did a good job.”

The toddlers watched wide-eyed as he pulled on an elbow length sleeve and approached Buttercup in her stall.

“Easy now. It’s alright. You’re a nice one aren’tchya! A real sweetheart.” He gently rubbed her rump and calmly reached int, pulling out some nervous droppings- as unfazed as a considerate midwife. We were all appreciative of his decorum and manner.

He had the tube tucked into his shirt, sticking out at his neck, to warm it. As he took it out to insert it, he said: “My wife doesn’t like cows or farmers of my car. I love cows. Have done all my life. My cows, my farmers, my car, that’s all I have in this world!”

“So long as she loves you, I suppose you’re okay!” I replied, making a mental note to send some green beans home with him for the Mrs.

“There we go, girl, all done!” He gave her an affectionate pat before we led her back out to pasture.

“Sometimes when you breed a Jersey to Red Angus you get stripes!” he told us, as he hosed down his boots. The toddlers gasped and grinned at each other.

Later we found out that they thought Buttercup was going to turn Zebra because the “stripe man” had been here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021


“I cringe when I read modern reports of how much children cost. A culture that creates a negative value on children has to be the least creative culture on earth. Children have always been valued as a treasure and a blessing.”

        -Joel Salatin, self- described Christian Libertarian Environmentalist Capitalist Lunatic Farmer


 "The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution."

                                                                                                       -painter Paul Cezanne

"Mama! I can smell the carrots!"

We were harvesting in the rain, I was muddy and sopping and plunging a pitchfork into the earth as she pulled them out by the handful. Her enthusiasm brought me to my senses.

Suddenly I realized that some revolutions happen the midst of a crowd of two.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June Harvest Scenes

purple plum radishes on harvest day

bringing home the broccoli


Week 5 Farm-Share

Then and Now


Little Flower Farm in Hillpoint, 2013
It doesn't matter where you've farmed or for how long. Just the tousle with a piece of land makes for an intimacy that stays with you- bone deep. We were visiting the Driftless Region during a whirl-wind day-long road trip last Friday. We were town for the wedding of two of our Amish friends. Took the opportunity to look in on the old farm. The 20 acres of pasture was plowed under for soybeans. The lilacs and wild raspberry bushes were bulldozed for a more streamlined street-side appearance. The house, batted about by 8 years of Hillpoint wind needs refinishing, the barn a new coat of paint. But the old cemetery is still there. Folks still bring flags and flowers to decorate the graves. The view still knocks the stuff out you, and the feeling of the land there is unmistakably familiar, like the bread-doughy outstreched arms of a smiling Grandmother.

The expanded Little Flower Farm crew in Hillpoint 2021
My Grandma used to spend her summers at her grandparents' farm in Arcadia, WI, just 2 hours Northwest of our old farm in Hillpoint. The way she spoke of that place, and of the hills surrounding the old farmhouse, the front porch, the dairy barn...gave me the impression that heaven for her, was that little piece of land in Arcadia. She said something once that has always stuck with me:

Jane (Erickson) Vessel with Uncle
 on the Arcadia farm
"We never thought we were anything special." She said it with a simplicity that bespoke both humility and the certainty that those people, that place, that time, were in reality, immensely special and eternally important. The farm was "home" to her in a way that her other homes had not been. It had given her a sense of having once belonged to special place...It doesn't matter where you've farmed or for how long. Just the tousle with a piece of land makes for an intimacy that stays with you- bone deep...  One of her last wishes on this earth was to come see our farm. I like to think she has a better view of it now, than she would have from her wheelchair.
5 minutes from our old farm, there is a chapel that sits in the middle of a small cemetery overlooking the hills and valleys. It is dedicated to Our Lady of the Fields. 

O Blessed Lady of the Fields, who loved the land of thy native Galilee, who watched the Tiller of the Earth and Shepherd of the Flock go out and return from Nazareth, who lived with and loved the rural folk of the village, look down graciously upon the fields and pastures of this, thy adopted land. Make our homes sanctuaries of Christ as was thy home. Make our fields fertile and abundant in the harvest. Help us understand more fully the dignity of our toil and the merit it requires when offered through thee to Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen

Prayer Source: National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1920-1960

The Way to Go

 A Thirteenth Century Farmer Makes His Will

“At that time wills had to be written in Latin, and Reginald Labbe (d. 1293) could neither write nor read, much less speak the Latin tongue. So to the parish clerk he betook himself.

The Clerk: How much money have you to leave?

LABBE: Not one penny. I have a cow and a calf, two sheep, three lambs, as many hens, a bushel and half of wheat, a seam and a half of fodder, a seam of barley, another of mixed grain, and one halfpenny-worth of salt. Besides these, I own, in clothes, a tabard, a tunic, and a hood; my household goods are a rug, a bolster, two sheets, a brass dish, and a trivet.

The Clerk: You’re well off. How do you wish to leave these things? And pray remember that, as you have no money, some of them must be sold to defray expenses.

LABBE: What do you reckon they’re worth?

The Clerk: Thirty-three shillings and eightpence all told.

LABBE: And what will the expenses come to?

The Clerk: A penny to dig your grave and two-pence to toll the bell. Then there will be eightpence to prove this will, and six shillings for bread-and-cheese for your mourners. And, say, another crown for fees of other sorts.

LABBE: Those figures are beyond me. But when all is paid, I should like to make these bequests. A sheep to the church in Newton, and another to the altar-and-fabric fund at Oakwood. To my wife, Ida, or rather, to Ida my widow, one-half of my cow, and to Thomas Fitz-Norreys a quarter of my calf.

The Clerk: Is that all?

Reginald LABBE: I can’t think of anything more.

The Clerk: That will be sixpence for the making of the will, and three-pence more for the writing of it out.

Reginald: I can’t pay you now, but I will when I’m dead. The sheep are worth tenpence apiece-take one for your trouble.

The Clerk: That will do very well.

The Clerk then wrote it all down, and Reginald Labbe went home with peace in his mind, and a Latin will in his pocket.”


Eleanor Farjeon’s “The New Book of Days”

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Four Fine Fields

Harvest and Delivery Day

Greens Processing Crew in training

Bringing Buttercup in

Little Flower Farm Cheerleaders and Clean-up Crew

By the end of June the farm comes into it's own.
It becomes a patchwork quilt, a little piece of embroidery which we needle at each day, keeping busy with work which doesn't require us to lie, cheat, or steal.
(this is something which keeps us in good gratitude when heat waves, money troubles, or insects and their nibbling teeth press upon us most indecorously. )
View from the Brassica patch

Potato Field
 The cabbages always surprise us- which is saying something for a matronly vegetable whose plumpness and spread is hard to miss...but just as we notice them starting to whirl their leaves into a centering vortex, the butterflies hatch and we are momentarily distracted, only to turn around at the last minute on harvest day to find they have headed up- business like- while we were tracking gossamer wings and imagining partaking in the diaphanous miracle of we trundle to kitchen with dirty feet to cook up our dinner with the cabbage beneath our arm. You can almost hear it murmur as you slice into it and toss flecks of its fresh leaves into the olive oil. "Enough daydreaming! You must eat, you know! This'll put some meat on yer bones! Ready you for the day in the field tomorrow! We scoop up spoonfuls of the stuff and eat it over rice. With each bite we become more like the hardier stuff that brassicas are made of, like children, who despite their protestations will inevitably resemble their mothers!
Bird's Eye view of the 4 fields of Little Flower Farm

Harmony Buttercrunch Lettuce
Four Fields comprise our farm- at least the veggie growing parts of it. If you sing while you weed you can finish several rows before you even realize you've already finished the beets.
"What did I have, said the fine old woman What did I have, this proud old woman did say I had four green fields, each one was a jewel But strangers came and tried to take them from me I had fine strong sons, who fought to save my jewels They fought and they died, and that was my grief said she Long time ago, said the fine old woman Long time ago, this proud old woman did say There was war and death, plundering and pillage My children starved, by mountain, valley and sea And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she What have I now, said the fine old woman What have I now, this proud old woman did say I have four green fields, one of them's in bondage In stranger's hands, that tried to take it from me But my sons had sons, as brave as were their fathers My fourth green field will bloom once again said she"
Irish Ballad "Four Fine Fields"


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Writing Poems

“No race can prosper 
until it learns there is as much dignity
 in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” 

- Booker T. Washington-


Monday, May 24, 2021

Apple Blossom Time

 It seems strange to say it now, after a week of solid rainfall...but a couple of weeks ago, during that touch and go portion of May, when the grass had not yet made its full come-back and we were experiencing a drought-like spell, we had to hold the steers and cows off the pastures and send them around the yard to mow the lawn instead.

This happened to coincide with apple blossom time and seemed a perfect way to celebrate the beauty of May-time; creating living paintings of bucolic plenty.

If you grab a camera and frame a cow just so, in the lower right portion of the picture, the blossoming tree a-buzz with honey bees seems to bend over a cow like a corsage on a 1920s southern belle.

And, like F. Scott Fitzgerald's character, Sally Carrol, the afternoon drawls lazily along underneath such a tree, the bovines sprawled leisurely, milky- eyed, regarding everything and nothing with equal passivity, drunk on the heady scent of the blossoms that perfume the air for a short 2 weeks.

                      "...the Ice Palace, by F. Scott Fitzgerald...It's my favorite short story. 

                       Someday, when you are old enough, you'll read it, and then..."

We were at the general store for a candy run, and my 4 year old, clutching a 35 cent candy necklace regarded the older gentleman with interest. I was exchanging small talk with his wife- about how big the kids have gotten, and "where does the time go?" and so on, when mention of St. Paul's famous author caught my attention, especially as it was directed toward my pint-sized daughter. What was it about her, rosy cheeked, braids dangling down her back, that reminded him of Fitzgerald? I wondered.

        They had been walking homeward between mounds of high-piled snow and under a sun which Sally Carrol scarcely recognized. They passed a little girl done up in  gray wool until  she resembled a small teddy bear, and Sally Carrol could not resist a gasp of maternal appreciation. 

"Look! Harry!"


"That little girl-did you see her face?"

"Yes, Why?"

"It was as red as a little strawberry. Oh, she was cute!"

                                                                                                          From "The Ice Palace" by F. Scott Fitzgerald



Vulcan Red Leaf lettuces

With a lurch I realized how much I've missed these sorts of random and lovely conversations for well over a year now. With Walz's wand waved, we've been falling in love with people all over again, engaging everyone in banter- from the man in line behind us at the grocery store with the bag of tomatoes, to the usher at church who humanely "bent all the rules for us", to the man who offered to help us up a steep ravine on a local riverside trail, reaching his kind hand out to us like manna descending from the heavens.
new little flower farm compost turning staff

As we watch the snap peas poke up through the ground and greet the waving flags of red leaf lettuces, there's a kind of breath and sigh of relief to see old familiar faces again in the garden. How fitting to share real life smiles again with strangers, at such a time, in Spring, when all the earth seems to gently nudge the heart to remember deeper invisible realities like hope, love, goodness, and beauty.

 "I think they're growing like Swedes- Ibsenesque, you know. Very gradually getting gloomy and melancholy. It's these long winters. Ever read any Ibsen?"

She shook her head.

"Well, you find in his characters a certain brooding rigidity. They're righteous, narrow, and cheerless, without infinite possibilities for great sorrow or joy." 

                                                                                                       from "The Ice Palace" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Here's to spring. And to opening up again to possibilities for great sorrow and joy.


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


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


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."