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."

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


  Saint Paul

White Bear Lake 


 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:

"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


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