I was out walking 'Up and Down the Hill' with my mother and a friend as part of the La Valle celebration this past summer and we were talking of relationships with our mothers and all the gratitude, headaches, tensions, and celebrations that come with it. My friend shared that in coming to terms with her mother's aging, she and her sister were putting together the ABC's of appreciation –a reflection of what they have learned and learned to appreciate about their mother over the years.
As I tuck in the farm for the winter months, exhaling from the frost-nipped fields, I thought I'd share in the ABC's of all the things that I have learned and appreciated from Mother Earth at the farm community this season beginning with:
Autonomy - and interdependence. Our food forests continue to subtley and not so subtely teach us about how to best design perennial polycultures of multi-purpose plants so we might share resources, create networks of mutual support in growing our own food, fodder, fertility, fuel, 'farm-a-cueticals' and fun. And like our orchard guilds, personally, I farm in part because I enjoy the autonomy in decision making, running a small business, and finding my niche. At the same time I reminded of how much as farmers, we rely on others to grow food in partnership with the land and our community.
Beans – I learned that an acre of beans saves 1 million BTUs of artificial nitrogen or the equivalent of half-a-ton of CO2 emissions. Another miracle courtesy of nature. Writing the bean fields notes was another way to express my gratitude and participation in Fermentation Fest and the Farm/Art D'tour.
Creativity – On the flower front, as with seasonal eating, the menu of blossom beauty constantly changes and is prone to the peaks and valleys of Wisconsin's growing season. I am grateful for the creative challenges that flowers have offered me when it comes to bouquet design for weddings and our flower csa program. For me bouquet making is an expression of my love for the Earth and the opportunity to share this love with others.
Dung beetles – I learned that dung beetles orient themselves by the milky way and that they are a key player in helping neutralize methane gas emissions from cow manure. Imagine a world without dung beetles, (or decomposers in general), and the miles and piles of leaves and pooh we would have to navigate through without these species to help turn this year's s*&t into next year's flowers. Thank you Suzanne Husky for your artful display along the Farm/Art D'tour route and ironic/playful attempts at communicating both. We so enjoyed hosting you at the farm!
Ephemeral – There were times when the late afternoon light would shine on the vervain, when fog would lift from the prairie, cicadas would sound the arrival of heated days to come, and I would be awestruck. In the words of Emerson, I am reminded that, “A ray of beauty outlasts all the utilities of the world.”
F – words. Fruit, flowers, and finding financial footing at the farm of course. The former two are mutually supportive of the latter and I can't deny that a few explitives are sometimes dropped in between. This is the first season, I can say with confidence that I am exactly where I need to be in terms of all three.
Garden gratitude – In reading through poems about gardens this phrase from anonymous struck me: "...wasn’t the earth /safe when it was planted // didn’t we plant the seeds, / weren’t we necessary to the earth..."
I am grateful for all the gardens I have helped shape and which have shaped me. Most notably, this year my farm, has taught me the importance of participating in life giving acts with the land and in relationship with each other.
“I trust your Garden was willing to die ... I do not think that mine was—it perished with beautiful reluctance, like an evening star—Emily Dickinson, 1880
Humble – The soil quilt project and stories that began last year, continued. I am appreciative of the press we received through AgriView, as part of the Soil Sister's Tour, and National Geographic. I am forever reminded that humus is closely related to the words human and humble. I learn from farming the importance of continuing our humble collaborations with the humusphere as we evolve as humans.
Interventions – Knowing when and how to best intervene in our farm system is a constant balance between efforting and letting go/not being tied to outcomes as decisions and opportunities are presented. I think working with honeybees provides the best example of knowing when and how to best intervene. Keeping our fingers crossed that our bees will make it through a Wisconsin winter.
Japanese beetles – I can't say I am thankful for this orchard nemesis. That said, the beetles have given me the discipline and recognition of the importance of making the daily rounds through the fields and visiting with each plant – observing what is going on, who is showing up, are they friend or foe, how to intervene, what's next, etc. I also learned the 'fruit buffet' that Japanese beetles prefer as the season progresses: Elderberry appetizer; cherries, white currants, apricots, hazels, and grapes main course; plums and apples for desert; forever washed down with seaberry (the beetle magnet).
Keytone – In music the fundamental tone of any given key is referred to as its keytone. I'd like to think that I learned how to tune into the tone of dahlia blossoms unfurling in the morning light, or that the song sparrows nesting in the prairie dream in G keytones. I can say with certainty that the farm has been a great place to play music with friends and I am learning a few new keytones on the harmonica.
Liquidity – We had epic rains and saturation in September. In spite of this, our efforts with berms, mulching, contours, capturing rainwater, cover cropping, raised beds, and finding ways to support the soil's water holding capacity, we saw little if any erosion on the land. We wish we could say the same for our driveway. Repairing it has been a lesson in 'pure liquidity' (ie cash flowing in one hand and out the other).
Mandala making and other meditations - for surviving the 'middle age years'. I learned what works in a July flower mandala and discovered a few sweet spots for an afternoon meditation at our farm. I am also looking for other peers who are past start-up phase in fruit and flower production, wherein I can share skills, inspiration, and ideas for managing and maintaining enterprises in the 'middle age farm years'.
Nighthawk migration – began the second week of August, on par with seasons past. Migrations give me hope and trust in returns.
Orionid meteor showers – I added this meteor event to the reperatoire of sky viewing. If you were up in the pre-dawn hours on October 20, perhaps you too looked to the sky for inspiration and a reminder of what an immense journey life can take us through.
Pulses – Not only did we celebrate Beans and the International Year of the Pulses, but I also continue to learn to intuit the pulse of the land. Most notably in our orchard ecosystem. Our food forests are taking shape and I think about the question I should have asked the land, when it comes to seaberry, “Will you thrive here? Is this the best possible way I can intervene and help you express yourself?” Sigh, maybe seaberry will be a good fruit friend for your fenceline? If so, let me know and we can hook you up come spring.
Quiet – I am continuing to appreciate the importance of quiet. I have appreciated the no wake zone on Lake Redstone due to high water for most of the season. Sigh, no jet ski motors to wake up to. I also appreciate the need for inner quiet and stillness, and under the old apple tree is the perfect place to consider, tune in to both.
Resilience – Not just a buzz-word, but a reality that feeds into our well-being and ability to find balance when affected by life events or challenges. That we had 2/3 of our annual rainfall happen in August and September is a resilience testing experience not just of our psyches, but of how well our farming practices and the land are able to retain their balance following a succession of 6 plus inch rain events.
Seed saving – This season, I learned new seed saving techniques as part of a Farmer to Farmer project in Senegal and through our efforts at the farm supporting participatory research with the Organic Potato Project, and the Farmer/Chef/Plant Breeder Initiative. I can now add potatoes, eggplant, onion, and lettuce to the repertoir of seeds saved on the farm. I am so thankful for the many hands, hearts, and heads that our seeds pass through and the signs that the plants offer in terms of when to collect seeds.
Threshold - the point or level at which something begins or changes. Seven years in, our orchard is taking shape. Seven years growing, I am beginning to be shaped by the orchard. Case in point, I got a call in July from a new customer who said, “I am so glad I was able to find your farm and talk to the 'currant queen'.” Sigh.
Umbiliferous – Mid-August, mid-elderberry harvest, and my palette unraveled in umbiliferous joy.
Vision – It wasn't the greatest of fruit harvests this year. Our currants and pears held steadfast, elderberry was a pleasant surprise (and a feast for the birds!), kiwi came through, and only a teaser of quince and apples were revealed. We chalk it up to a combination of a mild winter, mid-May freeze, excessive September moisture, and the resulting disease/insect pressure, hampering our tree fruit productivity. With perennials we are in it for the long haul and may Rob and I continue to have the vision and wherewithal to plant which will outlast what we might know and harvest in our lifetime.
Well – being. I recognize the challenge in defining well-being—its multi-faceted nature is both personal and collective. I keep thinking of the expression, “I am uplifted, because you are uplifted”. At the farm I am uplifted by all those (CSA members, friends, neighbors, strangers, etc) who support the well-being enhancing experience of my ability to keep putting my hands in the soil and providing food and flowers for people.
Xerces – A great resource for supporting pollinator friends at the farm. I learned about their work when walking through the orchard in conversation with fellow farm friends.
Yarrow – This perennial herb likes to set up shop along roadsides and in meadows and is a valued medicinal plant. In classical times, it was known as herba militaris because it was used to stanch war wounds. It continues to be used to support recovery from colds and flu. I noticed that Achillea millefolium has really set root in our field borders and showed up at the base of our apple trees in our orchard. Hmm, perhaps it is here to serve as food for pollinators, stanch and heal the 'war wounds' inflicted on the Earth from past mismanagement. It also boasts a prolonged vase life, making yarrow an excellent addition to bouquets.
Zazzle – What happens following a fireside chat with friends – the next thing you know it is 1 am, you are still laughing, soaking in the sounds of coyotes and crickets and smiling into stars. (And a shameless marketing plug, I discovered that Zazzle is a good platform for creating your own business cards).
Now I know my ABC's and next year I invite you to learn and sing the farm's sweet music with me.
Thank you for the many ways you have enriched my farm experience this season! I look forward to future adventures in the seasons ahead.
Yours in hardy kiwi, - Erin