“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Rachel Carson
I am trying to endure. April has been rough and exhilarating for your farmer. Rob has always been much more Zen about life's disturbances and I continue to learn from his fluid, grounding love. For me, I've been at the mercy of April's moods. On the one hand I am welcoming the snow and quiet and the chance to linger over coffee with friends, catch a film, read the backlog of BrainPicking's Newsletters, or dust off the canoe. On the other hand, the snow and cold unsettles my circadian farmer rhythm. We should be hardening off our young larkspur and allium transplants and seeding spinach alongside sweet peas. Instead the seeds and seedlings stock-pile in our greenhouse overflow zone (aka our kitchen and dining room).
Cold and wet is great for fruit tree planting, grafting, and dividing perennial herbs. Yet this too has been hard to do since the frost refuses to leave let alone heave under the weight of the shovel. 2014 memories come to mind—a year without kiwi due to a lingering cold spring. Come May, the kiwi refused to fruit save for 11 brave berries. There is reason to hope amidst the fickle jet stream. Kinglets and kingfishers have returned, bluebirds sing, and daffodils' tensile strength breaks through the tension of soil and snow. I am even anticipating the dandelion's return with earnest as our honeybees have just arrived! The release of all this fire and ice is beauty, maybe even a bit of longing. Just as Rob and I grow vegetables and fruits to feed and nurture your bodies, we also grow beauty to nurture our souls (and hopefully yours too).
Beauty is not just an act of prettiness to be passively consumed. Rather beauty is intrinsic, we know it when we feel it let alone see it. This transcendence is different yet similar for all of us. So cultivating beauty on our farm is an act of love and bridge building, so we might enter in conversations that spark renewal, joy, hope, and empathy as we unravel in its presence.
“Beauty is a property of networked relationships that might be heard through ears of peculiar and multifarious design,” David Haskell, Song of Trees.
What does it mean to hear beauty, let alone be part of a networked relationship through which we design? As your farmer, cultivating beauty – in the form of fruit and flowers—is a responsibility. To me it's a dedicated effort that supports the land and each of us in it to develop strength, maturity, and independence, interdependently.
How do you put a price on it? I don't know really, but I am grateful that our CSA and Fruit Share members, Chefs and farm friends, and clients are willing to negotiate and converse about the price we pay for beauty. The result often strengthens our relationship and resolve, which is then gifted and invested back into the land and circulated in our society. I've been slowly and intentionally building the scaffolding that supports such beauty for 10 years, Rob for over 25 as your farmers. We are finally starting to see and maybe even hear the beauty of our little patch of Earth as we continue to explore the wealth of each members' contributions. We are grateful to celebrate this beauty and bring it to our shared tables.
Beauty takes on many forms. Iris Murdoch, riffing on Plato whose pursuit of beauty was to find universal mathematical truths beyond the mess of human politics, wrote that, “...the experience of beauty was an 'unselfing'.” to me I think she meant, quiet listening. I continue to negotiate her words as I walk the garden edges listening, delineating a sense of belonging within my community, surrendering to acts of beauty as is, not what I want it to be. An ethic of belonging takes flight through the sight of the cranes nesting or when the pine shudders in the wind under the kiwi vine's weight.
Our farm, our orchard, in particular, is a series of songs wherein each season I fine-tune myself to its soil metronome. Beauty's notes expressed and experienced in a series of connective nodes of roots, microbes, mycorrhizae, nematodes, and annelids. These hormonal, electrical and biochemical disruptions in the detritus sing not of prettiness or sensory novelty, but with resonance, in a slow successional design of an embodied relationship. Forest gardens are an example of such beauty embodied in community, humans included.
Our seasoned members' know of the forest garden metaphors I tend to riff about in our newsletters. Yet each year another metaphoric layer is built alongside a new tree friend that bears fruit (secretly hoping it's apricot this year). For the newcomers, forest gardens are perennial polycultures of fruits, flowers, and herbs that share resources and create networks of mutual support both above and below ground. To me it's the perfect mirror of what we cultivate above ground so to we reflect below ground and vice versa.
Forest gardens emphasize an awakened layered system of ecological beauty. The design focus is on perennial plants, self-seeding annuals, and nitrogen fixing groundcovers and herbs. You can grow one nearly anywhere in the world, whether you have 25 square feet or 2500 acres, so long as you approach the act with an awareness of your own abilities and limitations—remaining humble and open in the sincere effort to observe and get to know your land and place in it. From there you build in layers over time, supporting the early years with nursecrops, earthworks that hold water. Years 2 and 3 you weave in shrubs, vines, understory and plant canopy trees, with flowers and herbs filling in the gaps.
Our orchard is entering year 5 on its trajectory toward stasis. There's a certain level of patience, grit, and surrender, that has happened since. Maturity is eventually reached on the land and within ourselves when nature is allowed to move through all the various stages so that balance remains within reach. This is both intuitive and counter-intuitive to what the 'business of beauty' demands. When considering only economics, the business of beauty means balancing cash flow, scaling efficiency of production, cultivating annual disturbance, and exploiting 'prettiness'. The mortgage won't be paid as quince roots settle, and even the adaptable currant, takes a year to enter the currantcy system, yielding her ruby red strigs and translucent pearls of berries come July.
Enter flowers and herbs on an annual cycle of birth, growth, death, and decay. Ephemeral beauty that blossoms, peaks, dessicates in a moment, yet its memory is stored in the perennial roots and seedstocks that rain back on the Earth, in the smiles and photographs of a treasured wedding day, a spontaneous bouquet gifted to a lover, or enjoyed throughout the season in a series of Flower CSA bouquets.
Disturbance happens. We might get too comfortable. We begin again with a simple act of beauty. I look forward to sharing beautiful feasts from our food forests and flower beds in the seasons ahead. This act of beauty is for you. - Erin