Thursday, June 11, 2009

A tale of two fields. . .

"No one ever said that farming was easy."

This had become one of my favorite quotes recently. Tilling, planting, irrigating. . . these are the easy parts. Yes these activities are labor intensive and one may go home at the end of the day sore, waking up the next morning even more sore. Still, these activities are predictable. You can calculate most of the hang ups you might encounter, and find creative ways to overcome your challenges.

Germination, growing, pest animals and insects, the weather. . . these are unpredictable elements that can drive a man to the end of his wits! I had fully intended today to share our struggles in our educational field. . . It seems that all of nature had conspired against us to drive at least me to the edge of sanity. Munched plants, holy leaves. . . nothing that we planted seemed sacred! The growing season here is so short that there is little margin for error, or restarting. When the cold northern winds come and the snows descend on us, there is nothing to look forward to but the next season. So frustration comes quickly (at least for me) in this field.

As if to bring balance to all things in nature - on the other end of town our production field is doing fabulously. It boggles my mind.

Timing is everything!

One of our ideals is that, in order to become a more sustainable operation, rather than using a lot of "pest control" (and we do use some) that we would learn the rhythm of nature and learn to work with it instead of fighting it.

Part of learning to work with nature is knowing when to plant. . . when the soils are at optimum temperature, when certain "pest" species are done gorging themselves, and have moved on to be bigger more beautiful things.

I keep thinking that we are way behind already, and in this inaugural year, it would seem important that we produce well so as to prove the viability and importance of what we are striving to do here. A trip to our Shaker Village just north of us, the last of the Shakers in the world, brings a certain element of relief - they haven't planted yet - listening and waiting for nature to tell them the time is right.

We have been munched, but are already planted. Yet after weeks of munching, and mowing and otherwise feasting on the food that we have put into the ground, we have seen some of our "less than welcome friends" move on to bigger, more beautiful things. The educational field is green and happy. The salad greens are growing to a harvestable sizes, the beans were adding height and foliage, and the weeds are beautiful! (Okay, that was a joke. . . i think).

In the walled garden we have had set backs - things being eaten, and what appeared to be an incredibly early blight, but things are looking so much more fabulous now. There are tomato blossoms already,the square foot garden looks AMAZING, the kinder-garden is robust. The raised beds look empty for the moment, but are already filled with yummy root crops germinating just below the surface.

With cooperation from the facilities staff, we are starting a flowering plant co-op. As the plan stands we will use our perennial garden as a space that people can come and take and/or leave perennials (that are not invasive) to be used around the campus or at their homes. The idea is fabulous and I thank Walt in facilities for the brilliant idea!

On the other end of town the sweet potatoes are looking good! One hundred and ninety some odd slips were put in the ground, and now the heavens are covering our irrigation for us! There are pickling cukes, summer squash, zucchini, and winter squash all peaking out and making a concerted effort to overtake the grounds to drown out the weeds.

It's the middle of June. In no time at all, these crop will overtake a small portion of nature, invite the deer, and the birds, and shine with healthy fruits and vegetative portions. All of this energy stored and spent and stored again will serve to bring greater health to the people of Saint Joe's and Standish, and in some small way, perhaps, we will all remember our connection to our food and to the earth, and our responsibility to tend to and love what we have been given.

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