Preseason Newsletter #5 – May 25, 2013

Have you ever been inside a cloud and felt it on your skin?  Seen it move towards you and envelop the world around you so you cannot see past several feet in front of you?  We live in the clouds.  We live where the weather is not weather, but offers extremes of magic to the way of life.  Like soft caresses from a lover, and stinging slaps of a broken bone.

Weather seems to be a hot topic of conversation these days.  Not just an awkward space filler anymore.  As a farmer, it is central to our work, and especially this time of year poses the most highly variable offerings from the sky and clouds.  This past week, we woke to fields of fog so thick we could only call out to to find each other.  We heard stories of golf ball size hail and crazy storms.  Leah even took a moment to call me from her school and suggest, “You might want to consider covering those tomato plants.  We have baseball size hail that’s breaking car windows.”  I spoke with a colleague at Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook who said their neighbor’s field of crops was decimated by hail, while their field less than a quarter mile down the road did not get a drop of rain.

We watched this same storm, with black skies and epically towering clouds, skirt by the farm without leaving a drop of water, only threatening lightning and 5 minutes of winds that made us all pause in awe of mother earth as we leaned into its power to avoid being knocked over.  Twenty-four hours later, Capers, Melissa and I were drenched to the bone, hurriedly mulching bare soil with hay to protect it from washing down our hillside, barefoot, shin deep in mud, and enjoying the absurdity of choosing this life.  Wonderful and terrifying all at once.

The sunshine the following morning only felt a respiteful tease, like that of the eye of a destructive hurricane, for we were once again in a deluge of water by the afternoon.  Water falling on already saturated soils.  And that water has not stopped falling from the sky now for 3 days.  When all is done, inches and inches of water will have fallen.  Being at an elevation on a hillside, we are not farming on the deep rich soils of the river bottoms, and yes, we do have to carefully plan and design our systems to avoid losing our precious soil from washing down the hill.  But we do not have to worry about being flooded, like so many farms that lay in the fertile lowlands of this area and our country.  Roxbury Farm is fearing the neighboring creeks do not overflow their banks and wash away months of careful work and planning, and decades of building delicate soil balances.  All this, after a spring in which it did not rain for close to a month.  This feels all too familiar to last year’s hurricanes, and the previous year’s droughts.

Among many extreme climatic events last summer, Colorado, for one, experienced the most severe of droughts in close to 100 years, and yet there is all the more cause for alarm this time around because climate modeling, even the most conservative of them, are predicting that this is what we can expect to be the norm as we usher ourselves into the age of climate change: extremes.  More rain.  More drought.  More snow.  More wind.  More heat waves.  I think we might be ready for a new term, because the change is here and it is happening, and we are living it.  How about: climate reality check?

I have had the privilege of living on this piece of land for two and a half years now, and working on it for over 6.  I never sat out and made a point to observe and learn weather patterns, or watch a barometer, or even talk much to the folks who have lived their their whole lives here.  But I knew those black clouds last week would miss us.  And I also knew the following day that it was time to get the tools undercover so they would not get wet.  And I have learned the warning calls of the blue jays and barn swallows when a hawk is approaching, and also watched them play for hours overhead.  Relationship with land is profound in so many ways.  Of many of them, land ushers a deepening relationship with our own weather maps for life: intuition.  This thing we call intuition is one of greatest, and most under-appreciated, under-acknowledged and underutilized gifts of being alive.  Intuition is one of our six senses.  We are not taught or encouraged to use it, and have few role models for what it means to be practiced in using it.  Think about asking someone to describe what a fresh cherry tomato taste like that has been raised on an iv drip, or someone who is blind, to describe a rainbow.  Yet, we all know what intuition feels like.  “Gut feelings”, anyone?  That is your intuition.  But our societal bubble of science has limited our ability to trust our intuition, and made it a novelty of mystics.  Nothing makes it more clear to me than watching the black clouds roll by without dropping rain, or the chickens run for cover after the call of the blue jays, or picking up the phone to call Mom and she is already on the other end doing the same thing.  I know I’m not the only one that’s happened to.

This leads me to some actual farm news in quite a circuitous route.  Two weekends ago, Capers and I attended a one-day workshop on Bionutrient Farming, taught by old farm friend Dan Kittredge, son of my farm mentors Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge of Many Hands Organic Farm in Massachusetts.  In short, we learned about taking our farming fertility and soil building practices to the next level by enhancing the biological systems in our soil that is responsible for healthy plants that grow healthy food.  This means focusing on micronutrients in soil that have typically been left out of consideration, encouraging more fungal and bacterial activity in the soil, and honing our relationship to the land through using our intuition.

Data from the USDA shows that nutrient levels in crops has consistently decreased in the past three decades.  Bionutrient farming means growing healthy plants that produce the highest quality of food.  Now, I know you re thinking, how can this food get any more healthy.  Well, the reality of organic farming is that we choose to deal with pest pressure without the use of chemicals, and we build our soils without fossil fuel based inputs.  This means that we know how to deal with pests really well, and every year we do.  Case in point.  Truly healthy plants do not have a problem with pests.  Few farmers, if any, have ever been able to grow plants that naturally resist pest pressure.  So if a plant is sick, how can it produce its full nutritive potential?  It cannot.  Additionally, that same potential that is dormant in a seed is not being realized.  Bionutrient farming means we are working towards growing single corn stalks that produce 4 ears of corn instead of one, or maybe two in a good year.  20 foot tall tomato plants.  Also, encouraging such a balanced biological system to flourish means perennial and vegetable plants are favored over weeds.

The beauty of all this is multifold.  By mimicking and restoring natural cycles and these micro-ecosystems, we are able to produce more food, higher quality food at that, on less land, with less work, for, you guessed it, less money.  At the end of the day, the movement for food justice and toppling agribusiness like Monsanto will not come from do-gooders and activists alone, but because it will make financial sense for farmers to work in balance with nature, not against it.

Capers and I left this workshop reeling with ideas, and ready for a plan of action.  We will begin to implement aspects of bionutrient farming this season and continue to work towards fully integrating these practices into our systems in coming years.

Enough ranting for now.

Other farm happenings…

Our nascent group, Albany Food Justice Coalition, hosted its first official event of a community meal, promoting healthy food, cooking and community. We had a wonderful time sharing the food of Ellie Markovitch and Sharon Lastyke, engaging in dynamic conversation with families and community members, and trialed the food security survey that will be used later this spring and summer in the Arbor Hill and South End communities. Congrats to everyone involved for pulling together a great event across our many backgrounds, talents and passions.

Abundant gratitude goes out to Rebecca Hein of Underground Alchemy in Albany for offering Soul Fire many cuttings and thinnings of herb plants from her beautiful gardens.  Our home medicinal and culinary herb gardens are well underway.  Thanks Rana Morris as well for sharing plants from the Youth Organics gardens.  It feels perfectly appropriate to being transplanting a little bit of Albany to Soul Fire.  Other news, tomatoes are in the ground, sweet potatoes come next week, and there is lots of weeding to do as we are approaching a week with a lull in the planting!

Finally, next Sunday, June 2, 7am-1pm, we are slaughtering the first of our meat birds.  If you are interested in volunteering or coming to help, or just learn about the process, please join us.  Children are welcome.  Ours are quite involved.  I am happy to offer more thoughts about this is you are interested.  It is an intense process, yet one we approach with reverence for the cycles and abundance of life, gratitude, and the joy of working together.  You can also pre-order your whole pasture raised chickens here.

Announcements

  • We have greens mix available for delivery once a week before the CSA starts.  $5-8/half pound bag.  Let me know if you are interested.  Devlieries are Wednesday of this week and normally on Mondays.
  • VOLUNTEER opportunity this Sunday, June 2, 7am-1pm.  Chicken slaughter and processing.
  • If you are a shareholder, you can volunteer 5 hours over the course of the season in exchange for an additional week of food in the fall.
  • Pasture raised poultry is available for pre-sale here.
  • Remember that you are always welcome to visit socially and/or to volunteer. Give a call to schedule a time.
  • All of our newsletters are archived on our website
  • Please also like us on Facebook.  There are larger picture albums there, and more being added each week.
  • Return your cardboard egg cartons if they are clean.
  • Summer Solstice Party is June 29.  Dancing, trapeze, fire, food.  Mark your calendars.