Pleasure can be intense and clear

That tobacco cutting can be drudgery is obvious.  If there is too much of it, if it goes on too long, if one has no interest in it, if one cannot reconcile oneself to the misery involved in it…

Wendell Berry is one of the folk heroes of modern sustainable agriculture.  Like Wes Jackson and any of the ‘celebrity farmers’ whose books cover our kitchen table, his fame can overshadow his words.  Someone mentions Berry and I think, ‘Oh yes, I know what you’re talking about.  I know.”  But the truth is, for all the Berry books I own, I rarely sit and read him.  When I do, I am instantly rewarded.  He is so insightful that to pick up one of his essays in the middle is to pick up a poem and be caught, mid-task; everything else forgotten.  This happened this morning: I was making the bed, laying out the Maine quilt, enjoying the sunlight from our skylights and the golden sheen was reflected by the cover of Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace.  I picked the book up and opened it to the end of his 1988 essay, “Economy and Pleasure.”  I read the essay from the end to the beginning, moving paragraph by paragraph backwards.

The nearly intolerable irony in our dissatisfaction is that we have removed pleasure from our work in order to remove “drudgery” from our lives.

Justin calls it a ‘sale’s pitch’: “Somehow we’ve been sold that ‘less work’ is what we want.”  In his essay, Berry talks about the intense pleasure that comes from moments of hard, often boring, work.

There is talk involved in the management of the work.  There is incessant speculation about the weather.  There is much laughter; because of the unrelenting difficulty of the work, everything funny or amusing is relished.

This is where we want to get to on the farm.  To work so hard that we break out in giggles.  Often it is not the physical labor that pulls us from pleasure but the indecision about tasks, the feeling of being powerless in the face of a long to-do list.  The fight against inertia (exhaustion).

002

To combat indecision, I often find myself weighing ideas or tasks on a balance: a little more of this means a little less of that.  We like to choose between ideas, preferably two.  If you discredit one, you are left with the other.   And yet all the observational data consistently tells us that there is no either/or in nature.  There may not be any mutual exclusivity.  Drudgery is both that experience that saps you and that experience that enlivens you.  There’s no contradiction: it is both.  This reminds me of the psychologists who study happiness and who have found that vulnerability is both the key to the most acute sadness and joy.

Today is sunny and bright with the morning’s rain.  I will think about all the items that Justin and I went over at this morning’s farm meeting, I will worry that it is going to be too hot, I will fret about the slowness of the wholesale orders as they come in throughout the day… I will take pleasure from removing the row cover from a bed of mustard greens: perfect, straight rows, unblemished leaves, bright green.  Or that’s what I was going to do.  Now I’m going to find some drudgery (shouldn’t be difficult) and take pleasure from it.

Ultimately, in the argument about work and how it should be done, one has only one’s pleasure to offer.

015

 

June warmth

Every time I walk down to the farm I pass the most wonderfully fragrant lilac bushes.  Lilac season is so very short and sweet.  It has been a warm week here at the farm, forcing us to rearrange our schedules a bit to avoid being out during the hottest part of the day.  It’s great weather for weeding, if you can handle the sun and the black flies.  Justin has been working tirelessly on the walk-in cooler, putting in the walls and floors and installing the air conditioner that will cool the room. I’ve been weeding and seeding and hovering around the rabbits, making sure they have enough water.  Our dog has been digging holes in the farmyard in an attempt to disappear from the biting bugs.

010

We had intended to open the farmstand today however we have changed our summer opening to next week due to a family emergency.  The growing season is a hard time to leave the farm but part of our goal in this is to still be able to be there for our families when they need us.  I am thankful that we have the ability to take this time this week for the people who have loved and supported us in our endeavors.

This is the flywheel: an endlessly growing cache of strength and love that we call on when we are sad or sore.  It is fed with radish seed, loon calls, strawberry blossoms, muscle memory, new lyrics for classic rock songs, neighbors stopping by, toast with jam, greens that make your eyes hurt…

017

 

Coolers and Caterpillars, O My!

This last week was so busy here at Flywheel Farm that we squeezed in an extra day!  As I type, Justin and his father are wrapping up construction on our insulated box (which will eventually be a walk-in cooler for our produce).

But first things first, on Wednesday we laid down black plastic mulch for our ‘hot’ crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and melons).  It was our first time operating this plastic mulch layer, so we put aside the whole day for getting it down right.  Discs open a furrow, then wheels set the edges of a roll of plastic into the furrow and discs in the back close dirt over the edges.  The implement also puts down irrigation lines under the plastic at the same time.  It is a thing of beauty when everything goes well.

005

In related news, the black flies are out in full force here in Woodbury.  Justin and I wore bug nets all day while laying down the mulch.

On Friday, my father came up from NH to help us put up our caterpillar tunnel for our tomatoes.  The caterpillar is an economical alternative to the 4-season high tunnels offered through Rimol and Ledgewood.  It is only 3-season, since it cannot handle any snow.  We’re using our caterpillar for tomatoes only, so we will take it down in the fall.

024

Putting up the bows.

029

Inside the tunnel after we got the plastic on.

032

The ‘caterpillar’ from the outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did get rained on, though not enough to stop us from putting up the whole tunnel in one day.  I was impressed.

On Sunday, Justin’s dad visited to help with the construction of our walk-in cooler.  He and Justin worked together on that project while I planted tomatoes.

036

Our cooler is housed in a building that’s basically a mirror of our wash and pack area.

044

The cooler is an insulated box right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During all this transformative infrastructure-building, we seeded lots of greens, sweet corn, potted up basil plants, and steadily moved plants out of their comfortable greenhouse onto benches outside.  The weather was hot, humid, cold, windy, rainy, dry all week.  I guess spring isn’t completely over!

Oh! And a quick rabbit update:  The babies are outside, on pasture and it is so wonderful that I just bought the supplies for getting our breeding does and buck out there too.  I haven’t finished the hutch that will go on the end of the tractor so for now I’m grabbing a tarp when very heavy rains threaten.  They may be weaned off their mothers but I’m still babying them!

039

Potatoes in the Half-Moon

Another two weeks come and gone!  My Mondays of computer-work have been hijacked by other (more pressing) farm projects.  We had our organic certification inspection last week, which went well and we’re excited to (hopefully) be getting our certification soon.  Compost was delivered, potting soil picked up, a bolt broke on the tractor and was fixed, peas and greens planted, seeders calibrated…and on and on…

035

We got some much-needed help on Saturday from my father, who worked with Justin to clear two giant, old piles of guardrail posts that had taken up residence at the farm. With all the field work to be done, clearing piles of junk that have been in place for years wouldn’t seem like a high priority. But we can now turn the tractor around at the end of those beds and drive between the field and the greenhouse.

 

033

The plants in the greenhouse, including this chard, look fantastic. We had divided the greenhouse into two sections for heating but yesterday we took down the wall and opened the whole thing up. I was expecting this to open up a whole lot of room but somehow we are still completely full! I’m hoping to move the soon-to-be-transplanted outside after tonight’s low temps.  The forecast has the temperature getting down to 31 tonight.  We’re still running the propane in the greenhouse at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that this week has been the first ‘real’ week of the growing season.  Today we finished our projects around 6 and the sun was still fairly high in the sky and the temperatures were warm.  We grabbed a pizza and ate it in the prep area and then planted potatoes until 8:30.  One of the joys of working for yourself is that you can take a break with a couple of slices of ‘Garlic Luv’ from White Rock and go back to work until dark.  It was a beautiful evening, with the birds loud in the copse and the sun slowly setting behind the lake.

064

This is about all the farm news I can handle for the moment.  Off to bed to dream of potatoes and strawberries!

Bunnies.  The bunnies are wonderful.

Bunnies. The bunnies are (big and) wonderful.

 

Sunny Days and Thaws

Sunny days mean the snow is melting.  Two feet of slushy mess makes the walk to the greenhouse a bit treacherous, one mis-step off the path lands you in the snow.  It means we’re replacing our socks multiple times a day but that’s a small price to pay for sunshine.  Everyday more soggy, brown grass shows up along the edge of the greenhouse or the wash and pack shed.  It’s messy but fabulous!

Our greenhouse is up and going, with the heat mat keeping our plants at a nice 77 degrees.  The onions and shallots have been seeded as well as a whole host of herbs.  At night, when it’s 40 degrees, we cover everything up with plastic and a blanket and during the day we open the doors when it’s 90 degrees.  With the greenhouse up and going we begin months of constant monitoring: Running to open windows when a cloudy day suddenly becomes sunny or running to close the windows when a cold wind blows in.  The trials and mishaps of monitoring the greenhouse reminds me of the first coldframe we built.  We found these two 4′ x 4′ windows for free and decided to build a base for them.  They were incredible heavy and curved, so they weren’t the best windows for what we were doing.  When we finally finished our coldframe we were so excited that we immediately put our tender celeriac and onion seedlings inside.  That day turned out to be sunny and cold.  Justin and I were threshing beans and freezing in the shade of the barn.  When I went to check on the seedlings after a couple of hours, I found our plants melted inside a coldframe that had gotten to over 130 degrees inside.  Thinking it was such a cold day, we hadn’t opened the windows at all.  That night I tried to save the onions by meticulously separating them with tweezers.

As long as we make sure not to cook our plants, the heat that the greenhouse can offer is great for growing.  It allows us to grow tomatoes, eggplants and peppers and it’s not a bad place to hang out when we’re cold and missing those summer days.  Today I carried a lawn chair down and made a space for myself to sit and relax.  Now all I have to do is find my sunglasses.

007

Hey-Zeus prefers to sit outside in the sun while we work in the greenhouse.

What do we do in the winter?

Yes, there’s still snow in our fields.  The greenhouse is chilly and there’s a blockade of snow in the farmyard from the plow.  Yet, this is a major time for farming.  February and March are enormously important times on the Farm for marketing and financial planning.  The Farm makes most of its money in four short months in summer–an incredible task if you think about it.  The only way that is even remotely possible is through careful, thorough planning in the winter.  Before the temperature rises, before the snow melts, we are at the computer, on the telephone and at meetings.

As we near the end of March, we begin to transition from our farm roles as marketers, spreadsheet gurus, and accountants into production managers.  It’s a little rough when the temperatures are still so cold to think about firing up the greenhouse and leaving tender seedlings in there but spring comes on fast when it gets rolling.  The Farm is covered in what we can only assume is 3 feet of compacted snow; pea planting seems a long way off.  We have started the very earliest of our plants in our home and the other day I noticed the seeds germinating, their tiny first leaves, known as cotyledons, opening to the sun.  This miraculous event brings optimism and joy to our house.

In the next weeks, we will be seeding in the greenhouse, shoveling out the barn doors, and making inventories of supplies for the coming season.  It’s incredibly exciting to be starting our second season.