Thanksgiving

This is a good time to reflect on this season.  We slowed our production and sales down in October, leaving just a few orders of winter squash, shallots, and cabbage to remain.  Then we changed the mindset of the season: from the day to day regularity of field work, plant, harvest and sell to the expansive creativity of Projects.  Of course, we have too many projects.  For us, Thanksgiving is the deadline for most of the farm work.  In December the ground freezes and our minds wander between books and drawings and silent, snowy woods.  We have been blessed with warm weather, then wet weather, then cold, then snow, then two 40 degree, sunny days.  It’s been a fun fall.

Our biggest project this fall was the construction of an unheated greenhouse, often called a “high tunnel.”  If you drive by the farm you’ve probably noted our slow progress on this! Here I am driving the groundposts in:

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As we worked on the high tunnel, we also made improvements to other parts of the farm: electrical outlets, putting supplies away in the barn, winterizing refrigeration and water.  In a typical day when we had a few too many things going on, this is what it looked like:

(chickens roaming, random 2x4s, a project to expand our seeding-starting greenhouse unfinished, and a dog making himself comfortable in the middle of it)

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As the air became cooler it stopped being as fun to work with the cold metal frame of the high tunnel.  Still, as the tunnel took shape, it was impossible not to get excited:

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We purchased our tunnel from Ledgewood Farm; it is a kit that comes with hardware, pre-bent and labeled metal pipes and instructions.  For two (slow) people it was amazingly straight-forward.  Especially considering that we worked on it over the course of several weeks.  It was not hard to figure out what step came next and we both appreciated how nicely the pieces fit together!  When we finished the framing, we had a big jungle gym; not just in looks but function as well, since we had to climb all over it to work:

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I don’t have any pictures of the end-wall building project, probably because we started to feel pressed for time and knew from experience how long it takes us to build with wood.  Justin did most of the work on the endwalls, I showed up to hold the plywood in place when he needed it.

One of the last big steps of constructing a high tunnel is putting the plastic on.  Our sheet of plastic is 36′ x 100′ feet long and who knows how heavy (2 people to lift the roll).  It must be centered on the ridgepole of the tunnel and attached so that it is snug and square.  In the past we’ve put on plastic in the spring or summer, often starting very early in the morning before there is any wind.  We sneaked the plastic on yesterday afternoon, before the gusts of 25mph started.   We were incredibly proud of both getting the plastic on with only two people and for getting the tunnel in a good place for Thanksgiving.

The almost-completed tunnel in late afternoon:

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Those to-do lists we made a month ago have long since been trashed.  Many of the tasks were accomplished, some were not.  Such is this time of year.  As we spend the next couple of days thinking about what we are grateful for, we remember that our gratitude is never-ending and supple.  We are thankful for the smallest things and biggest.  We are thankful for this farm, for our community that has supported us; we are thankful for the warmth of yesterday and its gift of calm while we struggled to finish a task;  we are thankful for our health and the health of our families; we are thankful for all the teachers who have made our present moment possible and for all the teachers who will take the present moment forward.

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Happy Thanksgiving

– Justin & Ansel

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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).

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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.

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1 month later…

Well.  It has been a while…?  In the last month, Flywheel Farm has been spinning very fast indeed.  Rather than make a laundry list of all the ups and downs, I’ll bring us right to today:  It’s raining, which is about the loveliest thing that can happen on a Sunday, I think.  We work on Sunday but we work slowly.  I walked the fields with my pen and paper to note what produce will be available this week for our wholesale buyers.  I picked samples of radishes and cabbages and washed them and gave them a little photo shoot in the prep area.  Justin and I picked the squashes and the cucumbers for the day.  Then we packed everything into the beautiful cooler that is now finished.

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A full cooler is a happy cooler! This is two days after we finished it enough to turn it on. Still had shelving and sealing to work on.

Getting the cooler to the point where we could turn it on was no small task!

We sold arugula to Maggie at White Rock for her BLT pizza.  Then we ordered the pizza and discovered she did some awesome advertising for us on the box! And yes, the pizza was delicious.

We had another litter of bunnies and faced new challenges with this batch.  One litter got very sick with a stomach illness and we lost two and had to dispatch one ourselves.  It was very hard to see them suffer.  Because they had not yet weaned we changed the diet of their mother, Goose, to include much more roughage (organic hay) in hopes that she would pass the fiber on through her milk to her young.  The rest of her litter is still alive but they will be far smaller than Ra-Ra’s litter of 8.  This event made me even more committed to getting the rabbits off of pellets completely.  One of the reasons for their illness may be the finely ground nature of their pellets.  It is difficult to assess how much hay to give them as a substitute but I have some confidence in working it out.  Dealing with this illness also reminded me of how close I am getting to the harvest date for the first litter and how I need to start preparing now.  It is and it should be a difficult thing to kill another animal.  I want my hands to be as sure and unambivalent as my mind in this task.  I feel good about the quality of life that these rabbits lead, especially the fryers that are out on pasture.  I will feel much better if I can improve their food and when I’ve successfully killed and processed them humanely.

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Me working on the second rabbit tractor. This one will house our breeding does and our buck.

On the harvesting front, we’ve moved into summer veggies with a vengeance.  The cucumbers are coming on fast, along with the summer squash and zucchini.  The melons are softball sized and the tomatoes are large, green and glistening.

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These are long days.  There are missed weedings, missed harvestings, missed blog-updatings…lots of things get left as the wheel keeps turning.  There are also favorite things:  a well-pruned tomato house, 6 hours of non-stop picking for large orders, the moment after QuickBooks is updated, washing beautiful greens, watching the back feet of baby rabbits kick in the air as they nurse, morning.

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Thank Goodness for the Rain!

It’s almost as if I can hear the fields breathing a sigh of relief…  When the sun comes out again, it will be madness out there! The crops, the weeds–everything will take off.  Right now we get a little respite from weeding.  Just enough time to catch our breath.

We have finally added chickens to our little farm.  Last night we picked them up from farmer friends of ours.  They spent the night in the back of my truck and were excited to get out of it in the morning.  They’ve laid some eggs, which Justin has ‘reserved’ for the farmstand, even though I’m dying to eat one!  The hens are big and gorgeous ladies.  The eggs will not be certified organic but we will feed them primarily on veggies, bugs and organic layer pellets.  It’s lots of fun to have more animals on the farm, especially ones that are so completely different than the rabbits.  I have to be careful that I don’t let these entertaining creatures distract me too much from growing vegetables!

003One of the exciting developments in the past two weeks is the appearance of flowers on our tomatoes.  We had such a terrible tomato crop last year that the health and beautiful of our current plants seems miraculous.  Everything growing on the plastic mulch is doing so well, partially because of the increase heat under there but also because we’ve been able to irrigate them regularly.  The greens in the field have had to rely on their root systems to get to moisture under the hot dust.  Last week we finished planting the melons and the long-season brassicas (storage cabbage and broccoli).  When I think of all the tender roots we put into hot soil I’m even more thankful for this rain!

Tomorrow we open our farmstand at noon!  We’ll have salad mix and mustard greens, fresh eggs, radish, and plant starts for all you procrastinating gardeners.  If you’ve planted your garden and found you just need a couple more zucchinis or maybe a hollyhock next to your front door, we’ve got you covered.  We have limited supply of plants and we’re only offering them tomorrow and Saturday, so don’t miss out!  For the adventurous, we even have some popcorn plants!

Last year's hollyhocks at the farm.  We have a small number of hollyhock plants available for sale!

Last year’s hollyhocks at the farm. We have a small number of hollyhock plants available for sale!

 

 

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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Putting up the bows.

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Inside the tunnel after we got the plastic on.

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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.

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

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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!

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A Sense of Glad Awakening

Maybe summer isn’t quite here yet but it feels awfully close.  All week cars pulling pontoon boats and campers passed the farm.  The sun is shining (though not, technically, at the moment) and the temperatures have been in the upper 70s.  It’s a great time to be outside.

Our big news from last week is that we are now Certified Organic through Vermont Organic Farmers, LLC (VOF).  We received word the day after I wrote that we should be hearing “soon”.   We’re incredibly excited!

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My “selfie” with our lovely sign from VOF

We are selling Certified Organic ramp leaves at Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier; these are the first products of 2014 for us!  Ramps, also known as Wild Leeks, are a tasty, fresh allium for the spring.  We harvest only the leaves because we want to enjoy the ramp population on our farm for years to come.  In Quebec, ramps have been over-harvested, so much so that it is now illegal to gather them for commercial purposes and even the personal forager cannot harvest more than 50 plants per outing.  We’ve worked with Hunger Mountain to educate people about ramps, which in our forested, wet region are a common spring product at farmers’ markets and stores.  There’s many differing opinions about ramps; some people don’t believe we’re in any danger of over-harvesting while some believe that to sell any form of ramps feeds an unsustainable appetite among consumers.  We see a customer desire for this delicious food and would like to shape that desire by drawing attention to harvesting methods.  Maybe someone reads about “no-dig” ramps at the coop and then has it in their head to ask some questions the next time they see whole ramp bulbs for sale.  This is our hope.  We love to eat ramps in omelets or just lightly stir-fried with rice.  I can always tell when Justin has been around the ramps because he likes to eat them raw.  They are pungent!

For more information on harvesting ramps, check out this interview with Russ Cohen, environmentalist and wild edibles educator.

Justin and I have been busy with what seems like a million on-going projects.  The greenhouse is full: every week I write this and yet every week we add more flats of vegetables to it.

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This is what Justin sees through his glasses when he opens the greenhouse door!

I have been building tractors for our rabbits for what seems like weeks now.  I’ll post later about my on-going project to get our rabbits off of pellets completely and hopefully, eventually, certify our rabbit meat organic.  Right now only our produce is certified.  More pictures of the tractor when I’ve actually finished it!

Infrastructure Projects are in full-swing:

 

We are now three weeks away from the opening of our Farmstand.  I have never been more thankful that May have five weekends this year.  Although we work on the farm all week, we get lots of fantastic help from friends and family on the weekends.  As I think about the next item on my list for today, I think about all the great help I’m getting along the way.  We have supplies from NH, 5 gal buckets from our neighbor, and lots and lots of encouragement!

I only know there came to me/ A fragrance such as never clings/ To aught save happy living things;/ A sound as of some joyous elf/ Singing sweet songs to please himself,/ And, through and over everything,/ A sense of glad awakening.

“Renascence” Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1917