Being a diversified farmer means having a varied and multifaceted job description and set of duties. It also means more hours of work than a traditional 9-5. Darkness has fallen on this evening of September 2nd; it is 8:20 pm as I sit down to write. The catalogue of the day’s activities is a prime example of the life of the homesteader and farmer.
Animal chores and watering, breakfast and planning. Visiting with a neighbor, preparing lunch for the team. Jarring sauerkraut, cleaning and prepping for market tomorrow. Harvesting beans, squash, cukes and okra; planning the order of crops to be harvested in the morning. Eating dinner and then going back out to pollinate.
While harvesting this afternoon, I was struck by the abundance that has grown on the farm; lush vegetation is everywhere, bees and other pollinators drone by, birdsong is rampant. I fight through a jungle of sunflowers, compass plant, lovage, evening primrose and other flowering plants; I seek squash for my harvest tub.
We have an ongoing discussion on the farm about the merits of cutting down and pulling the various perennials and reseeding annuals that have made their home here, hopscotching around the garden. Comfrey, mallow, mustard, wild raspberries, catnip, feverfew, mint, asparagus and dozens of other species of plants compete with the vegetable rows. Things start out pretty ordered in the spring but descend into a riotous profusion of color and form.
Our dialogue revolves around the question of how much to pull out, and how much to leave; these plants are often “weeds” in that they have chosen to grow in an area that is to be planted to a vegetable crop. LEAN Farm principles confirm that we would be a more efficient and productive farm (in terms of farmgate production and economics) if we maintained clear, clean rows of produce and restricted the other plants to areas that are set aside for them. If not, we risk wasting time and effort to plant crops that will not produce as much as they might have if they were given maximum space and less competition for sunlight and resources.
I see a balance in the need for efficiency, desire for variability in the garden and a gentle belief that things grow where they want to be. The farmer serves as arbiter of fate for these plants, and I tend to want to leave many of them. Grass, wild lettuce and a few other plants we deem noxious to our space are given no quarter, but dozens of species perceived to be useful often get a free pass. There is an elegant beauty in a neat row of salad mix; there is a luscious fecundity to unrestrained garden expression; we value both.
Ten years ago we built the first garden beds next to the cabin; now we have a small farm. It is a deep joy and satisfaction to see the results of what sustained human effort can accomplish. The soil was clay and rock with an inch or two of topsoil; a far cry from the rich, dark loam that we have helped to create. Cover crop, compost and soil-amendments have transformed the soil and what it produces.
Learning how to manage and tend a space of land is the work of a lifetime; a calling that articulates the meaning of husbandry. To steward that which we are blessed to farm is a spiritual lesson that grounds and connects.
I watch my baby nephew take in the world in awe; I reflect on what it means to learn and grow as a person. I think about growing up here from my earliest memories, experiencing the land through the eyes of a child. To know the landmarks of this place as a memory of the treehouses and forts, the creeks and swimming hole. Knowledge of place is the embodiment of human experience through the ages.
It is a soulful honor to tend the land, and it is a responsibility to use the tools and gifts we’ve been given; to strive to be our best and highest selves. Watching the bees buzz in the wildness of the garden, I think about what it means to grow food for my family and for my community. To offer nourishment or medicine to another is a fundamental contract as deep as life itself, carrying with it a powerful ethos of responsibility and conscience.
It is a joy to share this journey with you; we know you are appreciating the summer bounty as much as we are! Peppers, carrots, kale, bean, squash and several other veggies go into stirfrys that start out by browning onions and ground meat. The delicious flavors are potent with fresh life and vitality; we are blessed to have them. Much love and appreciation to you, fellow eater!