Spring is an emotional time for farmers. The big push to get plants in the ground is complicated by the weather. The frequent rain keeps the soil too wet to work, and there’s the temptation to disc and till too soon. If the ground is worked too soon, the soil’s structure can be damaged. Large clods of anaerobic rot can stunt plant growth and soil compaction can stop root development. So we must balance the pressing need to plant with restraint.
It takes about four consecutive days of dry weather in April for our soil to be workable. There have been a couple of good windows, so we were fortunate to transplant beets, broccoli, bunching onions, cauliflower, chard, chicory, collards, fava beans, fennel, kale, lettuce, leeks, peas, and parsley. We were also able to direct-sow arugula, carrots, radishes, spinach, turnips and even some bush beans. It was a huge relief to get these plants in the ground. Now we are waiting for another dry spell to plant onions and potatoes.
April was a conflicted month. We hoped for dry weather then wanted it to rain on our newly planted crops. A storm blew in and then the sun shined. The cold sky was filled with dark clouds of hail, then twenty minutes later, a warm burst of sunlight made steam rise from the tilled earth and a rainbow spanned the sky. Our emotions, fueled by our planting goals, rose and fell accordingly.
It was during one of these roller-coaster days that I saw posted on the local grocery store reader board: “10 lb potatoes – $1.” Something about that sign triggered an emotional response through my physical exhaustion. I imagined the potatoes being harvested by a house-sized machine that loads semi-truck after semi truck as it harvests hundreds of acres. The semi trucks transport the potatoes to the packing plant where the potatoes are sprayed and bagged. Last years’ anti-sprouting spray must be wearing off, and the potatoes must be sprouting in the store, hence the sale. I was overwhelmed by the fact that we cannot compete with that price, and held back tears as I shifted gears through town on the way to Stettlers for irrigation supplies. At the same time, I was strengthened knowing that our potatoes are a different product: well cared for and loved without chemicals or bank-owned machines.
On the same day, Monday April 26th, we heard State Representative Brian Clem speak at Willamette University’s “Green Cuisine” event. He talked about his experiences as a fruit farmer near Hood River, and shared his perspective on how global industrialized farming often suppresses prices below operating costs. His was one of many stories we’ve heard recently about commodity fruit prices being so low that the shipping box is worth more than the amazing fruit inside. His major frustration was that he could not bid low enough to provide fresh fruit to a school that bordered his farm, and one of his political goals is promoting the use of Oregon-grown crops in public schools. It was nice to hear that we are not alone in our attempts to build a local, sustainable agriculture. He also commented on a realization he had during his time farming. He said that when you are farming, you realize that it is the work humans were meant to do.
We left the event renewed. Our first major plantings were in and we were well-represented in the state government. Our eight-year wedding anniversary was Tuesday the 27th. To celebrate we started flats of Brussels Sprouts and 500 small pots of cucumbers (3 types), summer squash (5 types), pumpkins (4 types) and winter squash (4 types). Walking the plants to the greenhouse, I spotted the full moon. It seemed appropriate to be planting these seeds by the light of the full moon, almost like we were compelled to work late into the night until the planting was done.
I associate the full moon with fruition, things coming to a head. The timing of our wedding anniversary and the fact that we were working together late into the night reminded me of a crumpled sheet of paper I have saved for over twelve years. On the sheet of paper, I wrote down characteristics of my ideal life:
- co-creative partnership, spiritual expressed in the physical
- balanced, healthy lifestyle
- benefit the whole
- happiness, longevity with health
- right livelihood
- connection to nature
- healthy environment
To summarize this ideal life, I wrote on the bottom of the paper, “Walking through a garden of restoration.” I can’t exactly remember what I meant twelve years ago by that phrase, but I think we have finally found that life in organic farming. Taking care of the land and providing great food for people definitely sounds like walking through a garden of restoration.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “A church isn’t the building: it’s the congregation.” A farm is also not just the place and the farmers. It’s the total community: the plants, the pollinators, the infinity of soil organisms, the sun’s light and heat, the weather, the critters that interact in and around the land. And most importantly, it is the human community that supports the farm. Without the support of people who make the choice to eat local, seasonal vegetables grown with care, Pitchfork and Crow would not exist. We truly thank you for your support. Without it, the costs of farming could not be covered.
One of the recent high points was depositing our first CSA payments into the bank. The support couldn’t have come at a better time. We had depleted our savings with the following necessities: seeds ($1200), irrigation equipment ($1800), delivery van ($750), Organic certification application ($625), farm insurance ($550), and a long list of other needs. We’ve started calling spring the “Season of Spending,” and it was wonderful to receive the CSA checks in the mail.
With the CSA support comes serious responsibility. We’ve been paid for a full season of weekly vegetable boxes, but the harvest has yet to begin. This year’s journey has just started. Fortunately, we are fully prepared for the long haul and have a solid plan. We know this year will be bountiful and look forward to helping provide excellent meals on many tables. And, thanks to you, we awake each morning with purpose and walk with determination: walking, tilling, sowing, trellising and weeding in a garden of restoration.