Archive for September, 2010

Robert’s Farm (VI)

Posted: 30 September 2010 in Robert's Farm

The season turns on the farm… Despite an early autumn heat wave in the valley Robert and I agree that the “slant of the sun” sends messages to some primal part of our brains that it is time to start hunkering down for the winter.  I have been there long enough at this point that I am now helping to remove the tomato plants that were just starting to produce fruit when I first started coming.  We moved the chickens (who were delighted) into the old tomato patch, planted the winter garden, set gopher traps in the winter garden (that’s right, they showed up on cue to eat the seed potatoes) and picked what will be the last of the corn and melons.

The hawks circled overhead and we wondered when they would join up and head south.  Their cries to one another suggested that that time is not far away.  Every day other birds head south as Debbie prepares the blackberry vines for winter and the spring.  And by 5:00 pm the sun’s slant reminds us, again, of what is coming.

I was captured by the bittersweet realization of the passing of time on the farm… My own mortality drifted by on the thermals of the sky and I remembered again that I live like I do so that maybe another generation can stand in this place, grow these crops, share this bounty–that the rhythm of the seasons might beat towards peace and healing.

The first time it happened was where it always seems to happen: narrow road; no shoulder; cranking uphill toting too much weight; feeling unsteady.  The first time it happened “they” were the stereotype: heavy pick-up; four wheel drive; young (and, presumably, testosterone-laden).  The first time it happened I felt the same: scared then mad; superior in oh-so-many ways.  The first time it happened–on this trip…

He screamed “Get the fuck off the road!”  Then laughed, flipped me off and they were gone.

It happened again, and again and again, and… Well you get the picture.  People in trucks, RVs, cars.  After a while the stereotypes faded and I realized pretty much anyone could hate a cyclist, just because.  But they all did have a few things in common: there was steel and glass between them and me in each case and, in each case, they had the ability to drive far away from me very fast.  They did not meet me without the bias of motor technology interposed.  That technology, that glass, that steel, that speed all conspired to make them very bold indeed. It conspired to make me scared.

But then I pulled into campgrounds–tired, dusty, wobbly from the climbs and the descents.  Feeling satisfied but humbled by how hard it can be to just ride a bike.  And there “they” were: standing by their RVs, seated next to their pick-ups, lounging near their fast cars.  No steel, no glass, no 70 years of “Detroit” wizardry between us.

And they smiled and offered me fresh fish just caught in a nearby lake.  Yes they did.  And they served me wine (from a box–just like home).  Yes they did.  And they listened to my stories of the road and told me theirs.  Yes they did.  And we talked about family and travels and the beauty and mosquitoes and all manner of trivia.  Yes.  We did.

Robert’s Farm (V)

Posted: 3 September 2010 in Robert's Farm

Been out to the farm twice this week; Robert needed some help grafting English Walnuts onto Black Walnut root stock.  It turns out that we only got to that at the very end of the first day since harvesting melons and tomatoes took priority (it was market day and we had hoped for melons–only got watermelons).

This made me painfully aware of the challenge of mobilizing labor on a small family farm.  That particular day everyone in Robert’s household was gone and his two hired laborers were out too.  When I rode out Robert was already in the melon patch but it is tough work to do alone.  Note to self: learn more about labor challenges on family farms.

I also became more aware of the reality of water and how it too must be “mobilized” to assure things grow during the period they are supposed to grow.  An irrigation ditch runs through Robert’s farm and he had scheduled three days of off take to flood (essentially) the walnut orchard.  Lack of water last year stunted young tree growth, not allowing grafts to take and basically putting the whole thing back by a year.  Irrigation water will be cut off in about a week (last year there was none at this time).  The rest of the farm is watered by ground water but Robert wants to use a storage pond to provide some water for other parts of the farm from the irrigation ditch.  Challenges abound–the main one of which is water pressure and the need to use diesel to get the pressure needed to push the water out via “drip-tape.”  Drip tape saves on water but requires pressure.  Note to self: learn more about which source is more sustainable–ground or irrigation and the relative benefits and costs of each kind (not just on the farm but more broadly).

Today we harvested a LOT of melons (and watermelons and tomatoes) for all the barbecues this long weekend.  Then a group of Japanese students (about 25) showed up with an organic farmer from Japan and their professor to take a walk around the farm.  Furiously taking notes they listened as Robert talked them through the “integrated” nature of his farm from rotation schedules, to pest control to water management.  I listened in.  Most of my career I trotted the globe asking the questions.  Whenever I did that there were always the local “experts” and the “tag-alongs” who mostly listened in but had little to say.  It was strange not only NOT to be the questionner but also not to be the “expert”.  I added essentially no value to their learning (but I picked and passed around some strawberries and took a few pictures for the group shot).  Note to self: reflect more on this experience and how it feels to be on the receiving end of a research group.

Going out to Robert’s farm one more time this week–this time to pick some tomatoes that he can’t sell (sun blistered or bird-pecked).  Hopefully we can use the tomatoes to can some sauce (or just straight tomatoes).  Haven’t done that since about 1969 in Bowmansville, PA, in my mom’s kitchen.  Stay tuned…