May 25, 2011

What's Old is New, or What's New is Old

It's easy to focus on the newness of we're doing here on the farm. Direct markets, local food, added value, diversification, small-scale -- they're often painted as something so new. (See, for instance, this recent story in the Great Falls Tribune about our CSA.)

But, I always try to remind myself, and others, that what we're doing is old. Old as agriculture. Maybe even old as dirt. We grow food and sell it to our neighbors, friends and family. Old school.

Much of what we do is akin to the way my grandparents farmed, the way their grandparents farmed and I'm inspired by that.

But sometimes, I'll admit, it seems a little crazy when I see my husband in the field with, say, a scythe in his hand while the neighbor harvests the next field over with a $300,000 combine.

The following photo is case in point. I mean, they have equipment for this these days, don't they? (This is where the term "back breaking" came from, I'm sure of it.)

In other news, I'd also like to publicly apologize to my young daughter for the following photo.

First of all, I'm sorry that I've subjected you to hanging out in a field in the bare prairie on a windy day waiting for God knows how long for your Daddy to finish up just one more thing.

But, I did it many-a-time and turned out OK. I'm sure you will too.

Also, the outfit: Someday, like maybe 16 or 17 years from now, you will see these mixed loud prints and the large clump of dirt in your hand (on its way, undoubtedly, to your mouth) and question my parenting.

I assure you that despite what you see here, I was an attentive, fashion-forward Mother. We just had a hectic morning, is all.

And you know what Kid? Despite the unfortunate pairing with those lime green pants, that Patagonia fleece is awesome and soft and so totally perfect and you owe that to your Auntie Hannah. You're lucky to have an Auntie who keeps you in such stylish outdoor gear.

May 19, 2011

Crunching Time

So, you're wondering how the new life -- life sans full-time job for Jacob, plus part-time job for me, plus full-time farming for both and full-time babyness for the bean -- is going?

Well, we're still trying to figure it all out, but predictably, time slowed for a day (that day I got the full three minutes of my conditioning rinse) and then crunched, big time. (I haven't conditioned since.)

We're behind on so many things: planting, transplanting, tilling, plowing, turkey brooder prepping. You name it, we're playing catch up with it. So, the last week has been a flurry of trying to make up for lost time on the farm, me getting to know a new job, both of us trying to figure out who should take Willa when and all of us attempting to stay happy and sane.

The thing is, it's hard to not always feel behind farming. There's always something needing to be done and done yesterday.  And, as luck would have it, the same is true of online journalism. Just because you're done for the day, that doesn't mean your inbox is.

So, we're both awash in a constant stream of to do's, thinking all the while that "if I just catch up on this, I can relax..."

The trick, or so I hope, is finding a way to leave the day when it's time to leave the day, even as the to-do list is growing -- learning to relax, whether you think you're "caught up" or not.

Because, as we know, "caught up" is really just an imaginary state of being.

I'm not sure either of us is mastering -- nay, even learning -- this trick, but it's worth working at.

I'll keep you posted. But until then, some highlights from the first week of our new situation:

150 turkeys and 10 geese arrived by U.S. Post the end of last week.  (I know, right? They still arrive by U.S. Post and I find that quaint and quite amazing, actually.)

Kale is transplanted, with Willa's help.

Willa vomited big time (and all over Daddy) after trying to eat her first piece of grass unbeknownst to either of us. (No picture of this, aren't you glad?) We had a big discussion afterward that our first order of business on the farm is keeping Willa from eating anything she shouldn't.

Because we need to stop this, even if it's totally adorable.

The Rocky Mountain Front came out of its gray-winter-sky hiding place, reminding me why the hell I live here (I'd questioned that a time or two this winter.)

And finally, Willa got to try out a few cool sun hats and as you can see, she's all about them. (Thank you Auntie Trin and Ian for this one!)

May 11, 2011

In It to Win It

Well, hello new life!
Remember that little (and by little, I mean big) problem I was talking about a few weeks ago? The one about Jacob working full time, me working part time and both of us farming and parenting full time?

And, how maybe, we might not be able to keep up?

And how maybe, just maybe, something might explode?

Well, we fixed it. Lickety split.

Here's how we did it:

a) I started a new off-farm job on Monday (Managing Editor of this very cool site. But, I'll continue to contribute to New West and the Daily Yonder too.)

b) Jacob quit his off-farm job on Tuesday.

And just like that, problem is solved.

Obviously, there is still much to figure out and much (maybe even more) to juggle.

Basically, Jacob just simplified his life and I just complicated mine. But, the thought is that we'll start to spread out our complications evenly between us and that will simplify things for both of us -- him taking Willa part-time, me lightening my farming load, both of us sharing more daily chores, etc.

It's all an effort to focus on the farm, keep all of us closer to home, play a bigger role in our community and spend more time together.

And, while we will certainly miss Breadwinner Jacob (and in particular, his health benefits), we rather prefer Farmer and Daddy Jacob. He's certainly less stressed and definitely happier.

There was much hand-wringing about this decision going on in the background, all of which I'm sure I'll write about later (A preview: you should know by now that health insurance companies suck and for farmers, off-farm jobs -- and whether to take them and how to juggle them and who should work them -- create an inordinate amount of stress and time.) but for now, just to summarize, a few of the emotions rolling around this morning, the first day of the rest of our lives:
  • I feel grateful that I can telecommute to awesome jobs doing things I care about,
  • apprehensive about balancing all these roles (and about becoming the breadwinner again), but
  • so, so, happy to have my parenting and farming partner back at my side, and not commuting and traveling and scrambling, (This morning, he and Willa went for a run and I took a shower. A shower. Like, in the morning, and not with a baby in my arms. I washed my hair and conditioned for the full three minutes before rinsing. A girl could get used to this clean, bouncy hair, let me tell you.)
  • hopeful that this will mean we will have more time: more time for each other, more time for our friends, more time for our families, more time for our community. If I've learned anything about time though, I've learned that is expands and contracts in unexpected ways, so even if I think we might have more time, we might not. But, there's nothing wrong with being hopeful.
  • nervous, but excited to be relying, even just partly, on the farm for our livelihood. We are, as my friend Jennifer says (yes, you Jennifer), we're in it to win it now and that's a great, terrifying thing.

Sometimes though, you just have to hop on and push off, you know?

May 8, 2011

One Awesome Mother

Happy Mother's Day, with a special happy to this lady, who never misses an opportunity to dress festively...

and who made all these children possible...

and, who, as I write about in this month's column on the Daily Yonder and New West, made a farmer out of me.

An excerpt:
The big reason I'm farming now is because I want Willa to have the kind of childhood I did, full of sun and wind and dirt and food and flowers, all things my Mom encouraged for me.

She was the one I dug in the dirt with. She was the one I laid in the grass with. She was the one who taught me about perennials and bulbs, peas and potatoes (both how to grow them and how to cream them). She's the one who after a decade of drought, kept the farm – and the farm family – together...
I have respected and valued my mother for many things, but I am long overdue in honoring her for her role in my childhood farm, whether as a farmwife, farm mom or a farmer.
I love you Mom.

And, to the Mamas out there who have taught me how to mother, whether they knew it or not (Renee, Brooke, Trin and Jennifer, I'm talking about you), happy, happy Mother's Day. Thanks for being such spectacular models.

May 3, 2011

Time to Plant Basil

We're a little behind in the greenhouse. Luckily, Willa is excellent help.

See here Mama, it says basil can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost. But I say we get a start now by putting the seeds directly in my mouth.

Basil is quite possibly my favorite crop. I love to plant it, I love to harvest it, I love to eat it, I love to sell it.

But, it can also be sort of tricky. So, here's a few tips I've gathered over the years:

  • Keep seeds warm during germination. One mistake I made my first year was starting too early in the winter and then getting increasingly frustrated when germination was slow. It was because, among other things, the soil wasn't consistently warm enough. Keep that in mind.
  • Prune. Once you have at least two sets of "branches" on your plant, start pruning to keep the plant bushing instead of growing tall and leggy. 
  • Some people wait to harvest big long stems but I like to harvest young, tender leaves. This does the pruning I mentioned above while giving you nice, bright, tender green leaves ready to toss into salads, pasta and well, in our house, just about anything else. 
  • Don't let it flower. Like most others, the minute the plant starts putting its energy into seed production, the leaves get bitter. Another reason to stay on top of the pruning/harvesting.
  • Keep the frost imps at bay. Basil will be the very first thing in your garden to blacken at even the threat of frost. When in doubt, cover.
  • When preserving, don't be shy with the olive oil. The best way to preserve basil is to process with olive oil or make pesto. If you're doing either, put a nice film of oil on the top of your container -- that's what will seal the green in and keep the black out. 

My favorite varieties are your standard sweet basil, sweet thai basil and Genovese basil. 

I'm dreaming of the first harvest already.


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