Sunday, June 27, 2010
Saturday, June 26, 2010
It’s not that I dilly-dally or that I don’t like the work. And though it doesn’t help that I’m picking with “the guys”, who as Penny says are the fastest pickers in the world, I am sure that I could be faster; I could be better at this. What’s holding me back? The decisions!
There are myriad choices to be made when harvesting strawberries. Ripe enough? Too ripe? Half-rotten? Do I put it in my box? Do I chuck it to the winds? Do I leave it to fatten on the plant? What do I do with this berry? And then – what do I do with this berry? All the way down the row, a hundred berries per plant, hundreds of plants per row. For a relatively indecisive person, it’s a nightmare.
So Penny shows me how to pick a pea. She hands me a ripe pea pod. She hands me a “flat pea”. She searches out a “bumpy pea”. She teaches me to know the difference by feel. She shows me how to flip the plant over, to access the ripe pods underneath. She tells me: “It’s visual and tactile. Visual and then tactile.” You look for the ripe pods, and if it looks ripe you feel it. If it feels right you take it. “Your brain is kind of thinking two ways, all the time”.
I begin to make my way down the row of pea plants, pondering each pod, feeling slow. I realize that I am over-thinking things. But how to stop? As I pick and ponder, ponder and pick, it occurs to me that I am not always a slow and inefficient decision-maker. When I am engaged in a creative process, choice comes naturally. It is a matter of confidence. It is a matter of active listening.
So I say to myself: this is the ART of picking peas. Turn off the brain; listen to the plant. Trust yourself.
And lo and behold, I do begin to pick up speed. I begin to have fun and to feel good about my work. Until I get stumped by a particularly in-between pea pod, or until I suddenly notice that I’m tired and it’s hot and there aren’t nearly as many peas in my bucket as there are in Miguel’s. And so for me, there is this truth: to be an effective harvester requires energy and focus. As is the case with every endeavor worth doing, there are no shortcuts. I remember the Tadashi Suzuki adage: you always have more energy, and I hunker down: listen, focus, pick peas.
And what is more worth doing, more worth my personal energy, than participation in the growth and harvest of food? What is more necessary? In our story circle with the interns at Broadturn Farm on Thursday, Briis talked about her realization: “There’s no choice really,” she said. “You have to grow your own food.” Aaron echoed her sentiment, describing his first work on a small CSA farm in 2002. “I don’t honestly think I really liked it“ he said. But he kept at it anyway because it felt essential. “Somehow I got it into my head that I had to farm, even though I didn’t like it.” Now, he says, “I like it.”
“We’ve coined a new term,” says Bill Bamford, “and you can put this in your play. It’s agricultural bi-polar. You can stand here and look at this field of strawberries and the world looks full of hope and promise. Then you turn around, you're standing in the same place, you look at that field of corn . . . and you want to bury yourself.”
Oh, and . . .
Did I mention that I got to drive the truck?
Thursday, June 17, 2010
- "I'm yes-and-no tired." (Presumably "kind of tired," or as Stacy suggested, "ambivalent.")
- Me: "What's that knife for, Flora?" Flora: "I think it's for slaughtering."
Monday, June 14, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Relieved, I tramp over to say good morning but before the words can get out of my mouth a squawk louder, brasher, and more gruesome than anything a person is equipped to deal with at 7:30 in the morning blares out from the woods behind us. Its like the sounds of a car alarm and a person being strangled mixed in a blender- even the pigs next to me are a little flummoxed.
I jump out of my skin a little and while I’m settling back into it John says, “Oh, we think someone abandoned a rooster here.” (I can’t help thinking, “Just one?! Does it have a megaphone? a PA system?”)
He goes on to tell me that recent Portland ordinances allow people to own hens within city limits, but not roosters (Given the noise that just one rooster can make, I completely understand why). In the few years that the ordinance has been in place, he has noticed a lot of abandoned roosters appearing in the woods behind his farm. Sometimes they will try and sneak into the henhouse on the farm and challenge the resident rooster, but John assures me that If this city rooster gets to be too much of a nuisance the interns will track him down and make him into dinner. He adds, “This one sounds like a real healthy big one to me,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Roosters are not the only thing that the city of Portland gives back to Broadturn Farm. Later that day we load up the trailer and set to work mulching the large flower beds that will supply the farm’s flower share program. The mulch we are using is basically yard waste- sticks, leaves, grass clippings, and whatever else ends up in the raking pile. It is collected from the city and surrounding towns and gets composted for a shorter time than normal, leaving it pretty rough, perfect for spreading over beds.
We can still make out oak and maple leaves in the warm dark mix as we spread it between seedlings. Amidst the organic matter we find other recognizable things- tennis balls, golf balls, and plastic bags. In one wheelbarrow load, intern Sam and I find a winter mitten, three freezie pop wrappers, a tiny plastic toy tiger, and a magic marker. We try and cull as much of the plastic stuff as we can, but as we finish up a row I’m still bending down to pick out a little plastic chewing gum tray on my way back to the truck.
Its not like these urban intrusions into farm life are unwelcome or unused. The abandoned rooster will be dinner. The mulch will keep weeds out of the flower beds, leach nutrients into the soil as it continues to break down and even diffuse the impact of the rain squalls that roll through as we wrap up our day in the early evening. Even the tennis ball we unearth from the mulch pile is donated to the farm’s dog, Stella.
What strikes me about this farm is how it completely embraces the circumstances that surround it. Sure, every farm has to do this, or it just won’t work- and Broadturn is a CSA, dependent on community members to support and participate in it’s programs. But these guys seem to really have it figured out.
As it happened, my first day at Broadturn was the first CSA pick-up day for the year. We set up tables in the long barn with crates of chives and rhubarb we picked that morning and watched as cars and minivans arrived from all over the greater Portland area.
As the project’s documentarian, I had the great privilege of hanging out in the barn with my camera, taking some snapshots of the CSA in action. There were lots of people brand new to the idea, some who had been with John and Stacy for years, some families, some people fresh from their office jobs. Watching them leave the barn all loaded up with their week’s veggies, I couldn’t help but think about their presence on the farm. Whether they were work share CSA members who physically worked with us, people who simply buy into the CSA and finically support the work here, or those who donate their yard waste- they all fit into the farm’s systems and make everything work. Without the city and its surrounding outposts, Broadturn would be a totally different place.
As Keith and I drove back to town that evening we talked about how resourceful everyone at Broadturn seems to be, but the more I think about it, it seems to me that they may be a little beyond that- they’ve evolved to match their surroundings just like the plants and animals that they raise. Taking in and giving back- what a cycle! As this innovation broke, we rolled over the bridge to Portland and I went back to my urban life. I scrubbed the last of the mulching residue off my hands a few days ago, and have been waiting tables and carrying on my city bound life for days now, but I can’t shake the feeling of thankfulness that all my city living is somehow appreciated and useful on the farm (As long as I remember to pick all the plastic freezie pop wrappers out of my yard waste).
till next time-
Friday, June 11, 2010
On Tuesday, a calf was born at Kay-Ben Farm. She is the daughter of Dolly, one of the most highly prized animals that the Bensons own. She was somewhat unexpected. And she is beautiful.
By unexpected, I mean that no one anticipated the hour of her birth. I had asked Ryan and Eddie that morning if anyone was expected to calve. They both told me: “no, not today”. So when we were making our way through the milk barn delivering biannual vaccinations to a general succession of cow rumps (when I say “we” I mean “I held the supplies”), the last thing that I expected was to hear Ryan yell: “oh – hey!” In the box stall to our right, I saw a thin trickle of blood running the length of Dolly’s udder. For some reason, I thought this meant that the calving was in progress. How I expected that she was going to give birth standing up I really don’t know. But as we approached the stall, I slowly realized that Dolly was diligently lapping at a small, wet, shining and shivering black calf. Tristan and I stood outside the stall in silence. Ryan walked to the calf and lifted one of her skinny hind legs.
“Heffalump?” asked Tristan.
“Heffalump.” replied Ryan.
On Wednesday morning, a dairy farming newbie received important instructions: wean this new baby girl to a bucket. Cool! I combined milk-replacer and warm water in a bucket. I carried my bucket to the calf’s cozy hutch. I coaxed and I prodded, and with milk-wet fingers, I tempted the calf to wobble her way toward my bucket. I nudged her nose toward the milk and slowly taught her to drink down. It took some trial and error on my part, but this calf caught on quickly and I was very proud.
Two hours later, I watched Ryan and Erica pump water and electrolytes into the stomach of a very sick and severely dehydrated cow named Sharon. This involved running a metal hose through the cow’s mouth and down the length of her throat. Sharon has had a hard time of it. She’s been sick for weeks, has undergone various treatments, has responded to nothing. Ryan is not entirely sure what’s wrong, but his best guess is cancer. She also recently developed mastitis in all four “quarters”. She’s lost immense amounts of weight and she eats nothing. I am reasonably certain that when I return to work at Kay-Ben farm, Sharon will not be there.
So I said to Ryan, “I think I’m beginning to understand the emotional highs and lows of working here.”
He nodded and replied: “You can go from here (hand at shoulder level), to here (hand at his knees) in the snap of a finger.”
He elaborated on this in our Thursday Story Circle, relating the story of his assistant Chad’s first week. Chad was new to dairy farming and it was his second or third day. Ryan was working that day in two side-by-side box stalls. In one, he had started an IV running into a sick cow that had recently calved. Chad held the IV. In the other stall, a cow was dying. Ryan held the cow’s head in his arms. “They were right next to each other, this dying cow and a calf in the first hour of life. Chad was just standing there holding onto this IV, and he was completely overwhelmed, you could just see it in his face.”
“So what do you do after that?” asked Claire.
You move on, they say. “That’s the thing about farming,” says Tristan. “It never stops moving; it’s just constant movement.”
In the last two weeks on Kay-Ben Farm, I’ve had the opportunity to see a newborn calf, scrub water buckets, relocate hay bails, wean two new calves to buckets, feed the babies grain, rake out a heifer stall, watch vaccinations, observe an ultrasound, brush cows clean. I’ve climbed up through the musky shadows of the hay barn, stumbling and sinking into bail after bail of sweet third growth alfalfa, chirped at by swallows, reminded viscerally of some story I read long ago or maybe multiple stories . . . I’ve trekked across the fields in search of electric fencing and I’ve said goodbye to at least one cow, maybe two. And I’ve been grateful for every moment.
Tristan tells me, of dairy farming: “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle . . . You just have to love it.” On my way out of the barnyard Wednesday noon, I holler a goodbye thank you to Eddie, and add that I’ll be back. “You’ll wanna be careful,” he hollers back. “Some people, it gets in their blood . . . and it’s ruined many a decent person!”
Friday, June 4, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
- la piedra (stone)
- el guineo (banana)
- el café (coffee)
- espinacas (spinach)