The Earth held still.

Wind and Rain

Wind and Rain

July exits with a bang. There is lightning over head, loud and cracking. The rain is descending from all angles, slanting to the side, dripping down vertically from the eves and is somehow finding a way to mist my face, even thought I’m sitting deep in the shelter of the covered porch.

This month has been extreme. It approached and exited quickly, although that is not to say that it didn’t carve out 31 full days. The days were all very much here. There were wedding days, birthdays, bliss days, Farmers’ Market days, and many work days. There have been days filled with sticky sweat and exhaustion; 100 degree days and evenings of rain and their arching bows. They have been some of the heaviest days I’ve know, the passing of a dear friend. And there have been days of emptiness, the density of sorrow shifting from a solid and evaporating.

It has been a month of soul searching, of finding and loosing. It has been a month where I’m aware of my anchor, the soil, and how thankful I am to sink my hands in, my mind in, and feel the earth. At times I can find myself getting caught up in the cultural construct of money and time, and doubt the validity of this path. My mind uprooting this calling and placing itself within the walls of a definable ‘job.’ But the days of this July have seeded something inside me. They’ve helped me understand deeper the tone with which this earth work is done. Being with the farm this month has filled me with peace. The farm has often been the center of my lessons, learning about life from the rotation of crops and seasons. But this month, as beautiful and sad life happened around me, the earth held still, the Meadow Larks still called out, the plants continued to convert light and squash incessantly needed to be harvested, still.

 

The sky is black and salmon, mixing together the colors move in striking beauty. Lightning is bolting to the Northeast and the clouds are turning themselves inside out with rumble. July is exiting.

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To Pops, the Farmer.

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I am sixth generation Californian and a first generation farmer. It would be easy to think that I’m the black sheep of the family, the unconventional organic farmer, the one who doesn’t have a ‘real job’ and is wasting away two College degrees. You would think that maybe my parents would be hoping that this is a faze and that I would one day get a ‘real job,’ invest my ‘extra time’ in having grandkids. So, in the spirit of Father’s Day, I wanted to dedicate this post to how these statements couldn’t be further from the truth.

I grew up in a tongue and groove log home. On any given summer morning, it wasn’t uncommon to wake up to the sound of a chain saw and NPR. The thought was always, what wall is Dad taking out now? There were closets that became bathrooms, extensions that became offices, and holes punched out to spontaneously add windows. My Dad molded my childhood home like it was a sandcastle, simply knock out A and add B, and repeat. Near the pool we had a small garden. I remember a cold frame from a sliding glass door, a compost pile that would essentially just attract the deer and always the attempt to grow the staples, tomatoes, corn and fair worthy pumpkins. I don’t remember us being that attentive with the garden, but it was there and every year as the weather warmed, my Dad’s attempt to grow Siskiyou County’s biggest pumpkins resurfaced along with the families of blue bellied lizards.

It was in this setting where I became an authentic product of my parents. It was the backdrop where they taught me how to create life, to use my hands and to use my heart to honor the hours in each day. To have action and interaction with life directly, to wake up, decide to take out a wall and put in a window, and do it. It was with these principals that my heart understood farming. Like a hypothetically sterotypical cavewoman, I thought: soil, water, sun, seeds, food, family, eat, good. These are the elements of life, I understood this from the beginning and wanted to root myself in it.

I know I am this authentic product, because my parents understand this rooting. They not only see the link, but they hold it dear in their hearts. That working to live is the point, because you can’t designate when you’r living and when your not, so live through your work and do the work that becomes your story of living. It’s been overwhelming to see the foundation that my parents have given me become played out in the fabric of this farm’s soil and in the deep soil stained grooves of my hands and to know that I’m doing them proud.

My Dad loves the farm. He visits with the composure of supervisor, always starting off with a walk into the fields, checking in on the tomatoes, the greenhouse and counting the chickens. He also meanders with curiosity, finding bird’s nests, catching snakes, diagnosing water leaks and identifying hawks. I can see a unlocking sense of excitement each time he visits and whether he knows it or not, it’s often his energy that can bring me back to being present with this overall project, which I sometimes just think of as truly exhausting labor. My parents have given me everything. I have always looked up to my dad, my soccer coach, my teacher, my deep hugger, joke repeater, cat lover, house builder, project juggler, car fixer, joke repeater and now farmer.

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Putting in new fruit trees.

Putting in new fruit trees.

 

 

 

Maybe we are at a new paradigm, where a sixth generation Californian, first generation farmer is passing the trade up, into the generations. A family farm that has been sown by youth, to take care of the elders that I love. To pass up the knowledge, to pass up the story and to pass the freshly harvest food around the family table. With all my love, Happy Father’s Day Pops!

Father's Day Dinner on the farm. Of corse, he found a snake!

Father’s Day Dinner on the farm. Of corse, he found a snake!

Growing a Farm

 

Jonathan captures the sweet Killdeer nest.

Killdeer nest – Photo by Jonathan Mann

How does one grow a farm? What’s the adequate amount of sunlight, nurture, preparation, vision, IPA, planning, replanning, selection, drive, dive, hands? This farm has been a true manifestation of place and community and vision. But, it’s been a humbling process to realize where to jump into the circle, already in turn. This farm needs to grow from deeper than the soil up, it needs to start in the soil itself. To grow soil is to grow plants, to then grow a farm, to grow nutrient dense food for the community, to be able to sit back and enjoy an IPA, to stretch and get up and dive into the circle again.

I think about the emergence of this season and it has not unfolded as planned. Successions of brassicas (cabbage, broccoli and kale) have gone into the field in little waves, in hopes to determine best planting time for our alpine-mediterranean-high desert climate. And each have been taken out by incoming tides of cut worms, chickens on the loose, ants and what I’m finding out is a micronutrient deficiency of Boron. Lessons have come in on these tides too; fennel and cilantro have been too potent for most of these pests, where there is a bite, there’s always a bug and mental note to grow more lettuce, with their hardy rippling leaves of joy.

Split stems - A sign of Boron deficiency in Brassica crops.

Split stems – A sign of Boron deficiency in Brassica crops.

There are many things in active  growth, besides farmer and farm. These not planned unfoldings are blessings and keep me grounded in process and true wealth, like of being  always conscious of the Killdeer nest in the middle of the field. This knowledge which kept the constant rattle of my brain anchored in the present when navigating from point to point, as to not place unwanted steps. The same with the vernal appearance of the farm resident Gopher Snake, who’s grown since last spring, and alerts me in a fashion that raises my heart rate higher than the bird’s nest. A toad! I remember as a child a large toad that lived by our yard hose. It was one of those moments that didn’t carry on into the years, as it moved on and wasn’t seen in subsequent springs. Seeing this large toad in the field makes me happy to the core. It has dug a hole right at the end of the lettuce bed and can be found under a Red Coss leaf umbrella from time to time. I hope it’s adapting its diet to one of plump cutworms, please!

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Killdeer chicks and Mama

Killdeer chicks and Mama

Climbing peas with fennel in the background.

Climbing peas with fennel in the background.

Things don’t always work out as planned. I’m not immune this feeling, but I’m starting to know it well. The stomach nausea after a killing freeze, a plant taken out by a hula hoe, the mass munching of grubbing grubs, a flat of dropped tomatoes. So it goes. I’ve transitioned beyond ‘young grasshopper’ phase with these lessons of life, of letting anger pass,  of honoring cycles, the gift of the moment and the reset button in one’s heart. The stomach ache is always the last to shake however, the sour sorrow of the core. Sweet Mama I’m sure is housing this same ache, one of her speckled investments of instinct and care, unable to unfold its origami wings from their constellation shell – suspended as the farm circle turns.

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Big Bon-Fire Birthday

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A Year. Homeward Bounty Farm is officially a year old. The farm now can teeter from one season to the next on two strong legs, big dreams are starting to grow in and are able to sink their teeth into the meat of juicy ideas, the soil is building, and the land is recognizing and reidentifying – ‘I’m a farm.’ It’s getting easier to sleep at night as I know everything is going to be alright. I’ve had phases of worry and stress, probably natural for any first years farmer, but I’m realizing more and more that this farm is not wholly dependent on me, that this farm is truly being held up by a family, a community and a vision that is greatly deeper than my sole capacity can create, thank goodness!  I’m eager to be a midwife and support this project, as it develops and grows into something I believe will be sweetly rich and self knowing.

A mantra that surfaced during last year’s farm clean-up party was, ‘the farm provides.’ And it was true. You need a shovel? Look around and soon enough you would find one against the fence, a solitary tool that has stood the test of time, a patiently leaning relic of the last owners, or the ones before. Upon purchase, it was quite apparent that this property represented strata of hobbies from dwellers throughout the years. Anything I may need, and plenty I didn’t need, came with the farm.  The farm has provided, it has provided many trips to the dump and metal recycling, it has provided stray shovels, and loads and loads worth of fuel for bon-fires to keep us warm and in a festive glow.

This first year birthday was appropriately celebrated with one of the best candles yet! We tackled some worthy projects, cleaning out windrows of renegade tumbleweeds, dead trees, derelict fences came down and the mother load rotting wood pile traded its BTU’s with impressive ignition! And the farm provided and the vision shown true, as amazing members of the community came out for an afternoon of splendid productivity. This is how I know that as this farm grows it will not be from my hands alone and that this vision is creating itself. I know because it’s the younger brothers of my high school best friends, now men who came out with excitement. It was Paul’s uncle Danny, determined to tackle it all, the most loyal of CSA members that value the connection with the earth and have with out fail supported Homeward Bounty Farm. Three generations were represented, folks new to the community and neighbors…..and the farm totem, the wind, decided to hold off until the night hours, the rains came and the big birthday candle when out with the prayed for wish of rain. The farm provides! The farm provides! Happy Birthday and Many More!

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Water Tone

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A New Year has crested and with it the days start to tell a story. A story of the present and tales of themes to come. We are the ones that define the new calender, its tone based on our goals, resolutions and resolve.

In my mind I’ve constructed hats, fashioned caringly and in detail, of which I’m striving to wear in balance this year. However, during these times in crafting what WE want, we are often overlooking the patterns of reality. How do we consult our shiny new goals of balance with the deck that will be dealt to us? What notes will be played, to ring out with realism in the bell of clear January days?

Predictable small talk this winter has comprised of winter farm happenings, holiday gatherings and the weather. Conversations warm up and then dominantly plateau about the sky and how it’s not falling, and because it is not, it feels like it is. We talk about the lack of rain in a cathartic way. Our voices come out strong, in hopes to hide the quiver. Our tones dip into fear, but sustain faith,  as if we’re conversing about a dear friend who is acutely ill. I’m at the point of exhaustion towards these conversations – parched, by the talk about the state of California and our declared drought. It can be felt on the roof of my mouth and it fills my eyes as I look at a fourteen-thousand foot mountain with a dusting more appropriate to August.

The conversations continues in my head, with less postured strength in my inner voice. The shallow depths of the water table a reality for life on this farm. Is this the year to establish perennials, will they get a big enough drink to sink their roots in? I comb through seed catalogues for ‘drought resistant’ and xerophytes and I revisit my hats.  In lieu of my personal goals I create a new hat. This one made of glass.  This is the hat that matters. It is the one that will keep me dry when the sky falls with rain, when the creeks rise and the trees take in their fill. Most importantly, a hat that will magnify the melody of rain in my ears. Each drop ringing loudly and filling me with relief and a true sense of balance for the year to come.

Water

I was born in a drought year. That summer

my mother waited in the house, enclosed

in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,

for the men to come back in the evenings,

bringing water from a distant spring.

Veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.

And all my life I have dreaded the return

of that year, sure that it sill is

somewhere, like a dead enemy’s soul. Fear

of dust in my mouth is always with me,

 and I am the faithful husband of the rain,

 I love the water of wells and springs,

 and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.

I am a dry man whose thirst is praise

of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup.

My sweetness is to wake in the night

after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.

Wendell Berry

A slight snow storm in December, freezing fog and some mild rain has been the only winter moisture.

A slight snow storm in December, freezing fog and some mild rain has been the only winter moisture.IMG_1912 IMG_1915