Organic Seed Alliance

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2016 Seed Conference goers, looking at winter trial fields at Territorial Seeds in Cottage Grove, OR.

Every other year, since 2012, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of February and the relatively quick trip up north to attend the Organic Seed Alliance biannual conference. My first year in attendance was memorable; a car crash left me stranded in Portland, en-route to Port Townsend, WA. I was able to quickly reach out on a ride-share page that was organized by the conference and found myself catching a ride from two Ashland farmers, one of whom I had met in remote Northern India four years earlier, a testament to how small and beautiful the world is! I felt very green at that conference, a bud just starting to form, but not yet open to receive the world of pollination and inoculation. Although much of the information, names, places and concepts were overwhelming, I knew that this was the beginning of something deeply important to me.  In the four years that have followed, these sentiments have fully bloomed and have even set some fruit!

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Oca tubers from Peace Seedlings, Alan Kapular’s Farm in Corvallis, OR.

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Chris, showing the group a dormant Sea Kale stock, a perennial kale species.

It has now been a month since returning to the farm from this year’s OSA conference in Corvallis, OR. The energy that I was able to take away from the conference this year was so enlivening that I’ve been running on the fumes of it since, putting newly gained knowledge into action, maintaining contact with new friends and farmer mentors, pulling ideas from my notebook and sowing their seeds into future workshops, collaborations, and future farm endeavors. If in the first year I felt green, this year I was a rainbow prism: the fuchsia spectrum of ancient Oca tubers, brilliant orange of trailing eight different Delicata Squash varieties, the blue of ice surrounding the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway (Cary Fowler gave us a vivid virtual tour during his key-note address), the all entrapping, bottomless absorption of black, the pure canvas of white, ideas reflecting, with insights openly shared, and of course, more new-growth green as knowledge buds.

When sowing plants in the legume family, it’s common to inoculate the seeds with a rhizobacheria, this symbiotic relationship allows peas, for example, to take gaseous nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil, where it can benefit soil organisms and plants alike. The image of being dipped into a rich inoculum couldn’t escape my mind, as throughout the many days of the conference I became activated, pulling theories, meanings, research platforms and objects out of the buzzing air and fixing them into my present framework of understanding. In crowded rooms of hundreds of people, seeds, both physical and metaphysical were endlessly being exchanged. Their germ plasm inside destined to one day tap their roots in deep and yield sweet fruit. Knowledge and connections made their way around the room as little grains of pollen, some dancing with the wind on loud vocals, other grains moving about, sticky and sweet, bonding to buzzing two-legged pollinators carrying ideas from one farmer to the next in excitement and astonishment. Here, in this hive I’ve found a kindred home, an alliance, one where the Queen heralds open-source, open-pollinated, organic production, resilience, community access, telling and honoring of stories, stewardship, education and diversity.

In my return home to Homeward Bounty Farm I carried with me new inspirational books, field notes that will grow with bounty, colorful seed packets sustaining stories and history, and many little grains of sticky pollen gathered at the hem of well-worn work pants.

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Crocuses in bloom at Homeward Bounty Farm. These wild pollinators are happy with this find!

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The season is off to an early start, with onions, leeks and brassicas growing happily in the greenhouse.

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The First & The Last

An askew view of spring.

An askew view of spring.

Spring is here, but it hasn’t been one I’ve been  hungry for. The dormancy of winter was never pulled down deep. The weight of snow, and dark and deep toned clouds didn’t encompass the past days, or weeks, or months. There wasn’t that moment of movement, when the sun pushed the clouds way, and how they oblige, to see the earth below bask in the rays of warmth. A moment of complete and utter presence for us all, human, animal and plants. No, the farm didn’t  have that. We’ve had Mediterranean, we’ve had the sound of lawn mowers and the indelible smell of fresh cut grass. The heavy winter coat has been on the hanger for months, the frost cloth has been stored since fall, the heater in the greenhouse rarely gets asked to perform. The orchard is in bloom, the daffodils laugh, the lilacs are budding. We’ve had rain and mosquitoes, we’ve had rainbows and colorful butterflies. That sudden moment of transition to spring has been under-clouded by constant warmth, and all is inspired to just go on growing. We’ve had a procession into summer, a parade that has been given the sunny green light, to go marching along.

Last basket of 2014 onions.

Last basket of 2014 onions.

Our vacation to Steep Ravine Cabins near Stinson Beach.

Our vacation to Steep Ravine Cabins near Stinson Beach.

Cleaning up the farm! Oh, the last load of metal recycling!

Cleaning up the farm! Oh, the last load of metal recycling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring usually vaults fourth with juxtaposition and edge.  The delineated distinctions from dark to light, dormant to vibrant signs of life, are monikers of our accustomed seasonal patterns. The first and the last, beginning and end, cold and heat falling on their appropriate time line, not all mixed together to form patternless webs. The firsts and lasts are still noted, but are on a timeline of chaos. The last of the stored onions and winter squash are being enjoyed, the last of the daffodils have shown in bloom, the last seeds orders have come in, the last multiple day vacation, and the last (hopefully) scrap metal pile has been recycled! The first cucumber beetle was found feasting on the Napa cabbage, the first transplants were planted out in the field, the fist bales of frost cloth have been unwound to prepare for an April 1st tease freeze. The first phlox and yarrow have opened up in texture and color, the first porch hosted dinner was pleasantly enjoyed. The first harvests of Fall planted herbs and brassicas  happened weeks ago, as they grew this winter with little resistance from Jack Frost.

Chard, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, cauliflower get transplanted out on a warm sunny weekend of spring!

Chard, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, cauliflower get transplanted out on a warm sunny weekend of spring!

We are steadily learning that out of sync is now in sync. That to be farmer and farm in this paradigm is to not only be in tune with nature’s cycles, but to know that these cycles can be more like coils, a scatter plot graph, a Rorschach Test. One way of looking at it is that we’re experiencing heightened diversity, and how we love and celebrate diversity here on the farm! Diversity in species from our animals and plant friends. Diversity in soil life. Diversity in our community which grows strong with local food. And how we embrace diversity in this unorganized system of weather, in this lion and lamb walking hand in hand through the gate of spring. The diversity of the firsts blending with the lasts. Welcoming a spring that nested itself in winter. To a season and farm and farmer that’s constantly, ever changing.

Tucking starts in for the night as the nights are going to dip down to freezing levels.

Tucking starts in for the night as the nights are going to dip down to freezing levels.

 

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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Oh Deere!

Native flowers blooming on the hillside.

Native flowers blooming on the hillside.

Spring is here. The emergence. Buds and blooms, seeds and dreams, the stretching of green and opening of color. The swirling in and out of random weather. This is spring, the cusp debut, the quick bursts, the excelleration. To be present in this moment is to be a part of something very special! The farm has been present with it all. It has been present with the glowing greenhouse and the 40mph winds, the native flowers opening up to feed the bees and visions materializing- and boy are they ever!!

The greenhouse mid March.

The greenhouse mid March.

 

 

It has become glaringly evident that here in Siskiyou County our weather pattern is more of a weather beat. A pulse that moves around creating a song all it’s own, that may or may not have rhythm and has a heavy emphasis on wind section! As I’m learning the hard way, it’s a bit of a harsh climate and investing in season extension tools is nonnegotiable. The farming guru of efficiency and season extension is Elliot Coleman and it has been in his philosophies that I’ve been subscribing. ‘The New Organic Grower’ has long been a favorite publication of mine, now ‘The Winter Harvest Handbook’ has been rocking my world and has me dreaming up various tunnels. I can gladly say that I have Tunnel Vision, low tunnels, high tunnels, caterpillar tunnels – Grow Tunnels! Last week the first wave of brassicas and spring goodies went in and over them a nice little protective hops and some frost cloth. When the nights dip down, there’s a layer of greenhouse plastic that gets pulled over the frost cloth for added insulation. I think that tunnels like these are going to play a big role in the future of this farm, however, these last few days have provided a wealth of education towards this learning curve. The winds came up and of corse, took the frost cloth off. The winds have actually been so aggressive, that I now have the cloth pinned on the ground under the hoops for the time being, protecting the plants more from wind burn and dehydration than from freezes. When this weather ‘beat’ passes, we’ll stake in anchors, put the layers back on the hoops and run a cord over the cloth to hold everything together. We’ll keep fine tuning this concept and will hopefully strike a harmonious melody!

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Low Tunnels!

Low Tunnels!

And more March Manifestation Miracles – Say hello to new farm friend, Patrick Deere! You’re surprised? I’m still in complete shock! There have been many times when I’ve been coy in accepting that over and over again my life has been a overflowing bounty of blessings. But like this spring, I just have to remind myself to be oh so ever present with this very sweet moment. Work hard, play hard, give deeply and appreciate your Blessings with all your heart! Here we have it, beautiful tractor! Welcome to the farm family Patty!

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Oh Patty, you and my Dad are going to be BEST FRIENDS!

Oh Patty, you and my Dad are going to be BEST FRIENDS!

Little Black Dressing –

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The first CSA distribution has come, can it be so? Exciting comes to mind, but it’s deeper than that, truly. It’s the entrance of life and food. Meals shared, meals given. It’s the pattern of harvest, sinks full of crisp greens and tables of beets waiting for a spray down anointment, then to be polished and grouped, cheeks together squished-up smiles- CSA BASKET! MARKET! GRUB CLUB! They’re off!

The fields are REcovering from last month’s frost. With some crops there has been a complete loss, a row of proud peas still fairly stunned, stalled and burned. Many of the beds however, are coming back, their confidence a bit shaken, but  it gathers momentum as the days prove their warmth over and over again.

One of the farm frost-free champions has been the lettuce bed, which now glows and I’m not personifying this one! Salad time! A farm fresh salad is one of my all time favorite foods! Big leafs of lettuce crunchy and hydrating, not the typical ‘soul food,’ but you can’t tell mine otherwise.

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My dear friend Kate Sanderson helping with harvest! She's a super star farmer from the days at Green Fire Farm!

My dear friend Kate Sanderson helping with harvest! She’s a super star farmer from the days at Green Fire Farm!

 

 

 

 

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Here are some lovely ‘go-to’ dressings- Little Black dressings if you will, the dress I never actually understood; why wear black when you could be in color! ENJOY!

Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette

*Make a jar full and keep in the fridge for up to two week.

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons of lemon juice

Lemon zest from half a lemon

1 small garlic clove, finely minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme or lemon thyme, minced

3 teaspoons honey (or a bit more if you have a really sour lemon) – Meyers are wonderful!

2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. In a small bowl whisk together all of the ingredients except the olive oil, salt, and pepper.

2. While you are whisking, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue whisking until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Correct the seasonings (sometimes I add a bit more vinegar or honey) and add salt and pepper to taste.

Ashley’s Sweet Miso Ginger Sauce!

This recipe is from my dear friend Ashley of Root and Wings Jewelry. I’m pretty sure we put this on everything that special summer in Arcata.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic (or more)

2 tablespoons ginger

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup

2 tablespoons miso paste

1 tablespoon tamari or Braggs

1/8 teaspoon cayenne to taste

(Makes 1 1/2 cups)

Blend in a Food Processor or whisk until creamy! YUM!

Brought to you by the prefix re-

Re- agin, back, backwards. These last few days I’ve been reeling, I’ve been reing. I’ve been reacting, reassessing, reasoning, respiring with limited repose. I’ve been repairing, replanting, reflecting, remembering reaching green fields and really relying on reincarnation. It is again, back, backwards, but for many things there’s no going back. In our short growing season there’s no room to rewind. For now it’s the regaining of momentum, the rekindling of plant relationships and reattempting with resolve.

It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. On Tuesday night in Grenada, we reached a low of  27 degrees and I can tell you that it didn’t make many of my plants stronger. I knew that it was going to freeze and by moonlight, for when the sun goes down so does the wind, Jonathan and I made sure that everything had a cover and was protected. I knew that the weather would play with us farmers a little, that nature would trow in the quintessential late spring sucker punch, but this one was completely below the belt, not cool dude!

 

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Change & Rain

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The Land is turning to Farm and Home. The chicken coop into a greenhouse, a shed into a chicken coop, a field into beds, a house into a home, a stray into a lap cat, dormant branches into buds bursting and bird filled skies into blue bird skies into a new shade of cloud cover. Clouds, gray and purple, electric filled,  unbuttoning their rain filled pockets, our reintroduction to a distantly familiar tune and aroma, RAIN.

           It’s been a new destination, a new journey. Languages new to me, foreign  yet I know some of the words. I’m immersed and learning as quickly as I can. The birds are telling me things; they’re collecting threads and sticks and chirping “love?” and “nest!.” The soil is talking, but I am not experienced enough to decipher its requests, further tipping my ear patiently. The plants are swaying out their charades, it’s windy and warm and their new bed may not have all they desire. Oh boy, it’s a dance, a jig, a puzzled glance, a stewardship of a culture, one whose food I know I’ll love, but I’m not yet sure if I have the customs right. A language and labor of LOVE.
chicken coop greenhouse

chicken coop greenhouse

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Hedwig, my farm companion.

Hedwig, my farm companion.

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Home!

Home!