Awe and Exhaustion

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Is what I feel (and clearly Michael too, from the looks of this picture!).  Exhaustion is for obvious reasons, though it’s a good we-got-a-lot-done-today kind. The awe is a little harder to pin down, but it stems from an overall mood change that is in tune with the seasons. We have all been hoping for rain in this droughty time of year, and the water bill is a stark contrast from those in the wet spring months. But even the dusty dry days give way to cool calm nights, and we are awoken by the hints of dawn later and later each morning.  Driving near the Peaks today Michael excitedly pointed out trees in the forest, drooping from the weight of apples. The old orchard was still cranking out large red-streaked orbs of forgotten varieties, and we stopped to gather a few. I spent yesterday processing pounds of foraged paw paws into puree that will become cake in the near future. Though our tomatoes are done for and some other summer crops are waning, there is still abundant fruit in the forest this time of year.

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Our heirloom multicolor corn, called Pungo Creek Butcher, dry and ready to be ground for bread.

We still have another good two months of our season left, but the peak seems to have passed and we are able to comfortably say that we have survived our first season of farming. The 34 ducks we started with are now 32 healthy layers, producing a consistent 29 delicious eggs a day. Though we’ve struggled with rotting onions and garlic, low yielding potatoes and bolting lettuce, we are happy that we’ve almost continuously yanked out beets and carrots and cut tender salad mix for market every week. We have gotten into a comfortable rhythm dividing our time between the garden and bakery and we haven’t been drowning in weeds! Our soil test in August astounded us by its complete change in character from one year ago. The pH and organic matter are now in ideal ranges and we feel that the time dedicated to shoveling compost, laying straw mulch, and managing cover crops has not been in vain. Best of all, we have made friends and met neighbors and we see a role for ourselves in this community.

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Four beds of salad mix in August at varying stages of growth. From left to right they are youngest to oldest. This time of year the turnaround for this crop is very short and might only be harvested for 1 week!

The farm-to-table movement has totally taken off and now seems to have a place in every sector of society, from high-end dining to urban gardens that are striving to improve food access. It is fun to feel like we are actually contributing to the movement, though certainly every aspect is not as streamlined as localism has been marketed.  We sometimes struggle to meet price points that local restaurants ask, and marketing perishable food items comes with a whole slew of challenges (especially when you do not have refrigeration!). On the other hand, I am continuously realizing how awesome it is to even have outlets for direct marketing; for without local farmers markets we would not ever have envisioned even getting our food to people.

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Michael taking the tiller out to the garden. Corn in the background. So tall!

I am also in awe of how we got to the point of running our own business full-time, and moreover, how many other young people are choosing similar paths. I just realized that at one farmers market to either side of us are farms also owned and operated by couples of college-educated 24 year-olds. We are outside of a small city in the South where the most recent history of agriculture is large scale tobacco and the average age of farmers is well older than our parents.  Our generation grew up with cell phones and then smart phones when we were in high school, and the closest most of us got to farms was a field trip to an apple orchard.   But I think many of us, in our formative college years, were listening to warnings of environmental change, health issues related to the food we eat, and regrets from our elders that the young population was becoming more unskilled and incompetent of practical tasks. We worried that the technology age we were part of would ruin or change the things we love about our communities.  For me personally, an education that encouraged experimental learning and hands-on engagement with the world opened up more creative career paths and allowed me to consider my future occupation first in terms of how I could contribute to creating the type of world in which I want to live.  Opportunities to explore fun internships led me eventually to sustainable agriculture (many small farms are literally sustained by interns). Other peoples’ libraries of wonderful books written on holistic agricultural practices and spiritual connections to the land have fueled my hunger to learn more about farming and potential for regeneration as well as sustenance.

It is reaffirming that people want to be more involved in food production and are seeking out ways to get closer to their food. I am hopeful about the direction of these trends, but I am far from idealistic. Tons of small farms fail and there might not yet be enough knowledge and support in this community to keep us going indefinitely. We certainly have a lot to learn about running a business, growing vegetables, and baking bread. We have a lot of growing up to do too! For instance, what will happen when all of us 24 year old farmers turn 26 and have to get our own health insurance? I have no idea, maybe we’ll have get real jobs. For now, though, I am perfectly content being my own boss, living off my monthly stipend, and eating delicious leftover veggies and bread from the market.

Yours Truly,

Arden

One Comment Add yours

  1. Paul Lewis says:

    You are an intelligent and sensitive writer…kudos:).

    Like

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