Monday, June 19, 2017

Green womb of the Woods

June wind combs the landscape, igniting stillness to action. Quietly sitting in the green womb of the Woods, I listen. A masterpiece is sounding. The melody of Birdsong never ceases, not day or night. It only changes theme. The trills and pulses of Insectsong, signal time. Morning comes, the Dragonflies hum and Birds flurry. Hot, mid-day sun starts Flies buzzing. Night falls to the Crickets whose rhythm and timbre soothe like gentle purring of a much-loved Cat. Rising moons invoke silhouettes of Whipoorwill, a pair of Owls, of Coyotes deep in the thick. Even when it’s still, and the hissing of the Leaves become silent, Nature speaks: Acorns fall, clacking Branches along the way until landing with a crisp puff upon tissue-paper Leaves. The snap of Twigs beneath a Deer hoof. A visiting Treefrog. A rustling Rodent.

There is nothing that brings deeper love and respect for Nature than by living in it. The Universe makes so much more sense when the cycles of Life are clear and present. Death makes more sense. Healing seems more possible. Hunger is the guiding force of behavior.     

Nature’s beauty – and the curiosity about it – is not only satiating, but filling. When Sunset after Sunset is the prettiest of all, lusting for something more is obsolete. When each and every Day reveals a newly discovered Bug… or Plant, or Bird, or Disease… boredom has no room to exist.  The lessons are endless. The limits, boundless. The joy, irreplaceable.

There is nothing that brings deeper love and respect for Nature than by living in it. A place becomes a Community when relationships are developed between it’s tenants. A frenzied Bumble Bee in the outhouse becomes a regular. Spider, the ally, crouching patiently in it’s corner, always on patrol. The Hummingbird pair, who visit daily, become friends. Even not-so-desirable Critters gain respect for the very simple fact that they are alive and want to thrive, too. Love is the power which fuels this incredulous ballet between Energy, Matter and Life. Earth spins like a giant, spherical amphitheater, projecting an endless multi-media performance out into the great void of the Universe. It’s been happening for millennium, it’s happening now, and it will continue to happen for longer than a brain can fathom.

Every single sound is miracle that it can even be a sound at all. Every. Single. Sound.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Farmsteader - Part II (A Purposeful Life)

There is nothing that feels so good as being amongst trees. They bring the most calming peace. Sometimes, while walking in the woods, I will stop with a start… something catching my attention from the corner of my eye. Today, it was a mist. Or so I first perceived. A surprising conjecture, given the biting cold and breeze. When I stopped moving, my eyes adjusted to what had caused the illusion. An interesting play by the filtered late-day sunlight on the ashy purple bark of the pines. The long, narrow, evenly-spaced trunks seemed almost water-colored. They possessed a character all their own.

At another junction, tall, young oaks with mossy bases were knocking vigorously on one another, whipping and creaking in the increasing wind. They clacked as if hidden woodland gnomes had surrounded us, furiously beating large sticks against their hard trunks to scare us away. My pup was so bewildered, she growled and ran the other way.

 I love the personalities of trees and the little neighborhoods they create in the forest. Over here is a wide, dim swath of rusty-gold carpet beneath a canopy of evergreen. Over there is a bright and inviting hillside with sparsely scattered hardwoods bending in charismatic stances. Up on the hill is the peaceful birch grove overlooking the meadow, soft and pink at sunset. On the river’s edge - at the foot of the bluff - massive white pines loom with eagles hung in them… and sometimes gliding between like ominous spirits. There’s a feel to the woods. Auras that radiate up from the roots. A community, diverse in look and function, but deeply connected. The more I walk in the wild, the less wild it feels. In fact, quite the opposite. It seems orchestrated and purposeful. Left to her own devices, Mother Earth creates beauty beyond imagine. She’s the original artist.

Nature has always drawn me near. It’s what lead me to do the work I am now so committed to doing. Work I couldn’t possibly walk away from, because of it’s incredible importance. Abandoning this work would be abandoning my own Mother. She needs to be cared for in these times. She needs to be protected. The human race has become a threat to The Earth and to it’s own existence. I personally  never felt healthy living in the city. Since becoming a farmsteader, I feel so much more at ease in my heart. My body and soul feel nourished. My conscience is more clear by lessening our carbon footprint and by doing something that makes a difference in the world. I am synced with the natural biorhythms. Longer days mean more intense work. Shorter days mean more rest. It’s the way the world had always functioned… right up until the industrial “revolution”. The more time I spend immersed in nature, the stronger my desire grows to protect it.

A new documentary has been made, which I am eager to see. It’s called SEED – The Untold Story. I don’t even need to see it to know how important it is and how impactful it could – and hopefully will - be. I know what drove folks to make it. It’s what drove me to become a farmer and to focus my work on heirlooms and seed-saving. It rests on one very basic, terrifying fact that most people don’t know and probably don’t want to. The human race is on the verge of a global food system collapse. It’s not a lie , it’s not a conspiracy, it’s not even an over-exaggeration. 94% of all plant species that humans eat are now extinct. In the blink of an eye they disappeared and are continuing to do so. The move to conventional farming and loss of small family farms and backyard gardens erased many thousands of foods that had been selectively grown and adapted for many thousands of years, leaving the genetic diversity of our food supply vulnerable. They were gone before we even knew they were in danger. And now, with climate change drastically affecting farmer’s ability to grow food, many of those naturally adapted disease-resistant, pest-resistant, drought-tolerant fruits and veggies are gone. If the 6% that are left experience one really bad year – or more likely, several really bad years – humans across the globe will suffer severe food shortages. Genetic diversity is just as important in food species as it is in natural ecosystems. And here’s the real kicker: it won’t get better. It won't reverse. Because seeds don’t live forever. They are living things. They die if they are not grown year after year. They die if they are not stored properly. Moisture and mold are a stored seed’s worst enemy. If small farms and backyard gardeners don’t do the work to grow endangered heirlooms and properly save and share seeds, the human race itself will go extinct.
So there you go. Welcome to Winnowburrow Farm where we are saving the world one seed at a time!
In all seriousness though... see the film. And consider supporting our farm by buying into our heirloom CSA. Or another farm close to you. You can save the world, too!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Farmsteader - Part I

The whole farm season came and went and I never managed to post a single blog. I’ve been mentally kicking myself in the pants for years now, to no avail. There is just so much to document, and with each passing day I grapple with the fleeting sense of lost opportunity to share. A long stint of writer’s block? Maybe. One thing is for certain. There has been a whole lot more doing than “planning on doing”. Time is of the essence... when it's available!

It’s hard to believe that in just one year we got married, moved out of state, rapidly transitioned to (mostly) off-grid homesteading and started a new farm operation on unfamiliar soil. Now, winter has arrived in Wisconsin, after the longest, warmest – and possibly wettest - growing season on record. We were recently blanketed with nearly 14 inches of fluffy, powdery snow. It has turned the farm and surrounding woods into a positively magical landscape, sparkling white hot in the bright sunlight, glowing blue in the full moonlight, playing with all of the light, casting shadows and softening shapes. It takes intention to even think about farming, presently. The cabin has become a cozy den, flickering with the warmth of candles and the ever-whispering draw of the chimney from the wood stove. And now, a simple, lightless Christmas Tree stands in the corner, a glimpse of snowy shiitake logs visible over its shoulder through the frosted window. Greenery and ribbons and shining spheres add cheerful splash to window sills and tables. The smell of wood smoke permeates everything. I have never felt so much at HOME.

This morning I sit down to finally write. I feel blessed to even have time to write. The summer is so demanding to the farmer and the homesteader, alike. We have become both at once. Endless lists of chores lurk onerously, tacked to a wall or cork board, peeking from some pile of paperwork or another, wedged in a notebook or crumpled in a pocket. And yet, they give me purpose. The lists are not empty, soulless demands made by a greedy employer or burnt out manager at a dead-end job. They are a moving, organic process, literally a function of survival. Nearly everything on these lists are about sustaining daily life on the farm and in our household. Hauling water, hauling wood; watering plants, harvesting vegetables, collecting eggs, preserving the bounty; feeding and watering the chickens, cats, the dog; making sure the baby chicks are warm enough, the house is warm enough, we are warm enough. Ultimately, it’s about the basic needs for life: Food, Water and Shelter. We are just doing it the “hard” way. For me, it’s the only way. I truly love waking up each morning, ready to tackle the needs of the day; slowing down and being a part of each process, connected to the Earth, respondent to the weather. Because… on the other side of those chore lists… is everything that feeds my soul.

This morning as I finally sit down to write, breakfast has already been made, dishes done, wood stacked in the house and my husband is out the door and off to work. It’s not even 10 degrees outside yet, but I am cozy with a cup of wild raspberry leaf tea steaming within arm’s reach. The sun is warming my back and melting the frost from the south facing windows. One of our very own organic, free-range chickens is aromatically stewing in the big pot on the wood stove. Plans for a venison pot pie linger on the horizon of the day’s tasks, Christmas cards wait to be sent and my cross-country skis lean kittywampus with a big question mark hovering over them. The hard work of the warm season is finally paying off and the quiet peace of the holiday season feels tangible in new way. Now I truly understand where all of these traditions come from. It makes perfect sense from this perspective. It feels right. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Search Begins

Long ago, in a southern state far far away, a little girl dreamed of a life immersed in nature. Her playtimes were spent in solitary fantasy tromping around the Northern Kentucky woods, longingly imagining a life lived by ancient humans, gently foraging the abundant natural resources and living in  harmony with the Earth and it's beings. She imagined that someday, when she grew up, she would get to live this life for real.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I've got a fever...

It's May in Minnesota and the "gardening itch" has spread to a full-blown rash.  If you're a gardener, you know what I am referring to.  For me it usually happens sometime in March, as the sun moves a little higher, the snow threatens to (finally) melt away and, a sudden 50 degree heat wave startles me out of a long hibernation.  Then it hits me; the burning, itching, prickling need to plant something.  Before long a fever comes on and I become delirious with frenzied garden ideas swirling in my head.  Can I convince the landlord to dig a garden?  Should I expand my container garden?  What variety of tomatoes do I want to grow this year?  Should I get really adventurous and try to start asparagus from seed?  I wonder if I can get mammoth sunflowers to grow in the alley outside the privacy fence?  Can I convince my pal with 40 acres to let me plant some perennial herbs...?  Then the seed buying starts.  Those little packets with dozens of tiny, organic, heirloom seeds with so much potential start jumping into my hand at the co-op and into online shopping carts.  Trips to the garden center become absolute necessity.  I have lost control in my delirium...

Seeing as how Minnesota is a (mostly) Zone 4 state, (the new USDA hardiness zone map has placed parts of Minnesota in Zone 5), the quest to avoid overspending on plants means painstakingly nursing seedlings indoors over - as some 'Sotans like to say - a couple, three months.  Without a greenhouse, it is not an endeavor for the lighthearted.  This year I planted my first seeds on March 20th; the vernal equinox, marking the first official day of spring.  Since then, I have had flats and pots gradually taking over my living room.  A 72 cell flat of asparagus, (out of which one sprouted.
Argghh!   Time to start over!), a variety of herbs including Hibiscus, Chamomile, basil, thyme, mint, chives, echinacea and lavender, (which also had to be re-started) and some veggies.  I rigged a grow light with a florescent and an electronic piano stand behind the couch and put together a small hot house from a bakers rack and parked it in the driveway.  It was easily constructed with tape and some random scraps of plastic that my loving partner snagged from his warehouse per my request.  Most of the plants live within the safe confines of the plastic, or on the patio table on the warm days, and cozy up in the living room on cool days and nights.  Obviously, this means I am moving them daily - outside in the morning, then inside at night - always trying to place them within a balanced environment of light and temperature, rescuing them from a sudden downpour, or from an unexpected heat spike, or the cats who have overturned a pot in their decision to spat about who is going to sleep in the window...  More than once I have had to call Josh from work because I forgot to put the hothouse flap up, (or down dependent on weather conditions).  It's a labor of love and possibly more demanding than owning a puppy.

Now, after months of diligently servicing their every need, some of my plant babies are thriving, some are not and some have been lost.  It's all part of the process, and each time, there is more to be learned. Next year I won't leave my Hibiscus out over night until temps stay above 60 degrees.  I will wait to start lavender outside once nighttime temps are around 40 degrees and I will cold stratify asparagus seed and separate them from the berry pulp.

All in all, it's still only May and the gardening has just begun!  I can't wait to reap the rewards of the bounty.  Let 'er rip!