Dancing the 25th Harvest Season

img_9489Yesterday we celebrated Stonebridge Farm’s 25th season as a CSA with a harvest concert and potluck on a gentle September evening. We were joined by favorite local singer/songwriters who have graced our Stonebridge stage: Jenny and Tom Hodgson, Tupelo Honey, and Joe Kuckla, who built the stage for us many years ago. As the sun set over the mountains, we danced and laughed and ate delicious food while the children fished off the wooden bridge and played on the giant swing across the ditch. I’d like to share some of my remarks on this wonderful occasion with my pearlmoonplenty readers:

Here we are at the height of the harvest in our 25th CSA season. “Who could believe it?” as my Grandma Smith would say. John and I certainly didn’t imagine this day when we started out all those years ago.

rakewheelThis land we’re celebrating first became a farm in 1911, a dairy farm with cows pastured in the fields and milked in the big red barn with its haylofts overhead. This land has been stewarded with care by many generations of farmers. Their work brought the farm to us by cultivating it responsibly and by holding onto its agricultural promise rather than selling it for development profit. I feel the generations of farmers behind me when I stand on this stage and look over the land on this fine fall day. From here I can see your faces, too, and I want to thank you all for being with us today and every day on this land.

One of many things that makes Stonebridge special is that we’re continuing to grow farm-friendly generations here. We now have kids going off to college whose parents were members before those children were born. We even have third-generation members—families with grandparents, parents, and young ones all eating Stonebridge vegetables.

And we have our own four-year-old grandson, Collin, who loves coming to visit and takes an active interest in what’s going on here. He even helps us figure out how to solve problems. For example, three Friday nights ago a bear knocked over our beehive to get the honey. When we came out to pick on Saturday morning, we saw the hive in a heap and the angry bees buzzing overhead looking for their home. Our friends Jay and Orion got the hive back together but decided to wait until evening to capture the bees and move the hive to protect it from the bear, who surely would return for the rest of the honey that night.

Around 5:30 in the evening, John and Orion went to get the hive, figuring the bear wouldn’t have come back yet. You can guess what they found: the bear was right there and, when it saw the truck, it ran across the ditch, straight through the water and up the bushy bank. Not only that, when it got to the other side, it stood up on its hind legs and waved its arms as if to say, ‘I’m a BIG bear!” Then it got down on its four feet to run off to the north and we haven’t seen it back yet.

As I told Collin this story, his eyes were wide. He loves animals and animal stories, and he knows a lot about different kinds of animals, so when I got to the end of the tale, I waited for what he would say. He thought a minute before offering a matter-of-fact solution: “You should get a Siberian tiger.”

“Hmmm,” I said.

He thought another minute. “But you couldn’t let the chickens out.”

“That’s true,” I said. “We couldn’t’ let the chickens out.”

He thought another minute. “And you couldn’t go outside either.”

“You’re right. Maybe a tiger isn’t what we need.”

I could see from the serious look on his face, this was a problem he intended to solve.  “I wonder what animal would scare a bear,” he said, “but not scare you.”

“What do you think?” I asked.

Of course, his answer was his favorite animal: “You should get an elephant!”

It’s encouraging to look ahead through the new lives at the farm, but it’s also amazing to look behind. So very many wonderful people have passed through our lives at Stonebridge and, luckily, many of them are still here working with us in the fields, contributing skills to the land and all it holds, and celebrating with us here today.  We may never get an elephant, but we will keep this farm going as long as we are able, and, hopefully, for harvests beyond our time as well. As Jenny sings in “Dance the Seasons,” the beautiful song she wrote for our farm, “We’ll dance the seasons in and out as we cross these fields again.”

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Block2Blanket: A Community Upcycling Project

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Last weekend our little town of Lyons, Colorado, celebrated its 40th Annual Good Old Days, a June event of music, food, and fun. Over the 25 years I’ve been in Lyons, the event has changed from year to year depending on location and community engagement. For many years Good Old Days included carnival rides, but the 2013 flood destroyed the field large enough to hold them. For this year’s 40th celebration, the town hired a kayak tank and airborne games (think “jumpy castle”) instead, along with providing space for area musicians and dancers, a chamber of commerce libations booth, and a local food vendor.

Our friend Priscilla Cohan, one of the artists behind the town’s amazing Clarifier Project, would like to see the town move Good Old Days in the direction of a Heritage Faire with craftspeople teaching old-time arts like basket-making, caning, welding, woodworking, food preserving, leather-working and even more mundane crafts like knitting and sewing—arts that are experiencing a resurgence nationally as people become interested in self-sufficiency and localism.

As a pilot project for a future Heritage Faire, we came up with the idea of Block2Blanket, an intergenerational craft event during Good Old Days. For Block2Blanket, we asked community members to donate gently used or moth-eaten 100% wool sweaters to be upcycled into a warm and colorful picnic blanket.

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A contemporary cross between old-time quilting bees and Sheep to Shawl competitions, Block2Blanket doesn’t require much money but rather depends on community donated materials and time. Basing the project on the idea that many hands make light work, we created tasks for children of all ages, from sorting and cutting to designing and sewing.

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Our first step was posting a notice in our local papers for sweater donation: “Spring cleaning? Don’t throw away the wool sweaters you didn’t wear all winter. Instead, donate them to Block2Blanket.” We collected a dozen sweaters and a couple blankets. Before the event itself, we washed the donations by machine in hot water and then dried them on high heat to felt the wool. This felting makes the wool denser and more stable for sewing.

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Other donated resources were scissors, thread, pins, and bobbins. After making sure we’d have electricity at our booth in the park, we borrowed two sewing machines with zig-zag stitch capability. We also made 6 x 6 inch square paper and cardboard templates to be traced around or pinned on the materials for cutting.

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Priscilla brought her canopy tent and made a colorful fabric garland to flap in the breeze; we each brought tables, setting up one for cutting, another for laying out the squares, and another for a machine at each end. We began by cutting the sweaters into sections along the seams so the pieces would lay flat. Friends came by to help cut, piece, and stitch as musicians took the stage.

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Our original thought had been that children would participate in the project, learning about upcycling, as well as sewing skills. I hadn’t even thought about the lure of the jumpy water games, which turned out to be much more of a draw than cutting and sewing. A few children stopped by the booth, but it was adults who were most interested in what we were doing. Some promised to donate sweaters and some were interested in learning the process. Everyone to whom we talked thought that turning old sweaters and blankets into something functional and beautiful was a cool idea.

While we chatted and listened to local musicians, we cut and sewed squares into long strips by placing one edge of a block over another and sewing the edges securely with a couple rows of zig-zag stitching. In three hours, we completed seven strips of 12 blocks each. We’ll finish the blanket at our Stonebridge knitting night or another outdoor summer event. Once completed, we’ll raffle the blanket as a benefit for the Lyons Redstone Museum. We plan to make pot holders out of the scraps to sell for the museum, too.

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This first go at Block2Blanket was a success. If we do it again next year, we’ll make a kid-friendly sign; perhaps we’ll do more outreach with children’s groups or the school. Maybe we’ll offer a cup of lemonade to anyone who helps. We’re still accepting donated 100% wool sweaters to expand the blanket’s pattern and color schemes. We’ve got five strips to go and we can’t wait to see how the blanket turns out!

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This is what seasonal looks like

Spinach. Again. Walking onions, green garlic, radishes, and kale. A curly head of lettuce from the greenhouse. Nice to have rhubarb—so early this year.

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Welcome to the season’s first community-supported agricultural shares on Colorado’s Front Range.

When members join a CSA, it doesn’t take long to figure out that eating locally and seasonally isn’t like shopping at a grocery store. Variety and availability is determined by the climate—temperature, day length, precipitation, zone, and weather influence what can be planted and when. After winter’s frigid temperatures, the soil needs time to warm up before most crops can be seeded. Even when spring days are sunny and warm, nights remain cool. The last frost of the winter can hit in March, April, or even May. Until all chance of frost has passed, tender crops can’t be planted. Moisture is another variable: too much and seeds rot in the ground; not enough and they don’t germinate.

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All these factors and more determine what’s ready in the Stonebridge barn each week. From early May until mid-June, the share is limited because fall-planted or perennial plants are still waking up from the winter. At Stonebridge, the season starts a month earlier than most CSAs in our area because our members are ready for early spinach and fresh lettuce. From kale to rhubarb, anything else is a bonus in those first unpredictable weeks.

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In Colorado, we say if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute. Change will come. The same is true in eating seasonally. When we’re tired of the same early crops, the brassicas—cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage—started in the greenhouse and transplanted to the fields in early spring soon join the line-up, along with baby beets and carrots seeded in May’s still-cool soil. Peas—so much work but such a treat—show up next in the barn; many of them don’t make it home but get eaten on the drive instead. Spring-planted spinach comes on as winter-over spinach begins to bolt. Kale and chard are both raring to go. All those greens take getting used to but, as our doctor says, eating greens “is like eating health.”

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Once the summer squash and cucumbers need picking every other day, the garden’s bounty has arrived. Garlic is harvested and given every week. Beans beg for picking as beets and carrots become Saturday regulars. The show-offs of the fields—tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—make their many weeks’ seeding, weeding, and tending worth it. Even people who think they don’t like eggplant admit that a fresh one is a whole different matter.

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Come August, farmers are busy harvesting and members are busy cooking, canning, drying, and freezing with help from our weekly recipe list (stonebridgefarmcsa/recipes). This plentitude won’t slow down until the temperatures cool again. When first frost threatens, high summer crops are pulled for the barn; the pepper “pick-down” yields plenty for freezing, too. After frost nips the vines, winter squash and pumpkins are harvested in a hand-to-hand relay from the fields to the hay wagon and the hay wagon to the barn. Onions come in from the fields to cure, leaving autumn’s Asian and other greens, roots like rutabagas, carrots, and turnips, and whatever’s stored in the barn to fill the end-of-season shares.

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Repetitious? Sometimes. Unpredictable? That’s farming. But people who hang out at a CSA learn to treat vegetables like old friends. Ah, how wonderful to see you again! It’s been a year since we last met. You’re looking well. I can hardly wait to make that soup/salad/dip/dessert I only make each spring/summer/fall.

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Seasonal eating has its challenges. In any given year, one crop will shine and another will lack luster. Especially in Colorado, no week can bring the amount or variety of vegetables available at a grocery store. We hope the benefits of supporting local agriculture outweigh that inconvenience. Fresh is a flavor; fresh-picked veggies just taste better. Not to mention the value of keeping local land in organic agricultural production through participation in a community-centered, reciprocal effort. As we say at Stonebridge, when the community feeds itself, the land and the people prosper.

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Eating seasonally brings surprises, satisfactions, and delights. It also brings disappointments and, sometimes, failures. Good thing farming is forgiving. Each season, we get to try again.

If you’re a new CSA member, learning the season’s rhythms takes time. If you give it a chance, one day that shift will occur. From kids learning to eat vegetables to members anticipating the next crop, we’ve seen that magic in the barn as “Spinach again???” becomes “Yippee, spinach again!!!”

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Earth Day 46

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Today is Earth Day 46. Given the state of the planet, I’m not sure whether to celebrate or commemorate the occasion.  Either way, I’d like to share a couple paragraphs from the chapter “The First Earth Day–and Still Counting” in A Bushel’s Worth, followed by a story for Earth Day today. I’ll be reading from Dirt: A Love Story tonight at Wolverine Publick House in Ft Collins at 7 PM. Please join me and authors Laura Pritchett and Jane Shellenberger for Earth Day 46.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was organized by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson to bring national attention to the growing problems of environmental degradation through grassroots actions focused on issues in local communities. On Earth Day, people were asked to demonstrate care for an earth whose gifts of clean air, water, and soil could no longer be taken for grant- ed. Earth Day would not only create awareness of the steadily declining health of the environment, but bring hope of a better future for the planet.

Our fifth grade class decided to join the first Earth Day celebration by turning the hard dirt outside our classroom into a beautiful garden of grass and flowers. All it would take, we thought, were some shovels and a few seeds. On April 22, we showed up with tools—the girls wearing pants, which wasn’t normally allowed—and worked like crazy all day to get that small square of soil ready for the plants we imagined would grow there. Mr. Osborn even let me run the block home for my wagon to haul away rocks and trash. With rakes and hoes in our young hands, we scratched tiny furrows in the soil to plant our hopeful seeds. A little water, a little weeding, and we’d have our first Earth Day garden. At the end of the day, we were dirty and tired, but proud to be part of something bigger than ourselves. . . .

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On that first Earth Day in 1970, were we optimistic or just naive? We didn’t yet now of the much larger environmental problem looming, I think I can say “literally,” on the horizon. I mark Earth Day each year to remind myself how these ideas that were so radical in 1970 are mainstream today, if not yet implemented. In a small step to move outside a framework that privileges humans over the rest of the planet, I’ve decided to quit saying “humans and the environment” (as in, “harmful to humans and the environment”). Instead, I’m going to say “the environment, including humans.”

To remain hopeful, I try to see the world through my grandson’s eyes. At three and a half, he loves animals and playing guessing games with his grandparents. Last week, he quizzed me: “Grandma Kayann, what’s the smartest mammal?”

I went with his favorite first: An elephant?

“No, it lives in the ocean.”

A whale?

“No.”

Then I remembered he’d just been to the San Diego zoo. Dolphins?

Yes! I’d gotten it right, so I thought I’d take the game a little further: What about humans? They’re mammals.

He shook his head. “No, they’re not very smart.”

My daughter and I had to smile at his three-year-old savvy. Even though it seems he’s right, his viewpoint still contains some hope.

Maybe the animals will save us.

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Noah Liked Horses

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I don’t know a lot about my Great-grandfather Noah Lawrence Short. He died ten years before my father was born, so Dad never met his grandfather. What I know comes from the few records I’ve found (with help) on ancestry.com and other genealogy sites and from a handful of photographs handed down from my great-grandmother to my grandfather to my father to me.

When I write about my family’s history, I’m always conscious that my ancestors were real people, not just characters in books. Their lives were complicated by factors that are hidden to me by the passage of time. I might study an historical period but that doesn’t mean I know or understand it in the way I know and understand my own. Old documents and photographs only portray what’s on the surface of someone’s life. We can try to read them for clues about our ancestors—indeed, that’s part of the fun of genealogical research—but some things will always remain hidden from our view.

Still, acknowledging the hidden depths of a person’s life that can never be recovered should not stop us of from sharing and honoring what we do know. For my great-great-grandfather Noah, I have dates, records, and photographs, a few pieces that fit together into the pattern of a life.

Noah Lawrence Short was born April 5, 1878, in Donaldson, Indiana, to George Washington and Mary T. (McBroom) Short. I have no photos of Noah as a child but he does appear in the 1880 census with his parents and two sisters, Margaret (older) and Amy (mistakenly recorded as Emma). The 1890 U.S. census was lost in a fire (an accident I routinely curse), so I have no other trace of Noah until 1899 when he enlisted for the Spanish-American War. He was 21 years old, his shining young face both expectant and hesitant in this official photograph taken in Kansas before he shipped out to the Philippines.

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Noah’s military record states September 17, 1899 for his enlistment but the photo is dated 1898 on the back, one of those inconsistencies that drive genealogists crazy. We have no family stories about his service, but this photo may have been taken while he was in the Philippines.

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Noah served until June 30, 1901, when he was discharged for a gunshot wound to his right thigh, a fact that came to light recently with the discovery of Noah’s discharge papers. Interestingly, a later record for Noah’s hospitalization at the U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in South Dakota lists “mustard gas” as the cause of military discharge. He was diagnosed in 1911 with “tuberculosis pulmonary chronic far advanced Active C,” a condition which plagued him for many years.

Despite those problems, Noah married, raised a large family, and ran a dairy in Missouri Ridge township, Williams County, North Dakota. Noah and Mabel married in LaPorte, Indiana, on February 19, 1902.

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They had two sons in Indiana before moving to Missouri Ridge, perhaps to be near his younger sister Amy, who had come first with her husband. His younger sister Toot also came with her family. Here’s Noah and Mabel’s first home in Missouri Ridge. I don’t know whether my great-grandparents homesteaded or purchased their land outright. Either way, their beginnings were humble, as were most people’s who had come to North Dakota to farm.

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The original barn on the Short property burned down in the early years; the big red barn that replaced it became a landmark and was known as the Short farm even after the family had left.

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My grandfather Russell was the third son and first child born in North Dakota, in 1906. Living on a dairy farm was hard work but left some time for play, as seen in this photo of the two older boys, Lawrence and Howard, and a friend.

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On the back of the photograph, someone has written, “Noah Liked Horses.” Even though he’s not in the photo, his love of horses is evident in the number and beauty of horses he raised. Noah worked with horses in the dairy, delivering milk early each morning with a horse and wagon to nearby Williston.

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Noah and Mabel were active in the school, built their home, and raised their children. This photo taken after a school Christmas program in 1911 shows Noah in the back middle holding his son Clifford who died the summer after the photo was taken. Mabel is at the very right of the photo with her hand on my grandfather Russell’s shoulders. Howard and Lawrence are the two boys in white shirts at the left of the photograph.

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Here’s a 1915 photograph of Noah with a woman I first believed was his older sister Margaret visiting from Indiana (the photo was developed there). Recently I figured out that she’s not Margaret (who seems to have died young) but Pansy, Noah’s younger stepsister from his father’s second marriage. Judging by Noah’s clothes, he must have enjoyed some success as a dairy farmer.

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The next photo was a puzzle to me until my great-aunt recognized the older gentleman as my great-great-grandfather George Washington Short with his second wife, Flora. This photo may have been taken on a family trip to Indiana. Although someone has written, “I don’t know what year this was— about 1923 or 4” on the back of the photograph, the number and dark lettering of the license plate dates the trip to 1922, given that in those days, plates were renewed each year. A little bit of genealogical sleuthing helped figure that out. The two younger boys between Mabel and Noah are Wilbur and Lloyd, both of whom died young.

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In May 1925, after the birth of six sons, Noah and Mabel finally had a daughter; they named her after her mother. But in June, Noah was admitted to a military hospital in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and remained until he was discharged in January 1926, “against medical advice.” By then, Noah’s health must have suffered enough to send him to a military hospital in Denver, where he died November 1, 1926, at age 48. I’m still working with state officials to find his death certificate.

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Sometimes I look at these old photographs of my Great-grandpa Noah and wonder if he was surprised at the way his life was shaped by the small and large circumstances he couldn’t control. He died much too young, leaving Mabel to raise the son and daughter still living at home. I wish he’d been alive for my father to know so we’d have a few stories to pass down. Instead, we have only records and photographs to piece together a man’s passions—horses, farming, and family.

 

 

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Thoughts on Squash in Winter

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We’ve all noticed it lately: more light. On the Colorado Front Range where the sun drops abruptly behind the mountains rather than drifts slowly to the horizon, we notice when the days get longer and 4:00 isn’t twilight anymore. Longer days mean shorter nights for the cold to settle in and more time for the sun to warm the frozen earth. By the third week in January, even the chickens take note of the increased sunlight to start laying again.

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At Stonebridge, we’re eating our winter fare from storage vegetables grown last season—the tail end of the harvest when meals are both simple and inventive. Take winter squash, for example. We usually store our winter squash in the closet of an unheated bedroom where it won’t rot or freeze. Yesterday I spotted a few butternut hanging out in the cool room of our barn. I thought they may have frozen since they weren’t covered with a tarp like the other vegetables we store there (onions, carrots, garlic, leeks, and roots). I tested one with my thumbnail. Seemed okay. Why not make Thai butternut soup?

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I’ve written about this soup before (check it out here if you want the actual recipe). The first time I made it was for a January yoga and writing retreat at the farm. Thai butternut is the perfect soup for mid-January: savory and filling from the squash, garlic, onions, and ginger, with a tangy dose of citrus from the lime juice and lemongrass. Now I get hungry for this soup every January–plus it’s a good way to use the storage vegetables in the barn and closet.

The hardest part about this soup is peeling the squash. Most of my winter squash recipes involve baking squash first to use as an ingredient rather than peeling them. I generally enjoy the textures and smells of fresh vegetables as I prepare them, but I don’t love peeling squash, I decided once again as I stood at the sink for longer than I’d like. I do know what makes it easier: my Japanese vegetable peeler, the kind that doesn’t swivel.

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John volunteered to quarter the large squash  first. (I’m not sure whether he likes doing it or he’s worried about my using the knife.) I cut each of those sections in halves or thirds, depending on the curvature of the piece. Smaller pieces are easier to peel; if you get them too small, you’re likely to peel your fingers. About like this is good:

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Cutting and peeling a squash reminds me of the time my Grandma Short brought a big Hubbard squash to our house when I was a kid. I wrote about that squash in A Bushel’s Worth but I mis-remembered who chopped it. Recently a family photo surfaced of my Grandma Smith with a hatchet and Aunt Lola holding the squash on the ground for Grandma to whack the tough thing. In the book I debated whether the squash was hard because of the variety or because my Grandma Short saved her own seeds (squash cross-pollinate with others within their species). We’ll never know but that was one thick-skinned cucurbit.

Besides craving its warming flavors, I like to make Thai Butternut soup so I can use my vintage juicer, just like the one Grandma Smith used to juice lemons for her meringue pie. I do buy fresh limes for this recipe, if I think of it beforehand. Like chocolate, salt, and olive oil, I forego my buy local habits for this recipe because fresh lime juice enhances the flavor but a good bottled juice is fine too. Similarly, if I happen to see fresh lemongrass, I’ll pick it up, but I’ve also used dried (raised by farm members) to great success.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, borrow one for this soup. I resisted buying an immersion blender for many years—just another appliance to store—but it’s worth every penny for the time and mess avoided ladling soup into a food processor.

Last night’s soup was perfect for a cold winter’s night. I’m sure our version isn’t authentically Thai—especially when served with baking powder biscuits—but the recipe is pretty simple once the squash is peeled. Tonight we’ll have the leftovers with some Thai veggie rolls I’ll pick up from our local restaurant. When you make enough for leftovers, a big pot of soup becomes fast food.

Someday I’d like to write a book on storage vegetables, the kind that only need a cool, dry place to get them through the winter. (A heavy box covered by a blanket in your garage can even work.) Winter squash will be on that list, especially butternut with its solid upper section providing a larger flesh-to-seed ratio than other squashes. Eating storage veggies is one way to hunker down in the winter—you don’t have to go to the store to get them!

Cinnamon finds her own winter storage food–in the compost pile

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May Your Days Be Sunny and Bright, May Your Nights Be Filled With Light

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Dear Pearlmoonplenty Readers,

As the solstice approaches and preparations for holiday cheer proceed with estimable vigor, these back-of-Christmas-card messages from a hundred years ago offer curious glimpses into the season’s joys and tribulations.

The first contains a complaint folks today can appreciate, even with all our “time-saving” devices:

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I’m not sure whether the next card is gossiping, joking, or complementing the receiver, but it seems an odd holiday sentiment:

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This writer makes good use of a leftover Christmas card, although the message is a little confusing regarding “the Baby”:

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Apparently all kinds of images appeared on Christmas cards 100 years ago, just as they do today. I’m glad this young man wanted to visit his grandmother, even if his reason seemed less to do with her than with his current circumstance:

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This creative homemade card (look closely at the candles) contains the best message of all, one I wish to share with you in this season of light, laughter, and love.

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Until the New Year,

Kayann

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