Tag Archives: country

42nd Earth Day and Still Counting

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, I was a student in Mr. Osborn’s fifth grade class at Sherwood Elementary. Earth Day was organized by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to bring national attention to the alarming state of the environment through grassroots actions. 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 granted.

My fifth grade class (I'm in the lower left hand corner with knee socks)

Our fifth grade class decided to celebrate the first Earth Day 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. We showed up with tools—the girls in pants, which weren’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 a 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, 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.

 

Around the world, 20 million participants representing thousands of schools and communities organized events like ours from planting trees to picking up trash along highways in what Senator Nelson called a “spontaneous response at the grassroots level.” Earth Day proved that many people did care about the environment, becoming a symbol for the new ecological movement that at that point held so much promise.

Today Earth Day and its message of stewardship is still part of many school curriculums. Children learn about the value of recycling, saving energy, and protecting endangered species.  Since the first Earth Day, stricter standards have been passed for air and water pollution, cars have become more fuel efficient, and many contaminated areas have been recovered.  But 42 years after the first Earth Day, we are living that fearful future of vanishing species, toxic food, oil spills, nuclear disasters, and climate change-amplified weather crises.

To celebrate Earth Day’s 40th anniversary two years ago, we planted an Opalescent Apple tree at Stonebridge Farm in memory of Mr. Osborn, my fifth grade teacher who had died just a few months earlier.  Many years will pass before Mr O’s tree bears fruit in the old orchard beyond the barn, just as many years have passed since planting my first Earth Day garden. When I tend that tree, I remember how Mr. O inspired us to care about the natural world by getting our hands in the soil. He taught us the Earth Day lesson of working together to care for our environment by visualizing the world in which we wanted to live. Even though the grass and flowers didn’t survive long in the high traffic area outside our schoolroom, it didn’t matter because the real seeds had been planted in us.

Ecology stickers I've saved from fifth grade

This Earth Day we’ll celebrate by learning to forage wild plants on our farm. Foraging lends a new perspective on so-called weeds by showing us that plants we overlook or eradicate can have value. Similarly, Earth Day teaches us that we need to look more closely at the earth’s interconnected ecosystems if we are to be good stewards of this planet.

We’ll plant an apple tree too, one John grafted from the branch of a blush apple tree in our farm’s old orchard. That tree probably came from a seed planted by a bird or squirrel or apple fallen from another tree. Since apple trees grown from seeds don’t come true to the parent tree, until we grafted it, our tree may have been the only apple like it in the world. Now this second Stonebridge apple will bear more wine-fleshed fruit born of this place and bringing the past into a future we hope promises harvests for generations to come. 

In fifth grade, I believed that solutions to the world’s environmental problems would be achieved in my lifetime. How naïve I was to underestimate the economic forces that value profit over preservation and the lack of political will to challenge them. The view that the earth is only ours for the harvesting has led us to disregard its limitations. We should all participate in “green” efforts to plant school gardens, recycle our cans and bottles, or eat locally grown organic vegetables as ways to honor the earth as our home, yet actions like these alone will not save the planet. The changes needed to stop further ecological degradation are monumental and our individual efforts so small, it’s hard to see how the tiny seeds of stewardship planted 42 years ago can still grow.

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 this year by planting a tree—and then join others in the insistence that the environment must not only be protected for ourselves, but for generations as far as we can count. Together we must create a new vision that inspires fresh seeds of environmental activism, one that looks not only at individual actions but at collective intervention in the mounting crisis of our only earth.

1 Comment

Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

In Celebration of Local Food

Finally, a cool down. After the hottest August in the last 140 years with temperatures in the high 90s for over three weeks, I walked outside at 6:30 yesterday morning to noticeably cooler air, as if a damp towel had been laid over the farm. We welcomed the cool down as we harvested for four hours, our biggest pick yet of the season—and we haven’t even started on the winter squash. Until the first frost, the garden will be burgeoning and we’ll be running to keep up with it.

Last week we participated in several activities for Local Food Week. I spoke on a “So You Want to Be a Farmer?” panel for Transition Boulder about nurturing community in CSA (I read Red, Red Barn to portray what community looks like at Stonebridge), and our hundred-year-old farm was one of four hosts for a Slow Food Bike-to-Farm Tour. Cyclists sipped our cold mint tea as John showed them around the vineyard and talked about creating a local winemaking culture on this side of the mountains, or Front Range Backyard Viticulture, as we call it.

Bird-netted and protected from raccoons with electric fencing, our vines look great and promise to be heavy enough to justify the purchase of a large crusher-destemmer for our cold-hardy grapes. John’s been teaching classes in planting, pruning, and harvesting grapes and the idea of growing varieties suited to this climate—and discovering what wine grown here tastes like—is catching people’s attention.

Every week is local food week at Stonebridge but this time of year brings its own pleasures. The fall garden is just starting out with small bok choy, turnips, and napa cabbages to pick for the share, while the summer garden is at its height with zukes, cukes, green beans, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, chard, kale, onions, garlic, carrots, and beets.

The heirloom tomatoes are ripening fully and the peppers are gorgeous. We gave five varieties of peppers yesterday, from the sweet red skinny Jimmy Nardellos (so delicious stuffed with slivers of Manchego cheese and roasted at 395 for 20 minutes or so) to juicy Red Cheese for slicing to San Ardo Poblanos for stuffing to Hungarian Hot Wax (our favorite to spice up marinara or salsa just a bit) and the hot hots like Serranos, as well as the more prudent sweet green bells.

Even the As You Like table of “cosmetically challenged” freebie vegetables is full—but it’ll be empty by the end of the day because our members know a little scratch and dent doesn’t ruin the vegetable.

Except for yesterday when we were up and outside early for the pick, I’ve started each morning of the last week by slicing something for the dehydrator. We got our Western Slope peaches a week ago so I’ve been drying those in wedges for winter fruit. One day I dried parsley to give as part of our Thanksgiving share, but mainly I’ve been drying paste tomatoes for all our winter and spring pizzas and pastas. I grow four varieties of paste tomatoes—Opalka, Amish Paste, Flame, and Gold Paste—and we’ve come to depend on them for our off-season pantry. One of my favorite things about paring tomatoes is how excited the chickens get about tomato scraps for breakfast!

This week also brought something new to our local food preparation and cuisine: goat milk. A friend gave us some milk from their dairy and another friend shared the additional ingredients and instructions for making chevre, so we got to make a little cheese of our own this week. We used it on a wonderful bruschetta last night by layering arugula, chevre, fresh tomato slices salted and peppered, dried parsley, and a little sprinkled romano on a locally made crusty baguette and baking for 20 minutes at 400. Served with a little white wine, this was local food at its best.

In the overfilled barn yesterday, one of our members stopped to thank me for my guest editorial that appeared in several of our local papers this week against the growing of Genetically Modified crops on Boulder’s Open Space. I appreciated her gratitude because it shows that people are paying attention to the issue. John and I attended the community comment session this week and, although the vast majority of speakers listed compelling reasons to ban GMOs on Open Space, I don’t think that’s what the commissioners will decide. They’re too worried about managing weeds on county land and too near-sighted to make the necessary changes at this point. We’ll see.

For now, we’ll rejoice in the plenitude of local, organic food as we turn the corner from summer to fall and the overlap of vegetables that fills the barn with thoughts of simple meals prepared in celebration of taste.

2 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Red, Red Barn

2011 marks not only the 20th season of Stonebridge’s CSA but the 100th anniversary of the farm itself. To celebrate both, we decided to paint the barn. We’re not sure when it was last painted, but judging from the weathered red wood, probably 30 or maybe even 40 years ago. We thought it was time to give this century barn a new coat of good paint to help it last another 100 years, so we invited our members to a community barn painting and pancake breakfast to kick off the morning’s work.

I have to admit that ever since I’d come up with the idea, I’d been worried about this barn painting business. Our barn is a former dairy barn, a huge building with high sides on the east and west and old wood that looked like it could soak up buckets of paint. I worried about people climbing ladders and falling off the roof and finding the right color and feeding everyone while they worked. I worried we wouldn’t get it done in a day, leaving us with a half painted barn.

But when I woke up the day of the barn painting, I decided I didn’t need to worry any more. We’d finish what we could. If we didn’t get it done, we’d get to it later. I mixed up enough batter for three huge batches of oatmeal/cornmeal/whole wheat pancakes (you can find the recipe on our website) so I knew we’d have enough food. And then as I walked outside in the fresh morning air, I realized that I wasn’t going to have to paint that barn alone. Like everything we do at Stonebridge, the community pitches in and the work soon gets done.

After 20 years of CSA, Stonebridge runs like a well-oiled machine—most the time, anyway. We trust each other’s skills and count on each other’s enthusiasm and support to accomplish whatever we need to do, not only on Saturday mornings when we get the vegetables into the barn, but any day when something needs doing. John and I make sure the supplies are handy or the prep work done—like buying the paint, power-washing the barn walls, or mixing the pancakes—and then our friends take it from there.

Tim flips the pancakes, everyone brings toppings to share, Sarah and Hunter mix gluten-free batter, and after everyone eats, Sandy and Rajni do the dishes. Michelle, Eva the Younger, and Eva the Elder start painting the sunny south side before the day gets too hot. Lisa, Steve, and Joe (still glowing from headlining the local festival the night before with his band Crow Radio) are joined by Jenny, Mike, Sarah, and Angus on the tall west side with brushes and buckets of Country Redwood. Seeing 10-year-old Angus with a paintbrush can’t help but remind me of Tom Sawyer’s trickery–make the work seem like fun and everyone will want to do it.

Soon, the lower part of the west side is done and we start to worry that we’ve got enough paint, but everyone votes to keep going, even though we’re starting to sweat in the late morning sun. Michelle and Luca cheer us on from the tire swing. Lloyd volunteers to climb up to the roof to paint the cupola, so John and Tim join him and soon it’s done.

Then Gretchen, Michael, Avi, and Sharonah arrive to help finish the short south side with a couple buckets to spare. Eileen shows up as reinforcement and doesn’t mind painting high on a ladder to finish the west side, so we haul up the ladders for Gretchen and John to join her, while Mike, Lisa, Tim, and Julie climb up to finish the east. Good thing we have a lot of ladders.

In the midst of this work-turned-party, a dear former member arrives with a beautiful engraved stone for our entryway, so Joe, Lloyd, and Mike dig a deep hole to set it in place. We stop to admire the new look of our entryway and then head back to finish the west side and clean up. We’ve painted the entire barn in a little over three hours with a half-bucket of paint to spare! Hungry again and not ready to break up the celebration, we fire up the griddles for another round of pancakes with Jenny’s peanut butter ice cream, some cold watermelon, and a few beers.

Why did I worry about painting the barn? I should have known from years of experience on this farm that many hands make light work. This is the crew that can polish off a weedy bed in the remaining minutes after a pick; the same folks who show up when the tomatoes need harvesting before an unexpected first frost; and the same people who keep Stonebridge going year after year.

And now, the barn is done, except for a little white trim that we’ll get to when the crops have settled down and the days are cooler once more. I doubt John or I will paint the barn again in our lifetimes and that feels good. Good to know that the hard work of the best kind of people can carry on beyond our time. This is how work used to get done on farms–from barn raising to threshing crews to harvesting. We’ve lost that tradition in this country but maybe, in these times, working cooperatively will come back, not only out of necessity, but from desire for community.

Stonebridge is more than a Tom Sawyer farm. We don’t have to trick anyone into anything here because we all realize what we have. We know we are lucky to share this piece of land that sustains our families while bringing us closer together in joy throughout the seasons. Closer in comfort and care for the land and each other–that’s the true meaning of the “C” of CSA.

10 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

The Nature of Cities

Tonight I’m dining alone, something I don’t do frequently, and because I hadn’t planned ahead, I just used what I had on hand: eggs straight from the chicken coop; wild oyster mushrooms picked this morning from a fallen log in our ditch; fresh tarragon growing next to the door; and sundried tomatoes from last season’s garden. A simple and filling meal, paired with a glass of homemade wine from our own vineyard.

I don’t mean to sound chic here. This isn’t gourmet. It’s just what we have laying around. That’s one of the benefits of living on a farm—for a good part of the year, you can walk outside and find dinner, and the rest of the time, you can eat what you’ve put by.

Last weekend John and I went to the big city for our 10th anniversary. We like a little city time, especially eating at great restaurants, browsing bookstores, and swimming in the rooftop pool at our hotel while the sun sets over the mountains. But this trip, I found myself feeling more annoyed with the incessant traffic and noise and less charmed by urban offerings of culture and cuisine than usual. I still loved our celebratory meal at our favorite “affordable” French restaurant, but I was most excited at being served the same kind of fava beans we grow at home.

As John and I walked around the city for two days, what I noticed most—what indeed I sought out—were pieces of the country. Patches of grass, pots of flowers, naturalistic architecture, even farm-fresh vegetables at our meals, anything that delivered a reprieve from cement sidewalks and steel buildings that block the sun. I started to understand why so many city people have dogs: they have to go outside to walk them, so at least they get a few minutes in the relatively fresh air and sunlight every day.

I also noticed for the first time how many tattoos portray flora and fauna motifs. One young woman in a sundress had a whole forest of birds and trees landscaped on her back, paradoxically the most ecological portrayal of the natural world I observed all weekend.

Until I heard the birds. Birds aren’t absent in the city. Pigeons and starlings live in the eaves of buildings; robins nest in neighborhood trees and city parks. But I wasn’t expecting a chorus of birds as we walked down the sidewalk in the midst of a busy commercial block near the state capital, a street with more concrete and asphalt than grass or even weeds.

As John and I passed a gift shop, I heard the birds chirping loudly and at once, as if a whole flock of birds was greeting the sun rising over a canopy of trees. Startled, I looked up above the shop’s doorway for a nest. I didn’t find a nest, but instead discovered a speaker piping out the birds’ songs to the sidewalk below. Whether the sound was meant to attract customers or scare off real birds, I’m not sure, but I smiled at the shopkeeper’s ingenuity.

And then a block later I had to smile again at the graffiti on the side of an empty storefront.

“DO YOU FEEL REAL?” it asked. What would “real” feel like, I wondered, in a place where the natural world is so difficult to find that artificial representations must stand in for the real thing? Maybe urban people do know what they’re missing. That’s why they try to create a little bit of country in the city. I was missing it too, but I could go home again to my gardens and trees and homegrown omelettes. For city dwellers, tattoos would have to do.

1 Comment

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture