Tag Archives: environment

What We Need

Our gas was turned on yesterday morning, a relief after 18 days. John lit the tank so the water could heat. We made lunch on the stove and turned on the dishwasher afterward. I had a bath; he took a shower. Soon we forgot that we’d been heating water to bathe, solar-showering outside, and cooking on electric griddles, crockpots, and the community room propane stove.

In the afternoon, we drove to Boulder on Hwy 36 for the first time since the flood on September 12th. We couldn’t believe what the St. Vrain River had become. The corner of 36 and 66 is no longer a highway intersection but a crossing of riverbed three times its previous size. The two-story log home that used to sit at the corner is gone, the bank where it stood now shirred off high above the river. A mass of twisted metal lay on the side of the road, former guardrails and the debris they’d stopped as the river roared through.

At Middle Fork Road, Left Hand Creek had engulfed a house and torn away a garage. The house still stood but the porch was surrounded by river rock and tree limbs dragged through the waters. Driving to Boulder and back home again, we gawked at new vistas left behind by a river and creeks straying madly off their course.

After dinner, we walked to our neighbor’s house to tell him about the dumpster arriving this week for cleanup along our stretch of road. We crossed the highway to look at the train tracks that normally run from the cement plant to the south, now shut down and silent for the first time in decades. The ground beneath the tracks and trestle have disappeared, washing rails away like Lego pieces snatched from a toy train. But no real trains will run that way for months, maybe years, maybe never.

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Exactly two weeks before, we’d stood here on the highway at the checkpoint temporarily restricting access to the town of Lyons, its residents evacuated from the flood that destroyed roads, homes, and businesses. We’d been called down to the checkpoint to vouch for friends staying with us temporarily. The barrier was intended to safeguard residents, but had become increasingly frustrating as rules changed daily.

By the time we got there, words had been exchanged and our friends had left down a side road now closed for the night. The officer confronting us wasn’t happy with the situation. He’d heard enough about who needed to get where. “Why don’t you people leave?” he yelled. “There’s nothing for you here.”

I paused to calm my voice. “But that’s not true.” I shook my head. “We have water. We have power. We have food. We have everything we need.”

He stared, surprised. Clearly, this was new information. He must have thought the rural places along the highway had been affected like the town. He didn’t know how self-sufficient we are with our generators, propane, septic systems, and gardens, not to mention our general off-grid attitudes.

Without a word, he retreated to find his superior officer. By the time they returned, the situation had eased. They took our friends’ names so they could return to our farm; we thanked the deputies for their long hours of work.

Everything we need.

I can’t speak for those who have lost their homes or businesses in this flood. I can’t even imagine that loss. But for those of us trying to hold as hard as we could to what we still had, the flood swept off the trivia of life’s worries, leaving a renewed vision of what matters most in its wake.

Now we’re rebuilding with the certainty that disaster can come when we’re not looking. What will happen next, we can’t ensure. But for now, we’re grateful  for the chance to rethink what we really need before it’s taken away .

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For the Rest

The Big Dipper hangs across the meadow as John and I walk to the granary for the night. We’ve been sleeping out there for the summer. Our house is hot, having no central cooling (or heating, except for the wood stove), and the granary’s cross ventilation makes for perfect sleep.

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We sleep in the East Room, the one I call the Oat Room. Sometimes I call it the Gluten Free Room since the West one is the Wheat. The Oat Room has two high rectangular openings on the south side from its former days when grain was loaded into the room with an augur. Now those windows are screened for bugs and the night breezes blow through to the window on the north. Even in July, the temperature drops along the irrigation ditch next to the granary. In the early morning, we pull up an old patchwork blanket from the foot of the bed to banish the descending chill.

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Walking out to the granary at twilight separates the day from the night more completely than sleeping in the house. Inside, we’re busy up until the minute we hit the sheets. Except for the nightly bathroom routine, we don’t take a moment from the book we’re reading or the email we’re sending or the dishes we’re washing before we go to bed.

But when we leave the house to sleep, we walk away from the tasks of the day. We leave them behind, knowing they’ll be there the next morning when we return.

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Something is different about the night outside than in. Maybe it’s the air, fresher than inside four walls. Maybe it’s the dark, a relief from viewing the chores we face every day. We don’t have to worry about “to do” when we walk back to the granary. Instead, we watch for bats swooping from the barn’s cupola to capture their fleeing prey.

In the twilight, the traffic on the highway near the farm has quieted. We listen to the nighttime sounds of the animals: the goats bleating from their pen as we pass, our neighbor’s too-many dogs barking, a last bird calling from the trees along the ditch. As we walk over the stone bridge, we pause to check the water flow. If it’s moving swiftly, we know we’ll have water to irrigate the next day.

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We pass the barn, the greenhouse and Sunflower Community Room, across the festival field and past the tractor barn, coming out between the glass bluehouse of tomatoes and the granary that faces the meadow. The other night, a storm approached, with distant lightning flashing and low thunder rolling in waves behind the hills.

As we looked north, tiny lights beamed on and off as if in code across the pasture. Were fireflies signaling the storm’s advance? I had never seen fireflies on the farm before, and John only once. How had we missed them in our nighttime strolls? Later, when I stood on the wide porch to watch the lightning gathering above us, the fireflies were gone, or at least had stopped their sparking. Now I watch for their tiny beams each night, like children playing with flashlights after dark.

Separating our days from our nights seems important this summer. With concerns about bees and water and land, we need to regenerate our hopes somehow.  In the granary, we read novels. We have no internet to warn us of the future, no distressing emails, no news of coming destruction, no bulletins of doom.

John and I have become, lately, the bearers of bad news. Sometimes, we’re not fit for company. We forget that not everyone wants to hear about these things. People want to hear about the latest sports scores, album releases, or celebrity scandals, not the latest bee die-off (50,000 in an Oregon Target parking lot from pesticides to prevent aphid droppings on cars).

But John and I read compulsively about the environmental degradation before us like an accident from which we cannot look away. We know that peak water also means peak grain. We know that loss of bees means loss of food. We worry about what we will collectively leave for our grandchild and for his grandchilden after him. We don’t know how to stop the forces that destroy for short-term profit. We only know that we must keep doing what we do.

We built the granary for guests, but, for now, it is our refuge and our regeneration. Maybe the old wood walls bring dreams of return to a time when “local” was not a selling point but a fact. As we take the best from the past to sow a better future, we’ll watch for tiny beams of hope to light our way.

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I’ll be taking August off from pearlmoonplenty for the publishing of my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. If you’re in the Boulder area on August 20, join me for the launch of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography at the Boulder Bookstore, 7:30 PM. For more on the book, including upcoming readings and a digital excerpt, see abushelsworth.com. And check out this thoughtful first review from Notes from a Reading Life.

 

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June 2013

freshstories

I’ve been errant in my blog posts lately because I’m getting ready for the launch of my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, in August. I’ve also been hosting and co-teaching a digital storytelling workshop in which participants create first-person, multi-modal videos about significant life events. And then there’s the regular work of our CSA and the flower garden to weed and the farm chores to do every day.

Remember last June’s unseasonably hot weather with temperatures in the upper 90s and even 100s? We’ve had some hot days this June, but nothing like last year so far. Following a cooler, longer spring, 80-degree days are greatly appreciated by both the farmers and the plants in the field. The brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, and kale) couldn’t be happier. Tomatoes and peppers are setting fruit. We’ll pick peas this Saturday. The fall- and spring-planted spinach has bolted after weeks of delicious harvests but the chard is coming on strong. Compared to this time last year, the garden seems optimistic with the promise of a fresh season to come.

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And the roses are spectacular. Between a good spring pruning and lots of early moisture, every rose is blooming right now.

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The peonies too have put on a show of lush, heavy flower heads.

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At last week’s digital storytelling workshop at the farm, the peonies turned up in several stories. Who could resist a picture like this?

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Seeing Stonebridge reflected through someone else’s eyes makes me appreciate the farm in new ways. Here’s  a wonderful piece by Teresa Barch that captures the spirit of a summer workshop here.

 

With June’s transplanting, weeding, and watering, we don’t usually get to other projects, let alone ones we’ve been dreaming of for years. This week, though, we had an infusion of help from an old friend, so rebuilding the goat pen came to the top of the list. You know someone’s a really good friend when they’ll spend their vacation on your “to do” list.

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Now the goats have a classier place to live and the fence (salvaged from the same farm that gave us the granary) looks like it’s been there as long as the rest of the farm buildings.

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Tomorrow, John and I will celebrate our solstice anniversary with dinner at The Gold Hill Inn. Our friend Angie Burnham has made a new documentary on Gold Hill that will inspire you to visit too. Check out the trailer here.

June feels lucky this year. Lucky for the snow that fell in April, raising the snow pack to normal for the water now flowing through our ditch. Lucky for temperatures that help new vegetables grow. Lucky for friends who share their time and labor. And lucky for a 102-year-old community farm that still grows food.

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If you’re in the Boulder area on August 20, join me for the launch of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography at the Boulder Bookstore, 7:30 PM. For more on the book, see abushelsworth.com.

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A Farming Past

I’m drying apples today, which sounds a little strange in March, but I still had some organic winter keeper apples from Ela Farms in our cool room that were in great condition for drying, the skins only slightly shriveled or “pre-dehydrated,” and the fruit inside still fresh and firm. As I cored and sliced them, I noticed that my apple rounds were irregular widths, reminding me that I’m a human being, not a machine. I thought about how my grandparents and great-grandparents farmed before automation when farm work meant doing things by hand or with simple machinery operated by hand. How different than work in mechanized factories or sitting behind a computer screen.

My great-grandfather Jasper Smith and great-aunt Myra harvesting wheat

My great-grandfather Jasper Smith and great-aunt Myra harvesting wheat

I don’t mean to idealize those days. Farming back then was bone-wearying hard, whether raising crops and livestock or putting food on the family table.  After all, my apples were drying in an electric dehydrator and I had running water to prepare them, not water hand-pumped from a well. But when I do things by hand, I remember my grandparents’ farms when I was growing up and I feel a kinship to my farming past. I think my grandparents felt a satisfaction with the work they did because the results benefitted them directly: wholesome food raised on land they had homesteaded, milk and eggs to sell in town, and a full granary of wheat to provide for the things they couldn’t raise.

My great-grandmother Flora Hunsley Smith raising turkeys

My great-grandmother Flora Hunsley Smith raising turkeys

A couple weeks ago, our county invited farmers to a special dinner and presentation by several farmers, now in their seventies and eighties, whose families had been farming for a hundred years or more on land where, according to one speaker, “everything is houses now.” They shared photographs of their families raising beet, alfalfa, and wheat crops and, just like my father, they knew the make, model, and year of every tractor they had driven. Back then, they said, companies like Case, John Deere, Oliver, and International all had businesses in town, none of which remain today.

My dad in his teens with his John Deere A.

My dad in his teens with his John Deere A.

These families had farmed before the “Get Big or Get Out” agriculture of the 1980s, when high interest loans for machinery and land shaved the profit margin so slim that only large-scale farms had a chance to survive. Back then, they said, “a lot of families farmed a little bit of land” instead of “just a few big farms” owning more of it. My partner John remarked to me that, judging from the photos, those little farms still provided enough income to build big farmhouses and barns. And, as one of the farmers remarked, family farms also “raised an awful lot of what you ate.” Since “the ladies canned all summer,” only sugar, salt and coffee were purchased. One farmer shared that he had recently found a Ball jar of pears from 1931 in his cellar—and it was still good.

Jars like my grandmothers used to can and keep in their root cellars

Jars like my grandmothers used to can and keep in their root cellars

All the farmers agreed that farming nowadays isn’t like farming was then, but they weren’t just referring to the economics of it. Instead, they remembered how families worked together to get the crops in and how people could do business on the trust of a handshake instead of a contract. Having seen the end of their way of life, they were glad for the chance to have lived it.

Grandpa Short with his Minneapolis Moline G

Grandpa Short with his Minneapolis Moline G

Last week, a friendly couple stopped by our farm. They had lived here in the early 1970s as part of a commune, of sorts, although the woman laughed that she hadn’t known she was a hippie until she’d read an article describing one. In the 70s, it didn’t take much to be considered a hippie; the “back-to-the-land” movement was branded countercultural as young people “dropped out” by rejecting middle-class jobs and keeping up with the neighbors.

As part of that movement, our visitors had milked two cows in what is now our community room, raised chickens in the old chicken house that’s now our guesthouse, and made candles and leather goods in the barn where we now distribute the vegetables for our CSA. John and I enjoyed walking around the farm with the couple and learning some of Stonebridge’s history. The cows were pastured where we now grow our vegetables—no wonder it’s so fertile. Their tipi stood in the old orchard where, twenty-five years later, our friends had raised a tipi for a while. And I was thrilled to hear that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had jammed in our very own living room!

The Stonebridge John Deere B

The Stonebridge John Deere B

I’m not surprised at this farming past. Stonebridge has a “vibe” for community, whether commune or CSA. I’m glad to trace our farm as part of the “back-to-the-land” movement of young people whose own parents had fled the hardships of farming after WWII. Something had been lost in that migration, something that the small farms of my grandparents and the older farmers in our county had provided: a sense of working together for a common good rather than merely profit, a sense of being human rather than a machine. Many of us in small-scale farming today are looking for that same sense of community and satisfaction in work well done with others, for others. As Stonebridge begins our 22nd season, we are thankful for a farming past that we hope ensures a farming future.

Saturday morning pick at Stonebridge

Saturday morning pick at Stonebridge

For more about the connections between farms of the past and small-scale farming and CSA today, see my forthcoming book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, published by Torrey House Press.

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Horoscope, July 2012

I don’t follow my horoscope on a regular basis, but occasionally, I’ll read a particularly unconventional version in one of our local weekly newspapers. Last week’s summarized in trendy terms something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It started by defining a new type of mind/body practice that combines yoga, massage, and acrobatics (so already you see the Boulder theme) and then connected this idea to the Aries forecast: “I’d love to see you work on creating a comparable hybrid in the coming months, Aries—some practice or system or approach that would allow you to weave together your various specialties into a synergetic whole.”

The hipness of “synergy” aside, the idea of weaving parts of my life together is appealing to me because I’m always searching for balance in my busy life. In my yoga practice, I’m terrible at balance—positions like crane and tree and cactus are always hard for me. Maybe it’s just an inner ear problem, but I can’t help but interpret the difficulty of standing on one foot for long as a metaphor for my life.

Right now, balance is particularly challenging because of a wonderful change in my life to which I’m trying to adjust: our new grandchild arrived on July 8th to our awe and delight. Every moment I spend with him or talk about him or look at his pictures brings me joy.

Everyone with a grandchild has told me that grandparenting is different than parenting and now I know they’re right but it’s hard to put my finger on why. Somehow the passage of time is involved more in my sense of connection with a grandchild than it was with my own child—I sense of his life extending much beyond my own in ways I can’t even imagine and I’m trying not to be afraid for the future he might find. When I hold him, it’s easy to focus on the here and now and not worry about what’s next because each moment feels precious. That’s the word other grandparents exclaim to me over and over and now I know in a new way how much that word is true.

In the midst of this joy, I’m also happily bringing an important writing project to fruition—more on that in the coming months. I’m also spending more time on my photography (see an interview about this on photographer Martha Hughes’ blog, Dragonfly Photography, here). We picked the first eggplant for our farm shares last Saturday, the zucchini are over-running the barn (facilitating the need for more zucchini recipes), the garlic’s picked and waiting in trugs, and the farm season is almost half over with the bulk of the vegetables still to be harvested. Tomatoes slowed down in the 100 degree heat but the peppers will be on soon. The fall garden is progressing just fine and we’ve had time lately to spend celebrating the farm’s bounty with friends.

Is this” synergy”? Does the fact that I wake up happy each morning mean I’m weaving a “hybrid” life? Most days, I think I just about am. I don’t need a horoscope to predict that 2012 will continue to be a year my many “specialties” will coalesce in some new form of family, farm, friends, and creative efforts. Instead of worrying about how they’ll come together, I need to remember to be grateful for all the many experiences and relationships I have in my life and to follow what each brings, day after day.

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When the Rain Came

The rainstorm last night brought much needed moisture to our area.

But that’s just the weather report. So let me start again.

When the rain came, I was playing old-time music on the back porch of our Sunflower Community Room. We gather there once a month to share three hours of old-time groove with a revolving group of dedicated experienced and aspiring musicians. I’m not much good on the mando yet, but I know when a song really moves, when the music seems to find itself in the rounds of repetition, part A following part B, whirling us away in merry abandon until someone lifts their foot to signal the last go-round.

We were playing on the screened porch to try to catch any breeze a breathless evening offered when we glanced an unanticipated flash of lightning strike west of the farm toward Long’s Peak. I hadn’t checked the weather report lately, having conceded the inevitability of many hot July days to come. Our June temps were the hottest on record since 1977 and May and April were similarly record-shattering in terms of warmth. We’d been so many weeks without a real rain here, even the possibility of rain had grown dim. With only a few slight showers in the last two weeks bringing little rain but many lightning strikes to start some of Colorado’s worst fires, any sign of lightning was sobering. I’ve lived here long enough to know that lightning near Long’s means a storm is on its way. Still, a real storm didn’t seem particularly imminent.

I don’t know which song we were playing when the rain came. John says it’s all the same song anyway, and he’s got a point. Old-time music draws on endless variations of melodies within a given key but the fact that each is named and remembered proves their distinction. The names themselves are part of the music; names like Bear Went Over the Mountain; Sally’s Got Mud; Sweet Milk and Peaches, Run Down Boot, and Squirrel Hunter portray the down-home feel-bad feel-good sense that playing old-time brings.

Perhaps we were playing Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom, a traditional song that pre-dates that president (a relatively newer “old-time” song, Nixon’s Farewell, commemorates another). And then the wind picked up, blowing one strong gust through the porch that sent me flying into the community room to shut doors and windows before the tablecloths were thrown askew or worse. Still, I didn’t think the storm would amount to much and went back to the circle to join another round.

When we were knee-deep in the next song, the rain began, barely a few drops falling before the thick clouds opened over Stonebridge, pounding the tin roof over our heads. When lightning cracked above us, we raised our eyebrows, glancing outside at the dimming light, but kept our groove as the rain poured down.

Which would finish first, the song or the storm? Another flash of lightning decided the point. The rain had more staying power than we did. As we finished the song, we turned to each other, surprised at what we’d come through. We brought the rain, we laughed. A real rain. A cloudburst. A thunderstorm that promised more to the fields than anything we’d seen in months.

The rain lasted 10 minutes and left puddles in the ruts of the driveway outside. A few people left to get home before dark and a few more arrived with umbrellas. As we began another song, the wind blew cold air across the porch. After so many weeks of heat, it felt good to be chilled. Until it didn’t and we moved inside to finish the evening with a few last old-time songs.

As we left the Sunflower Room with our instruments, the nearly full moon filled the puddles in the road with light. The night breeze hummed the storm’s exuberant passing, a melody of moisture replenished, crops revived, and farmers and musicians refreshed anew.

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Seems like we’re getting there

I think it goes this way, parallel.

No, the handles have to cross like this.

Got it.

John attaches the hoses while I get the strainer ready.

Have you seen the filters? Oh, here they are near the back of the drawer.

Does it fit like this?

I think that’s upside down. Try the other way. Yes, that’s it.

Okay. I think we’re ready. Let’s go.

Stainless steel machine in hand, we walk outside in the evening’s glow to the shed where Folly and Dancer wait to be milked.

Years ago when John and I imagined retiring from teaching, we knew we wanted to create a schedule that was more farm-centered and focused on the simple ways we wanted to live. That meant many things: driving less, staying home more, and spending less money and more time together. A whimsical, yet practical, aspect of our vision was to milk goats at our friends’ CSA dairy once a week because we like what our friends are doing and we eat a lot of goat cheese.

Last night, we milked two sweet goats for the first time by ourselves and brought home two gallons of milk. We warmed it in one of our largest pots and added the rennet and culture for chèvre. It’ll curdle today and we’ll strain it tonight. Soon we’ll have cheese for eating and cooking and someday we’ll branch out to other varieties.

So Tuesday is milking day and the other days of the week are falling into place as well. We’ve got movement practice for our bodies and writing projects for our minds and farm work every day to keep our fields green and our community strong. We spend more time in solitude, away from the busy-ness of the world, and more time enjoying the company of friends. Some of the dreams we’ve had for years are coming to fruition. And in July, we’ll greet our new grandchild.

This morning as I walked over the stone bridge between our house and barn, I startled a mother Canadian goose and her six goslings swimming three by three at her side in the ditch below me. I’d seen the parents in the water over the last couple weeks and knew the babies must be near. Watching for spring goslings will be part of our seasonal schedule now, another way we measure nature’s passing.

We’ve worked hard to reach this point in our fifties where we have more control over our time than ever before. We’ll continue to work hard, just not at the place or in the way we worked for so many years to get here. Nothing is rosy—as farmers, we struggle with weather, pests, and an unending “to do” list; as activists, we face encroaching development, environmental degradation, and political injustice. We also know that our physical stamina won’t hold up forever. But for now, we’re making goat cheese and waking up each morning to face a new day on the farm, happy to be getting here at last.

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Rain, Finally, Rain

With no snow in March and little moisture in April, we’ve been thinking about drought here on the Front Range. Snow pack looked good last fall but dropped to 50% levels with the dry spring. Agricultural experts are warning that this is the first of a three-year drought cycle and advise farmers to plan properly. We’re not sure what “properly” might mean for us, except to water as much as we can now, especially perennial plants and trees in the hope of getting them through the hot summer.

In 2002, the irrigation ditch at our farm went dry. If it hadn’t rained in mid-August, we might have lost our crops. We planted our vineyard that year and did lose many of the vines. We’re worried that this year could be that bad or worse—and if not this year, then the next. The grass near the barn looked parched already; we’ve been watering the fields as much as we usually do in July. We’re luckier than others who don’t have a ditch at all or who live further from the head gate and run out of water earlier in the season than we do, but once the water’s gone, it doesn’t matter where on the ditch you live. Last Friday hit a record high temperature and we wondered how we’d get through a summer that seemed to be starting months earlier than it should.

And then it rained. Sunday night was a real rain, not just a few drops but enough rain to wear a raincoat, and yesterday was cloudy with a little drizzle. Both nights were cool but not cold enough to freeze the grape buds or baby fruit on the trees. Perfect. The mountains got some snow as well, which may help ease irrigation worries later on.

This morning, the farm looked different: fresh, verdant, and relieved, like it might make it through the season after all. I transplanted mint under the outdoor water spigot at the house. That’s where my grandmother kept her mint on the North Dakota prairie, the only place it was guaranteed moisture; when she’d water the flowers along the side of the house, the spigot would leak onto the mint. My grandmother didn’t waste water. She even washed dishes in a tub in the sink so that she could throw the water on the flowers when she was done. She’d make tea from that mint, the coolest drink in the hot summer.

The smell of mint still reminds me of my grandmother and the childhood summers I spent on the farm. Planting mint under our own spigot seems like a hopeful tradition. Whatever this summer brings, we’ll do our best. We’re still worried about a warming climate that is changing our weather patterns and impacting the way we farm, but for now, we’re happy for the reprieve of a rainstorm and the return of spring.

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This is What Fresh Tastes Like

“What passes for cookery in England . . . is cutting off the delicious skins of vegetables. ‘In which,’ said Mr. Bankes, ‘all the virtue of the vegetable is contained.'”

                                                            Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

At Stonebridge Farm, we like to say that fresh is a flavor. Some students discovered that this weekend when our friend brought four of her sustainability students to the farm to help us weed the newly emerging spinach and carrot beds. As we worked with horis and hoes in the soft spring sun, one young man, a former student in John’s calculus class, asked me what my favorite thing was at the farm.

“Besides John?” I teased him.

I have so many favorites here, I had to think a bit. “The flowers,” I said, “and the chickens because they’re so friendly.” From his laughter, I don’t think he’d ever heard that chickens are friendly before.

Another new discovery was the taste of vegetables right out of the garden. After we finished weeding, we picked radishes for everyone to take home. I told the students they could eat some as they picked. “Is this what a radish tastes like?” one asked in wonder. “I’ve never tasted one like this before.”

“That’s because,” another friend said, “you can’t get a fresh radish at a grocery store. Not fresh like this anyway.”

“Fresh is a flavor,” I told them. “This is what fresh tastes like.”

When we moved to the spinach bed, another student declined the offer of spinach. “I don’t like spinach,” she assured us.

“Just try a leaf, okay?” She tentatively chewed a piece–and then smiled.

This is spinach? . . . Okay, I’ll take some.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. How sad for 18-year-olds—from upper middle-class families who undoubtedly have some access to raw vegetables in stores—not to know the fresh taste of vegetables. A salad bar may be the closest they’ve encountered and that’s just not the same.

Fresh is a flavor. Years ago, before processed food composed the majority of people’s diets in this country, even the Morton’s salt company knew about the flavor of fresh. Here’s an ad from a 1940s Life magazine that features the taste of “tender, young” vegetables as part of a flavor duo:

At Stonebridge, spring means fresh, tender vegetables like the ones pictured in the ad. Our members anticipate the sweetness of newly harvested spinach and the sparkle of plump radishes on opening day. Our season starts a few weeks earlier than most CSAs in our area because we can grow early vegetables so well in our foothills microclimate. Green onions, radishes, and lettuce offer a first salad to our members, while spinach and chard are the main ingredients of so many of our favorite meals: lasagna, fritters, enchiladas, quiche, and pastas. Even fresh chives can flavor the filling for a goat cheese tart.

In the foraging class we recently hosted, we learned about other spring plants that provide delicious and nutritious meals. Dandelion greens, of course, are great in salad (watch a 92-year-old cook prepare her Depression-era salad here), but did you know that nettles make a wonderful saag? We got to sample some, along with nettle gnocchi, at our workshop, right after we picked nettle tops for everyone to try at home, a new taste for spring since it’s one of the first plants to emerge. (You can learn more about foraging at Hunger and Thirst for Life).

Asparagus, too, means spring. We have two patches on the farm, one we planted and another along the fence line that we didn’t. There the birds “plant” the asparagus as they sit on the wire and sing. We let some of those plants go to seed every year to help them spread.

And in the foraging class, our teacher discovered another wild spot for asparagus near a bridge over our irrigation ditch where we’d cleared willows last fall.

With asparagus at $5 a bunch in the store, we’re rich in asparagus. Tonight I’ll drizzle some fat spears with olive oil to roast and eat with grated goat cheese and walnuts over pasta. Last week, I placed a few spears left out of the previous night’s quiche on a pizza—delicious as it roasted on top of the cilantro pesto.

This is what fresh tastes like as April turns to May: the virtue of spring vegetables, the scent of lilacs and dogwood, and the down of dandelions drifting in the breeze.

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New Home for an Old Granary

Out on the prairie, east of Stonebridge where our highway meets the interstate, a granary sat empty for years. Granaries are structures for storing grain, in this case a wooden building once filled perhaps with wheat through a door in the roof. Where I’m from in North Dakota, “granary” is pronounced “grainery,” but there “threshing” is called “thrashing” and a “creek” is a “crick” too. I prefer the older pronunciation, with “an” like “grand”; it lends elegance to the building’s simple construction and mundane use. Today grain elevators have replaced farm granaries but many still dot the countryside in this part of the country. You may have passed one without even noticing.

At Stonebridge, we like making old buildings useful for our needs as a small commuinity farm today. After renovating the few built here a century ago—the chickenhouse turned guesthouse, the hog barn turned community room, the farmhouse refurbished, the barn repaired—we were looking for another old building to restore. We wanted sleeping quarters for friends to visit and writers to retreat, so we asked our friend and scavenger extraordinaire Jon to keep an eye out for us.

On one of his jaunts out east, he found the granary on an abandoned farm sold for development that hadn’t yet reached the eastern edge of its forty acres. The houses are coming its way, though, and we thought we might as well move the granary to our farm than let it be bulldozed for subdivision sprawl. Jon found the owners living down the road and asked their permission to take the granary to a new home at Stonebridge. They’d bought that old farm at the edge of the highway a couple decades ago to try their hand at farming and raising hogs. But as the edge of the city moved closer, they were ready to sell when the right offer came through.

The granary sat empty for years, but it isn’t the worse for wear. The building houses three rooms: a center room for storing grain; a small side area with a ladder for checking the grain at the top of a wall that doesn’t quite reach the ceiling; and a larger storage room on the other side with a chute near the floor on the inside wall for filling grain bags.

Besides the door in the roof through which grain could be poured into the center room, the building has an outside door to the storage room and a small door into the space with the ladder. Despite sitting unused for years, the building is pretty clean. We found some grain sacks and a wooden box, a little dust, and some old lumber. A few mice have undoubtedly made their home inside but no one has bothered the building, graffitied the walls, or been up to mischief there as far as we can tell.

Moving an old building requires a lot of effort. Jon, Joe, and Peter spent hours on cold, windy days in February and March removing the roof shakes and rafters so that the building would be low enough to fit under wires as it came down the highway on a flatbed trailer. While they were at it, they took down 200 feet of old board fence as well, using some of the pieces to panel the outside of the “bluehouse” they reconstructed this winter for growing this spring’s lettuces and next year’s winter greens. They’ll use the lumber to rebuild the granary on its new site at the edge of our meadow too. You can’t buy wood like that anymore, fine-grained and strong without chemical toxins, sounder and safer than the lumber euphemistically called “pressure-treated” today. A couple of the boards may even become a guitar someday.

Roof and beams removed, the granary left its original home last week to make its way down Highway 66 toward the foothills for its new life at Stonebridge Farm. The team jacked the building up on old beams four feet high to allow clearance for the 30-foot-long trailer.

The young man we hired to move it down the highway slipped the trailer underneath and belted the building from top to bottom, making sure each chain or buckle fit snugly around the frame. It was as wide as legally possible without requiring a special permit and, we would soon find, as wide as would fit through the space between buildings on the road at our farm. With the old building secured to the trailer, John and Jon loaded the extra beams into their trucks for lowering the granary at its new Stonebridge site. And then, we were ready to chivary down the highway.

Which didn’t take long. A granary on the back didn’t slow that truck down. I stopped for a picture of it coming west towards me on the highway but had to jump back in the car and speed to pass in the only multi-lane stretch so that I could catch it turning onto the farm. I don’t think anyone gave the granary a second thought, if they noticed it at all. Just an old wooden building coming down the road, not a piece of history moving from times past to a new home going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our young trucker started driving machinery on his family’s farm at age nine but had never moved a building like this before. Nor had he navigated his trailer through such a narrow path as between our barn, community room, and glass greenhouse. He even stopped a couple times to take pictures of how tight it all fit, but by pulling a few fence posts and turning up the corner of a metal roof just in case, he got granary and trailer through without a scratch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled the trailer out into the wide meadow, hauling the granary as close as he could to its future site. The crew stacked timbers underneath onto which the building could be set as the trailer moved out and then they jacked the whole thing down onto longer beams newly milled for the foundation. As soon as we can, we’ll move it with the tractor to its proper angle facing the meadow.

The granary doesn’t look like much right now without a roof or proper windows or doors. In time, we’ll clear it out, hose it down inside and out, rebuild the roof, remove the low wall, cut another outer door, add some windows and a porch, and paint it white like it used to be. I think it will be prove a quiet space for writers and friends to relax and work and listen to the birds in the old willows along the ditch at the edge of the meadow. No one will suspect that it didn’t begin its life at Stonebridge, although they might wonder why there’s a door in the roof. We’ll leave that, evidence of its former purpose, to remind us how close we once lived to our food.

 

 

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