Friday, July 15, 2016


Strawberries, lettuce, onions, celeriac, scallions, glads and potatoes at sunset in "Northwest Passage" Field

Years and years ago, my aunt gave each of my sisters and I a mug.  On said mugs, is a line drawing of two turtles at a steep cliff.  One stands at the top, looking at the other and deciding what to do, while the first has bounded out into the open air (if indeed a turtle can bound) , and is floating serenely back down towards solid ground, slowed by a parachute that seems to have emerged from the shell on its back.  On the inside lip of the mug it says "THE LEAP OF FAITH!", exactly like that, in all caps, with one exclamation point.

I have always enjoyed this mug because it happens to be the perfect size for my morning coffee, but lately I confess to spending much more time than I should contemplating it as it sits on the shelf in our kitchen.  Somehow this mug has captured perfectly, in its simple, kitschy way, my life in this moment, and reading and re-reading its words while I wait for the french press to do its thing has become oddly affirming.  Because this, friends, this is THE LEAP OF FAITH! year for this farmer and the farm...and we've LEAPED! and I think that really, it will all be fine, because I'm pretty sure a parachute could appear as needed.  ;O)

The potato patch which, sadly, has not particularly enjoyed the lack of rain or the abundance of days with a heat warning this year

Fairmeadow has had a pretty agonizing time looking for a compatible landowner over the last 10 years that was open and willing to offer a longer-term lease, which has seemed a more and more vital thing for the farm to have - both so it could really thrive ecologically and economically, and so it could be a rooted source of a happy, full, sustainable life.  Moving the farm the first time was a heartwrenching experience.  Realizing it needed to be moved a second, and then a third time was just full-out exhausting and kind of spirit-crushing to this farmer, truth be told.  I'm not a wanderer by nature, I'm a stay-putter.  The weight of making these decisions, even though they were all latterly mine to make, and beyond that positive, and beyond that character-building experiences on the whole, has been draining, really just a total drag (I heart growing carrots, but I do not heart feeling constant anxiety over where, or even if, I'll be able to grow them the next year)!  But, fingers crossed, knock on a tree, I think the vegetables and I are done with the "where, literally, do we go from here?" question for a while now.  Yip yip yip!

Second sweet corn planting, beside a recently tilled under cover crop section of oats & peas

After lots of winter time discussion, list-making, holistic management exercises, budgeting, meetings and thought, Bill and I decided we would indeed endeavour to move both ourselves and our farms (and the much beloved garden kitten) together this spring, and fortunately...FORTUNATELY! opportunity came along to make this possible for us.  We were connected with a wonderful landlord, a good few acres of land (with a pond! and a little greenhouse!), and, most heart-liftingly, A FIVE YEAR LEASE!  :O)  It was a whirlwind of a spring to be sure, and the to-do lists remain endless but it's good.  Yes, having some certainty about a place to grow after years of instability is so, so good.  And of course the building a shared life thing together too!   

The first transplanted brassicas - collards, cabbages (red, green & savoy), and broccoli

So we have had our happy beginning to be grateful about (which I really and truly am)...and now it's time to dig deep and find ongoing gratitude for embracing the unknown and farming keeping one humble, because FARMING IS REALLY REALLY HUMBLING! to be sure. 

This is where the mug really comes into things this year - I just recall its sweet turtles and recite its encouraging words (with their single dramatic exclamation point at the end) like a mantra, every two minutes, when the self-doubt, and feelings of uncertainty and indecision, and utter lack of confidence that I know how to grow even a single vegetable at all creep into my headspace.  "TURTLES!  LEAP OF FAITH!",  I tell myself.  I cling to these things. 

Because we're starting with a completely blank slate at the farm, on all fronts - layout, water resources, crop rotation plans, and infrastructure (apart from the little greenhouse) - and a very different soil type (and conventional crop history) that anything either of us has ever farmed before.

The potential to create just the vibrant little working farmscape of our dreams is there and so exciting, we just have to build it and get to know the intricacies of this land over time (aka figure out how to coax abundant and lush vegetation out of it!), and that just needs a heap of patience.  We have learned so much already, but the droughty conditions this season so far have proven to be quite challenging on our sandy loamy sandy sandy hungry hot dry soil.  (sidebar: not an officially recognized soil type...yet!)
The better part of our 21 Mt of compost, still to be spread before the summer is out

In an effort to begin restoring and building soil fertility as a start we invested in a different sort of heap - one of high-quality compost.  21,150 kg of this goodness, to be precise (that's a little more than 21 metric tonnes)!  Initially the plan was for this to last us two seasons, but seeing how our early seedings of both vegetables and cover crops fared we've revised our thinking here, and will likely spread it all this summer, and then repeat this process for the years to come, along with sourcing or growing as much mulch as we possibly can.  We like our soils nutrient-dense and as high in organic matter as we can get them, and they definitely need some loving in these areas!

Basil, tunneled cucumbers, zucchini, early melons, eggplant and peppers coming along slowly on landscape fabric, with tomatoes to the right (waiting to be trellised)

Water has shown itself to be another critical element this agroecosystem needs to thrive - and this was definitely not the year to not have an irrigation system in place from the get-go here.  Sad noisssseeeeee.  A number of failed direct seedings (and just some very slow growing early plants) were the price we paid on this one. Alas, Fairmeadow will not have any leeks or parsnips to offer this year, and the two and a half acres of paths and headlands we attempted to put in perennial grass & legume cover in the spring will all need to be ripped up and re-seeded to more drought tolerant and competitive species again in the fall or earlier next year.  Our new irrigation system has been designed and ordered now though, and we hope it will be here and ready to be used before July is out!  Although a significant capital investment for us to stretch to make (along with a sturdy storage building, two caterpillar tunnels for protected summer and winter growing (woot woot!), and a cold storage set-up still to come), we know this will make all the difference to our ability to raise healthy vegetables, forages and livestock in future seasons and for many seasons, as both the weather and climate shift ever more unpredictably.  We`ve worked a little precariously without some of these things in the past, or improvised them on a shoestring, but they`re really important elements for a small-scale farm like ours to be sustainable, and they help build resilience to the whole, LEAP OF FAITH! it`s time to put the time and resources needed into a thoughtfully planned, well laid out, better infrastructured little farmscape.    

The squash at sunset, really wanting out of their tunnels. Tomorrow, I promise!

And depleting the weed seed bank - this will also help our cause greatly over time.  Both our north and south fields were in conventional corn the prior two seasons (ughhh), and this has contributed to a wicked quantity of dreaded crab grass seed kicking around, amongst other challenges.  Seriously - SO MUCH CRABGRASS!  IT'S EVERYWHERE!  When I'm not tearing it out, it makes me inclined to do the same to my hair because the pressure is so high!  ;O)  But this of course is silly - focusing our efforts on not letting it go to seed on us is really the only thing to do.  So fingers crossed, when next we see each other I will not be bald, and I'll be able to share the uplifting tale of how we hoed our way out of it's oppressive tyranny in the fields.   

Part of our South Field - decisions, decisions about what should go where, and when and how to try reseeding our paths and headlands which all came up to crabgrass in May's droughty conditions instead of the clover, rye grass, and festulolium we planted. 

Really the most challenging thing this season for me is just to BE PATIENT!, and remember that we`re working towards things that will take years to achieve, not weeks or months!  Needing to shift our management to what the soil and plants need in this place (and what we have time and energy for) in this year, and in the years to come, should be seen as (hopefully) wisely adaptive, not as a failure because things didn`t go to plan or as expected.  Early seeds not germinating, or plants struggling to get growing deep and green and lush right away is simply a review lesson about farming on warm, less nutrient-rich sandy soils in a very dry summer without irrigation, not indicative of an inability to grow anything well here, ever.  These of course should all be obvious things all the time.  But irrationally, I sometimes find it difficult to look out at a garden that I`ve poured my heart, and likely very unfair expectations into already (not to mention blood, sweat and tears), on a sticky, sweaty day, and not seeing just what I`d like to, to not just sit down and let myself have a little pity cry over for a few days.  But you know what, self?  LEAP OF FAITH!  :O)

Next year's strawberries trying hard (and starting!) to runner despite their late planting and droughty weather. Also evidence of farm dog wandering in the garden - we're still learning about staying on paths and headlands.
So I am clinging these days to the idea of what those turtles on my years old mug depict on our kitchen shelf - that we do all have the resolve in us to take a leap of faith when needed, and the fortitude of spirit to survive the initial moments of free-fall.  And much more than that, I cling to another notion, with deeper confidence, that COMMUNITY SUPPORT IS OUR PARACHUTE!, and as it always has been, it's there as needed.  Because you cheerleaders and friends and family and "farmily" members of the farm and farmer(s) that have been there since the beginning, are truly the best.  We're so fortunate to be surrounded by such amazing kindness and generosity and encouragement.  In low moments I might take for granted all the evidence of vegetable happiness growing in the fields, and all the things actually coming together nicely if slowly in this full life of ours (it's terrible, and I try not to, I'm just sayin'....!), but never the wonderfulness of people that surrounds this little farmlet.  Just wanted you to know!   

We're still figuring out exactly what will be best in this "LEAP OF FAITH!" year in terms of the September Harvest Basket and Fall CSA offerings given the intense start we had - but we will let you know the plans soon (or please let us know what you think about our thinking about this)!  ;O)  We will for sure be starting back at the Western Fair Farmers' and Artisans' Market every week from the beginning of September onwards though.  But there will be more postings before then, promise!  


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