Friday, 25 October 2013 | 25 comments
Early this year, we inoculated some logs with shiitake spawn. Around September, we got our first one or two ‘shrooms. But just this week was the first time we had enough coming in to really harvest in earnest. » Click to read more
Monday, 14 October 2013 | 8 comments
Last week, the sunsets beggared description. The daylight always dwindles just as Ben’s workdays become long. They picked, sorted, crushed, and pitched 16 tons of grapes last week, which is a lot for a 5,000-cases-per-year operation, but a pittance for someone more Napa-ish. The difference, of course, is that Ben, the winemaker, and the small crew put their hands on all of it.
I see the sunsets from the car, when I’ll head over and jump in at the sorting table. The Oaxacan crew puts up with me because my Spanish is decent. There’s no shortage of romantic commentary about the wine harvest, but being surrounded by the Mexican crew—whose faces are not usually associated with winemaking—reminds you that it’s real work, long hours of manual labor, on your feet with your hands stuck in chilly, sticky crushed grapes. For me, it’s a change of pace, but they’re going on two weeks with no day off yet.
But still, there’s something about the team effort of harvest–showing up at dawn, staying until late, a round of beers after clean-up—that just feels really good. I guess you’d call it esprit de corps. Ben and I have such very different day jobs that it’s impossible not to compare: this is what’s missing for those of us in an office. An orienting point; the cycle of a year all geared toward the same big push before a quiet winter. I get something similar to this from the garden and from cooking, but it’s not the same.
The creases of Ben’s palms are stained red-violet. I have three plane tickets in my name before the year ends and the holidays are looming. But for now, all I need to do is pick up his hand for a reminder of how grounded we can be in what we reap today.
P.S. Tell me you didn’t read the title of this post and think of this song. It’s been in my head the entire time I’ve been writing it. HELP. 1998, you must have had something good about you, but that song was not it.
Thursday, 29 August 2013 | 57 comments
Age is a funny thing. Women, especially, spend a lot of time benchmarking themselves against age: you’re a failure if you’re 16 and you’ve never been kissed; your “biological clock” has been ticking for awhile by the time you’re 30; and you’re considered pretty damaged goods by the time you turn 50 (or so L’oreal would have me believe). On Monday I had an annual performance review at work. I was presented with anonymous comments solicited from colleagues: “shows depth of understanding beyond her position”, “far-sighted and pragmatic for her age”, “excellent judgment—beyond her years”. It’s meant to be flattering, but I left disconcerted.
People tell me I am an old soul, but if that’s true, I’m not a particularly wise one. Kind of like the next-door neighbor curmudgeon who is a little bitter and has very particular opinions about things that don’t really matter.
Tuesday, 6 August 2013 | 51 comments
Things seem pretty good for seasonal, local food, if you take a look at my dining room table. I don’t have a ton of disposable income, but I chose to spend a lot of it on tomatoes last week. And from the numbers, you might believe this reflects national consensus. Back in 2011, the USDA projected that local food would bring in $7 billion in sales.
A lot of you who read this site would probably consider yourself “locavores”. It’s a group with which I also identify, but uneasily. The movement is one under which people with very different priorities gather, united by a single objective: buy food grown or produced nearby.
Locavorism alternately emphasizes that local food takes fewer fossil fuels to produce and transport, supports the local economy, promotes biodiversity, preserves rurality, mitigates environmental damage, is grown more naturally and seasonally, and is generally healthier. It seems so simple, really. How can buying local agricultural products be panacea for so many of society’s ills?
The short answer is that it cannot.
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 | 48 comments
Everyone thinks his or her family is special or original (whether they think that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another matter). This makes it difficult to discern, I think, when a family story is worth telling.
On face, it’s a story of a young man of unusual perception and sense of adventure. During high school, my grandfather, an Indiana farmer’s son, worked his way over to Europe on a cattle boat (he had been too young to have been drafted during World War II). He came back and graduated, valedictorian of his class, in 1947.
We can only speculate that young Grandpa wanted to see the world a little more. He enlisted in the army in 1951, working in Berlin as military police. Many years later, going through boxes of old letters, we’d find beautiful sketches he’d made of the view from his balcony and sent home to Grandma. He would marry her, a pretty, local girl, in 1955.
I’ve asked several people, over the years, why Grandpa decided, out of everything, to become a farmer. There is little doubt that he could have gotten into a university or pursued a more white collar job. He was a rare breed, extraordinarily well-read and self-taught for a farmer’s kid. In “Grandpa’s workshop”, the room in the basement where many of his tools were kept, the built in shelves were equally as full of books as of rasps, adzes and saws.
But he did become a farmer, joining his father while he lived, and then continuing to farm with Grandma until he retired in 1993. The story of the intervening years is relatively uneventful—minus those seventeen kids (Six sons! Eleven daughters!) I told you about. The narrative is, perhaps, predictable.
There are a lot of stories about weather. Worries about too much rain, worries about not enough rain, devastation by hail, devastation by drought. The chicken coop catching on fire. 4H. Feet rolled over by tractors. Hand-me-down prom dresses. Getting paid a nickel for every rat exterminated.
By all accounts, a large farming family from a middle America town should not be as successful as this one has been. But somehow, a wooden-shingled, rusty house in the middle of acres of corn and soy has pushed out nurses, engineers, teachers, social workers, and CEOs, among a bunch of other productive human beings whose scope of vocation doesn’t fit neatly into one category: mothers, activists, foster parents.
There is no reason, demographically and socially speaking, that these kids should have been so mobile and so empowered. Economists attribute these anomalies to “intangibles”, unquantifiable elements that make certain people “succeed” and others not.
Maybe it’s those intangibles that make this story worth telling.
Six sons, eleven daughters. I’m sure Grandpa never considered it during his life, but few people are granted the exact amount of sons needed to be pallbearers. We watched them, last month, lift a coffin from church to hearse, from hearse to cemetery.
A priest said the words; a military representative played taps and folded the flag.
It was finished, but we lingered. Someone began to sing, a cappella, not particularly beautifully (we’re not much known for musical talent), a song that we had kept close, sung through Grandpa’s sickness and death.
Maybe you’ve heard this song. It can’t even be called a hymn—it’s a folk song that’s been recorded by the likes of Nat King Cole, Vince Gill, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, Placido Domingo, Mary Tyler Moore. It was, coincidentally, written the year Grandma and Grandpa got married. We all joined:
Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now;
With every step I take,
Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
I think about my own life—split between country and city—and know that this is part of the legacy my grandfather left me: hard work, a thirst for knowledge, but a grounding in dirt.
We lost a guiding force of nature: prudent, earthy, loyal, witty, smart. The saddest thing about loss, of course, is just that: not the living without someone—of course, we can carry on—but knowing what life was like with them, and knowing it is gone.
Let it begin (again) with me.