Saturday, July 31, 2010

Farm Journal: Abundance of the Harvest


I went to the Farmers Market this morning and suddenly realized the abundance of the harvest at this peak time in summer.

How amazing that the earth yields so much food for us to eat! And what a great mystery it is! This certainly evokes in me the feeling of thankfulness for the harvest now that I know something about what it takes to grow food. This is a new experience probably due to the fact that next week I’m presenting a talk about the sacredness of food, which emphasizes the gratefulness for the abundance rather than taking it for granted. This connection to food doesn’t come so easily when it is purchased from the grocery store.

Of course, the abundance of the harvest is dependent on four things: sun, water, good soil (made from animal compost), and cultivation. The first two elements are obvious but we often forget the third. Plants don’t merely sit in soil; they get their nutrients from it. I’m trying to become more knowledgeable about the role of soil and am now reading Sir Albert Howard’s book, The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture. It was written before industrialization of agriculture took hold as “conventional” method. Wendell Berry was greatly influenced by Howard’s book and Ron said he bases his farming methods on the book. Howard contends that our health is tied to the health of the soil. He recommends animal and plant compost as a means of regenerating the soil and keeping it healthy. That’s what has allowed India (the site studied for his thesis) to farm crops for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the United States has only grown crops for a couple hundred years and our soil is depleting and eroding. Industrial agriculture is largely responsible for this problem.

But there were other angles to this theme.

My own harvest at the farm is now commencing. I picked a row of onions today and shared half of them with the Kleins. They smelled so good and onion-y! The potatoes are actually ready to be dug, but I want to put off taking them until they grow a little bigger. They will surely be ready for late August when Texas Township holds its first annual community picnic. Donna asked me to supply part of my crop to Asiago’s Restaurant, which is participating in preparing food for the event, and she’d give me credit for growing them in the published bulletin. This is indeed a new development—and a new identity for me. A byline for growing and harvesting food!

The potted plants in front of my house are also sprouting, even though I was very late in transferring them from their little pots into the big pots. The purple flowers of eggplants and the yellow flowers of the tomatoes are appearing and so beautiful. It seems the roots appreciated the roomy spaces the pots offered and really revived the plants after they had been in their little pots for way too long. I wasn’t sure they’d make it. Some of the tomato plants’ leaves were turning yellow. Now they are green and full and tall. That is a lesson in believing in the plant’s growth and giving it a second chance to do so. It reminds me of the fig plant Dad had in our backyard decades ago. He thought the scrawny thing was dead but he gave it another year to grow and voilĂ : it produced fruit. This is also a lesson that comes right out of the Bible, although I can’t remember where.


Goats and Water Buffaloes
After I finished weeding today, I joined Ron for an evening pasture walk. The goats were in the barnyard and they followed us to the south pasture where the buffs were grazing. As usual, I hugged and petted them. Ava was especially responsive to me as was Lola and even Elle, who usually blows me off. It isn’t that she isn’t friendly she is otherwise occupied.

LeBo was the first to greet us, as usual. The animals like to be brushed so Ron takes the hairbrush with him to the pasture. It’s another human to animal contact that they enjoy. “The reward is in the brushing,” says Ron. He let me brush a few of the buffs, including one that I haven’t ever encountered: a great big girl with very curly horns. She was so sweet and gentle and her skin was very soft. It’s still difficult to realize that such big animals can be that way. She licked me (they communicate with the tongue and nose) as we got to know each other a bit.

This is the third or fourth time I’ve been out on the pasture with the buffs and my confidence is growing. They are getting used to me and I to them. That is a major accomplishment!

In three weeks the goats will be ready for mating, says Ron. How time flies! It seems they just had their babies not that long ago in January but time runs in cycles on the farm. Planting these seeds produces baby goats and that is another kind of harvest abundance and we have been blessed with nine healthy and vibrant baby goats. They won’t be bred this year but last year’s kids will. That will help increase the number of total goats for the new farm. Ron wants a total of 40 goats. That will take a doubling of the present herd.

Shadow and Gabby were going at it head to head when I arrived earlier this evening. Ron says that it is a dominance challenge. It’s also about mating and being in heat even though the does don’t seem to enjoy it as much as the bucks. Mating is the only thing I haven’t seen on the farm so I hope I don’t miss it this year.

The new kids are growing strong and tall. Martha and Mary are filling out in width. Lucy is still the smallest but the most curious and interactive. She acts like an ambassador between the humans and the animals and among the animals. She got up on her hind legs to kiss Ron today. She has also showed the other goats how to walk on top of the buffs while they are lying down resting. This is extremely dangerous because they can get hurt if a buff rolls over on them in fun or in agitation. Lil Man can tell them that story because it happened to him and it’s caused him to hobble around on three legs.

I came to the farm this evening and am I glad I did. It’s so different at this time with the coolness of the air, the winding down of the day. It reminds me of childhood on Flint Street where even we kids slowed down our pace and just took time to talk with each other after a day in the sun with baseball, bike riding, and other activities. At home, Dad would often water the garden and flowers and the smell of the water became one of those comfort odors. It’s all so very meditative and delicious.

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