Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Just Your Average Girl

This Week's CSA Harvest:
Zucchini/Summer Squash/Patty Pan Squash
Green Onions
Green Beans

I really like thinking about marketing and when campaign season rolls around, I'm always intrigued by how boring political campaigns are. There's no humility, no self-effacement. If I ever run for office, I'd be running the Just-Your-Average-Girl Campaign. It would go something like this:

I'm often late (as are all the Brenners, we suffer from what my friend Jones calls "time optimism")
I'm a B student
There are no Magna, Summas or Cumma behind my degree
I sometimes forget to brush my teeth
Not all my jokes are funny
I've bounced a few checks, forgetting to transfer funds into checking

When I presented this idea to my family, they assured me I would be hard pressed to find campaign funders.

Selling yourself, your stuff, your ideas....what a challenge. And then, you get stuck in a thankless job where only half the town likes you.

I much prefer growing flowers and vegetables, feeding people, making things a little more beautiful. But, even then, we're just your average farmers.

And, these average farmers are worried our potatoes and tomatoes are about to go down to Late Blight. This article from 2 weeks ago started the ball rolling in our direction. And now, we are squarely seeing signs in our fields. The best conditions for Late Blight are synonymous with weather that makes my hair curlier: humidity, misty rain, hazy sun and passing showers.
Though this summer weather is not so wet, this disease was apparently introduced by infected seed potatoes. Late Blight is a fungus that mostly affects leaves and most years we get it... in September. (Don't worry about eating the potatoes or tomatoes, what we can harvest in spite of the Blight, is safe for human consumption.)

The Just-Your-Average-Farmer campaign looks something like this:

Sometimes we get Late Blight
Sometimes we lose a crop to weeds
Sometimes we let something get root bound in the greenhouse

It might just be the 12-14 hour days, every day, but we feel pretty average in July. A hearty harvest of cucumbers or larkspur can raise our spirits something fierce. But, it takes 12 months to correct a mistake in the field, it takes 12 months to try a new tactic. It takes 12 years to realize each year you'll be assaulted by some new bug, some old pest, some fresh disease. We brainstorm how we'll do it differently next year and then we have to wait to give our ideas a try. Long suffering patience, for this average girl-farmer.

But, don't despair. With 120 vegetable varieties and 200 flower varieties, there's always something that does well. It always a good season for something.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Down The Aisle

This Week's CSA Harvest:

Zucchini and Summer squash
New Red Potatoes
Broccoli (for Tuesday. The Friday folks had some last week)
Napa Cabbage
Green onions

I've been brewing a post for awhile about weddings in my head. This year marks 10 years of marriage for John and me. Ironically, we met at a wedding (which we both-- uninvited- crashed). We didn't grow up dreaming of being in the wedding business. John thought he would be an artist. He says he didn't think too hard about it. I was a always going to be a farmer, but somewhere along the way, I also became a midwife. The wedding business, believe it or not, is very similar to the birth business in the sense that it is a huge exercise in walking people through their misplaced anxiety. Here are some observations:

1. When a woman would come to me pregnant, I would walk her through the process of growing a baby. Every visit, she would come with questions and concerns and preoccupations. Its a layering process. She would be worried about the size of the baby, will the baby fit, the labor, will she know its labor, the birth, will the baby fit, the pain. Hardly ever would a woman mention any concern about how she will be as a mother, how the baby will fit into her tidy life, how it will change her relationship. It's the same with weddings. I meet these sweet couples, and we focus on details and design. They stress about the linens, the menu, the favors. They never speak of the changes, the union to come, the life after the wedding.

2. When I take care of a woman in labor, she's not of herself, she's let go, making room for another love in her heart. This translates into a lot of terse comments for the time she's giving birth and then the clouds lift, the birds start singing and the sky is blue as she smiles and looks up and I would see that friend I met 9 months ago when she first stepped in to my office, finally holding the sweetest prize and all I can think about as I wipe the tears away (cause I cry at every birth and every wedding and every AT&T commercial from the 90's) is what an honor it is to be present to witness great love. With the wedding, we spend some time....maybe 9 months, maybe 6... (depends on if the couple is personality type A or B) planning, talking scheming. They often aren't thinking a lick about the marriage. The focus is on the large party with a union of family and friends that feels overwhelming at times. Sometimes, they get lost in the details, fraught with what I like to call their misplaced anxiety...focused on the single serving jam party favors and the perfect hemstitch napkins. But then, they process down the aisle, and, like birth, they make room, at some point as they're traveling to the altar, for another true love in their heart. The venue isn't important, the tent doesn't matter, the dress is second fiddle. As popular as the 15 minute wedding ceremony is in America, there is still something to it .... to the moment these two people open up and let the other one in for the long haul, with witness. That's what we're celebrating when we help folks have a wedding. We're celebrating the honor of being witness to the heart growing larger.

And, when we are lucky enough to make it just a little more beautiful with our flowers or just a little more comfortable at our farm or just a little easier because I had some effective comment during a phone meeting, the profoundness of what we are contributing to, the love we are supporting, is never lost on us. Even when we put the last drunk wedding guest from a wedding here at the farm on to a shuttle bus to head back to Portland for the afterparty, we often

embrace each other and laugh about how we ended up stumbling into the wedding business. We wonder if anyone met at the wedding who will later be married. We wonder if the flowers were just right. We wonder what can we do better next time to help each couple navigate the space between engagement and moment they stand in front of all those they love. Once the ceremony is over, the reception feels much like the time shortly after the birth, its just like the afterglow once the baby is in that momma's arms for the first time. A huge sigh of relief, a huge knowing moment between beings.  A cocktail and some tasty hors d'oeuvres help but mostly its the reality that you've committed to love, to knowing an open heart, to knowing a lasting union.

The honor of being present for this never gets old.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In July

Sugar Snap Peas
Garlic Scapes
Red Stemmed Turnips

Some of the things on this week's harvest list for the CSA may be unfamiliar. Most of the share is best eaten raw this week. Which may work out well, given the warm temperatures. Sugar snap peas are meant to be eaten pod and all. They are picked at their peak of sugar content so the sweetness for a vegetable is unparalleled. The mizuna is an Asian green best eaten raw. It loves to be incorporated into salads or made into a slaw. It can be cooked, but anything beyond a wilted preparation comes out slimey. The red stemmed turnips are a spring turnip that is sweet and tender and can be eaten raw in a salad or as part of the mizuna cole slaw. You can roast the turnips as well. The strawberries....well shortcake is the quintessential 4th of July dessert so I guess you could say Mother Nature timed it well this year.

For those of you who are wondering, we will be harvesting and distributing produce on the 4th of July, which is this Friday. We will start distribution early, at 12:00, on Friday.

Mark your calendar for an evening of music and summer fun July 31st. We'll be hosting the Strangely Possibles. Bring a picnic, bring the family, bring some friends. Most importantly, bring your dancing shoes. There is no cost to join us for this mid-summer celebration. I'm sure Alex, one of the band  members of the Strangely Possibles, and a board member of the Scarborough Land Trust, who owns the property, will probably encourage you to make a donation to the Land Trust, which is always appreciated. It helps keep the barns looking spiffy and enables the land trust to preserve more properties, including the Benjamin Farm, on the other side of town.

 So, come on by and visit us this week. The stand is stocked with greens and berries and peas. There are flowers by the bucketful coming out of our fields. Its the season that gives back, here in Maine. And, I must say after that long winter, it feels so nice to be in July.

Blessings on the meal-

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Week Three and I Have No Good Excuses

This week marks our 3rd week of harvest for the CSA. And, we must offer our sincerest apologies for ignoring this medium to communicate with all of you about what's in each week's share.
But, I promise we'll keep you all posted from here on out.

Week 3
Napa Cabbage
Rainbow Chard
Hakurei Turnip (salad turnips meant to be eaten raw)
Garlic Scapes (a delicious spring garlic treat....the flowering part of the garlic plant)
And, maybe a small pint of strawberries

A note about the berries: We tried something new last summer when we planted the berries and it doesn't seem to have worked as well as our previous strategies. This translates into a smaller yield of berries this season than in past seasons and we apologize. We may not have weeks of those overflowing quarts for everyone this season. However, the good news is, next year's berries are planted, we went back to our old ways and everything is coming along nicely. We'll be overloaded with 2X as many berries as any other year next year. I know that doesn't help your shortcake and jam plans for this year, but....

A note about 4th of July: We will still be harvesting your CSA share on the 4th of July. Feel free to come as early as noon to collect your share if you have evening barbecue/fireworks plans. If you need to switch to Tuesday for travel reasons, just drop Stacy a line.

What's new at the farm....
We are in full tilt boogie over here with lots of new faces. Bread and Butter joined us this past weekend from our friend's at  Ten Apple Farm in Gray. They are Alpine dairy goats and full of love. They are living between the livestock barn and a paddock near the outhouses. Make sure you come say hello. Our summer camp kids are in charge of the goats, walking or carrying them back and forth to their paddock in the morning and afternoon. I think its going to be a wonderful union.

Babycakes, a little bull (male) calf,  was born to our dairy cow, Clementine, on June 9th. I took this little video on the afternoon of his birth.

She found her way to the bottom of the pasture and gave birth on the first really warm day in June. Everyone is doing well. They can be found grazing in the pasture or chewing cud in the barn. Clementine is producing crazy amounts of milk for us as a freshened cow. We are loaded with 4-5 gallons a day. Break out the Nesquik....its chocolate milk time all the time over here.

Flora convinced me she needed ducklings because her friend was getting some.

 We searched online and she decided on white crested as a breed. They look like my little old Jewish uncles with yellow fluff suits and little yamakas on their heads. They always seem to be dancing the hora around their swimming pool. When you mail order poultry, there is a minimum of 15 in an order to make sure they have each other's body heat to keep them warm. So, we have about 8 more ducks than we need. Anyone want some fluffy little Jewish uncles in yamakas dancing the hora in your kiddy pool this summer? The white crested breed is a dual purpose breed. Good for meat or eggs.

The turkey babies have arrived as well. There are 15 and as in previous years, we'll raise them up for Thanksgiving. In the fall, we'll offer a choose-your-own-turkey-and-learn-to-process-poultry class to folks who want a hand in where their bird comes from. It has been a wonderful class to teach and we always enjoy walking people through the experience.

And, the farm stand is open. We moved it out of the flower shop and into the back of the long barn where the CSA distribution occurs. It will be open M-Sat, 9-6 and stocked with flowers and produce. We don't set up the stand on Sundays, but you are always welcome to take a drive out to see the animals and walk the fields and trails.

We built a new produce washing area. We love it and are learning the flow of a new space.

The crew for the season is all here. Between the education crew, the field crew,the floral design ladies and everyone who's able to dance between all of these roles, we have 13 employees. Rafael and his son, Johnny are here with us for the summer from Puerto Rico, where they have a small coffee farm.

We don't count Flora on the payroll but she's mighty helpful and gets paid in ducklings.

Without all these hands, we would be helpless. We are forever thankful to our crew for their patience, sense of humor, and tenacity to get the job done.

Happy first week of summer!
Blessings on the meal-

 I'm pretty sure she's not eating vegetables in this picture....

Monday, May 5, 2014

Don't Forget Your Favorite Mama

This year we have a few options for Mother's can choose our favorite, a Flower CSA share. Or, if you want to have something in hand, you can opt for a pre-ordered arrangement, just send Stacy an email:

Finally, you can choose to visit our Pop-up Shop at FLORA*BLISS Urban, our farmstand inside Aurora Provisions in Portland's West End...for a hand-tied bouquet. We are REALLY hoping our 8000 tulips will bloom in earnest for this day!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Celebrate Spring @ Our Annual Open House

This event is free and open to the public

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Steep Learning Curve

 I wrote this terribly negative post on Thursday night, complaining away about the blackout of a day we  had had. The discouragement was thick. Damaged hoophouse, work going backwards instead of forward, an unfavorable pathology report and a connectivity problem with our internet.

I didn't push send. It seemed so unfair to dump all that out here, to be so negative, so overwhelmed. I want more often to present my best self, the farm's best self. But, for some reason, the time between when the snow melts and when the plants grow is dreary. There are weird bones lying around the yard, buried in the snow by Stella, found with enthusiasm on some winter walk after they were left behind by a hunter. There are shingles and tar paper strewn about and flapping plastic and blue tarps torn to shreds. We've started the clean up but then the wind blows hard and we're going backwards again.

When the weather starts to change, the dooryard fills with visitors, turkey hunters, brides thinking about their flowers.

 I always feel so self conscious about our projects, our working landscape, our disheveled selves. I want it to be tidy, green, lush, blooming. Or, I want that clean, white snow cover back to hide all the imperfections.

After 8 years here, I know there has been progress, I can see it when I look at old photos of when we first arrived. I see it in the pup who is now a mellow dog, in the infant who is now reading, in the girl who is heading to college. The trees we planted in these barren yards now fruit and we are rotating back around with crops into fields where they were first planted 8 years ago. I see larger cycles.

It is in this vision of larger cycles that I know even a long winter and a cold spring and a strong wind will pass.

Crops will take off and enjoy the compost we've made, our interns will learn the nuances of weather and water and field, but not this month. It will take some time, quite possibly a whole season. Their excitement and their wide eyed optimism remind me of the importance of being positive, even after a series of unfortunate affairs all occur within a short stretch of time. We plant pea seeds together, I teach them how to use the Japanese paper pot transplanter and I show them how to use their body parts to measure spacing in the rows....a span of pinky to thumb tip is 8", wrist to elbow is 12", tip of middle finger to elbow is 18".

 We hand transplant kale, cabbage, broccoli, 8 four hundred foot rows worth, water lines laid and Remay cover added to protect from the arrival of the hungry flea beetles. They learn how to move their bodies, how to pace themselves, how to smile and keep going because there's no sense in frowning. And I try to make it obvious from the start: the importance of keeping grouchy in your pocket.

I love this land we work and I love the lessons it teaches....over and over again. I guess it's a steep learning curve. The weather will forever humble me. The force of it is far greater than my ingenuity. I've never thought of everything and am wising up to know I never will. But, every year this land teaches a new crop of growers how to farm and the old ones like me are reminded why we farm: to feed, to beautify, to endure. Mostly, I'm just existing between the hour each Monday night when I can watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Season 4 while nibbling on popcorn. Spring on a farm only allows for minor indulgences.

Blessings on the meal-