Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Farmer Waits

When I read the Christian Bible, I am often struck by a turn of phrase that stirs an image that rings true in my experience. "Skip like a calf" from Psalm 29 does this for me, reminding me of calves turned into lush spring pasture from a muddy barn lot: yes, they actually skip and twirl to express their delight.

The phrase from James 5:7, "the farmer waits," has been on my mind. The writer of James is highlighting and promoting patience.

Patience is one response to anxiety. It is a choice. A commendable choice.

The circumstances of this past Spring have tested the patience of those of us who do the good work necessary to keep Hawkins Family Farm going. At the top of the list are the circumstances brought by the weather, with its high winds, persistent rains, and extreme variations in temperature. This week we are planting and replanting for the season, a delay in some cases of over a month. For the harvest this year, the farmer waits.

The circumstances also include a season of major farm repairs and other expenses, including the doubling of feed costs, coupled with slower-than-hoped-for sales. For a breakthrough toward a positive cash flow, the farmer waits.

Waiting has its place, as does working. We waited for good weather and the weather of these past days has been glorious--for work and for rest. We waited to plant and sow and now the well-manured and well-watered gardens are nurturing quick seed germination and speedy growth. We waited for customers and the meat and vegetables and pizzas we have sold thus far are being received with high praise for quality.

And so we come to today, another day for the farmer to work and to wait. We'll work hard today, likely planting more peppers and sweet potatoes and cucumbers. We'll feed baby calves and laying hens and chickens and larger cattle. We'll fix stuff that is in need of repair, a never-ending need. We'll prepare to pick up chickens from the butcher tomorrow to be ready to fill orders. We'll get ready to welcome HOPE CSA clergy groups, beginning on Thursday. We'll get veggie shares ready. We'll tackle thistles and other weeds that constantly threaten to get out of hand. We'll look for ways to better market our products. At least, that's what I think will happen today.

We'll wait and see how it goes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Planting: A Brief Catalogue of Minor Injuries

by Zach Hawkins, Hawkins Family Farm Garden Manager and 4th generation Hawkins Farmer


Blister, inside left thumb

They came from someone who knew someone who was just going to throw them away. Twenty blueberry plants means twenty holes in the garden bed by the asparagus and the raspberries, each one fifteen inches deep and fifteen inches across. David and I dug with garden spades, overturning clods suffuse with earthworms. I should have worn gloves, my hands still soft with winter. I didn't even notice the skin pulling loose with the work. Not as the bright plastic tags--green, yellow, and pink--offered new names to turn over on the tongue: Berkeley, Sierra, Bluegold, Bluejay, Bluetta. Not as the masses of roots pulled free from the flimsy nursery pots. Not as I moved the cool earth back into place and the tender twigs held white blossoms to the sky.

Incised wound, left index finger (knuckle)

Nathan Fingerle at RiverRidge Farm carries his harvesting knife in a sheath on his belt and his greenhouse smells like August in the middle of May: tomatoes and basil and heat. He uses the serrated blade to slit the stems of basil, ten to a bundle. I'm used to using scissors but Nathan got me wondering so when I went to harvest the weekly vegetables shares I grabbed a paring knife on my way to the high tunnel. Dad planted the lettuce in January and now it is growing thick and tender and shades and shades of green. The knife was sharp and the harvesting was fast. A bit too sharp; a bit too fast.

First-degree sunburn, neck, arms, and kneecaps

It was a day for the record books--eighty-eight degrees on the eleventh of May--and we went out to plant onions after lunch. David and I put down the black plastic and covered the edges with soil. Kira made the holes and Sarah tucked in the onion sets. I'd cut the sleeves off the shirt the previous summer to confound my perennial farmer's tan, and the jeans blew out at the knees years ago. How the winter stays in the skin, so pale and pallid. Not today. Give me some air. Give me some sun. We are planting for the warm days ahead of us.

Monday, May 09, 2011

From the Town Mouse: A Humorous Take on Farm Life

by David Moan, Hawkins Family Farm livestock manager and Jeff's son-in-law

Having spent half of my life living in Pittsburg, PA, I was never presented with the opportunity for farm experience like I am now receiving as the Hawkins Family Farm livestock manager and resident “Tall Guy”.

My family did have a garden every year. We grew peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and weeds in garden beds constructed into the hillside using railroad ties, leveling equipment and plenty of child labor (the last of these I am finding to be a common theme in agriculture). Other than the garden, my farm exposure was limited to the annual trip to the pumpkin patch which until recently, I am sad to say, led me to believe all farms were haunted by children in cheap costumes. I know now that is not always the case—some of their costumes are very expensive.

I tell you this to give insight to how I view the farm. I see everything through juvenile eyes. Not literally, of course, I won’t have that surgery for months, but metaphorically approaching everything with a fresh, inquisitive mindset that bring about an array of questions to ponder in the solitude of my work.

This is my first revelation: spring brings about new life. Plants begin to grow, babies are born, and FOX premiers a new line up of shows to be canceled. As livestock manager, I constantly deal with new life, bringing fresh food and water to baby chicks twice daily so they may grow into marketable chickens. But I cannot help but wonder: why? Now the short answer is that Jeff tells me to, but I mean why do we all let bite-sized chickens become king-sized chickens? What prevented our ancestor Lucy from eating baby chicks long enough that she realized that grown up chickens provide more food for she and Ricky?

I think the answer lies in what the Romans called "Factotus Adoribilis", or, the cuteness quotient.

The Universe, whether from Diety, scientific process, or alien overlord, once again saved us from ourselves. It would be hard to look at a chick listening to the little peeps and think, "Lunch." But when peeps become bawks and feather replace fuzziness, adorable transforms to appetizing. And its not limited to chickens. Piglets are so cute we would rather watch them
root around then roast them, that is until they are grown and full of bacon.

This does bring about the question of cats and dogs.

It is obvious that a baby kitten's appearance overrides our Neanderthal instinct to swallow it in one gulp (same thing for puppies, but with more chewing). But when they become cats and dogs, why don't most of us light up the grill? I say most, as not to offend any canine or feline devourers out there. Hi, Eric!

The answer comes from what Temple Grandin describes as the arrested development of domesticated animals, and therefore the retention of infantile characteristics. So when a dog shows excitement by wagging it's tail and licking your face, he is essentially saying "Friend, not food". A kitten's cute purring roughly translates into "Thank you for not eating me."

Although this is merely speculation, I was able to find the below chart from Hawkins Family Farm laboratories to support my theory:

*Note that at a certain point, cuteness becomes so great that it is unavoidable to want to "eat them up."

To conclude, I have been looking at pictures of myself growing up, and I am very thankful this does not apply to humans. Usually.

the Town Mouse