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The Magic of Compost

Orizaba Farm's new location in Milwaukie, Oregon

Orizaba Farm’s new location in Milwaukie, Oregon

The green tarp crinkled as I pulled it back from the large pile of leaves, straw, and kitchen scraps.  Digging my hand into the moist pile, I moved aside the top layers until I reached a mat of coffee grinds.  An eruption of warm steam billowed from the center of the pile and a red wriggler worm squirmed out from beneath a coffee filter.  I tossed another bucket of kitchen scraps and coffee grinds into the hole I created and covered the pile back up with leaves and straw.  Creating a good compost pile is a bit like baking bread.  It needs the right mixture of ingredients; the right amount of moisture – not too wet or too dry; the right environment to foster rapid but controlled microbial growth and activity; and the right cooking time and temperature.  Like baking, the process may seem tedious to the eyes of the uninitiated.  But once the process is complete – and if done correctly – I knew that I would be rewarded with a bountiful garden harvest the following season, as rich and filling as the heartiest loaf of bread.

Our nursery of berries, grapes, and figs

Our nursery of berries, grapes, and figs

I had only been at our new home for two weeks and had already accumulated a massive pile of leaves from a nearby church, pine needles from a local school, wood chips from the Portland Urban Forestry Center, a tall stack of cardboard boxes from a local appliance store, pallets from an upholstery shop down the road, newsprint from a local printing press, coffee grinds from our neighborhood coffee shop, and 15 bales of oat straw from our community’s organic farm supply store.  We have a trunk full of seeds we saved from our last farm in Maine, two dozen raspberry plants that I had dug as sprouts from Suyematsu Farms on Bainbridge Island, a dozen blueberry bushes, and several grape and fig plants we propagated from cuttings last year.  My parents, grandmother, and our numerous green-thumbed neighbors hold in reserve for us countless varieties of perennials from which we will take cuttings to populate our urban farm:  figs, grapes, kiwis, raspberries, thornless blackberries, rhubarb, and huckleberries.  Our community is full of fruit trees from which we will collect scionwood for grafting onto rootstock.  Our half acre farm plot will be productive, and our plates will be full.

Leaves, firewood, wood chips, and pine needles to feed the soil

Leaves, firewood, wood chips, and pine needles to feed the soil

This is what it was all about.  Nutrient Cycling.  Feeding Life from Death.  Composting.  The continuous circle of matter and energy facilitated by that miracle of organization and defiance of entropy we call “Life.”  This is why I left academia to become an organic farmer.  This is why I forfeited nearly $100k in fellowship stipends:  to dig my hands into the soil and pull forth Life.  Because, as my best friend Josh Ellis puts it, “Cultivating Life is infinitely more rewarding than studying it.”  And Life begins – and ends – with compost.  So, in a word, compost is the reason that I left the nation’s top Ph.D. program in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology.  Compost:  to create Life; to transform it; to become a true student of Life.  Not by experimentally manipulating and statistically analyzing it as a scientist would; rather, by observing, feeding, producing, and consuming it.  By becoming an organic farmer.

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The Plastics at SEA North Pacific Expedition is finally over, and Thom is back from sailing across the Pacific Ocean (he actually returned home on Nov. 13, but things have been busy here).

The dynamic duo, Thom and Alia, are back to work at Orizaba Farm’s new location in Portland, Oregon.  Stay tuned for updates on Orizaba Farm as Thom and Alia build their soil, connect with their community, and plant the seeds for a sustainable urban food forest.

But first, here are some dispatches from the Plastics at SEA expedition.

The website:
www.sea.edu/plastics

Thom’s writings from the expedition:

October 6 — “The Science of Caring for Our Ship”

http://www.sea.edu/plastics/journal/october_6_day_4

October 9 — “Singing to the Stars”

http://www.sea.edu/plastics/journal/october_9_day_7

October 19 — “When Fish Can Fly”

http://www.sea.edu/plastics/journal/october_19_day_17

November 6 — “This Ship Never Sleeps”

http://www.sea.edu/plastics/journal/november_6_day_35

Thom’s Bio:

http://www.sea.edu/plastics/team/thomas_young

Videos:
He is in the Day 5 and Day 15 videos
http://www.sea.edu/plastics/video_galleryPhoto gallery:
http://www.sea.edu/plastics/photo_gallery
Check out the galleries for Oct. 2, 6, 9, 17, 18, and Nov. 3 for photos of Thom

Thom on Helmoct14_header2oct26_header2

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Trash that accumulated from Thom and Alia’s home in Queen Anne, Seattle, between January 01 and July 21, 2012. Does not include recyclable and biodegradable/compostable waste.

We promised in a previous blog entry that we would keep all of our accumulated trash for the year 2012. Due to two unexpected moves we were only able to hold onto our trash from January 1st to July 21st. Above is a photo of what we had accumulated during those seven months. We will follow up on this in the near future with some basic tips on how to reduce your non-biodegradable waste. The most important of these: Know Your Farmer. More to come….

We moved from Seattle to Portland last week. Alia has moved to the headquarters of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in Portland and Thom is starting an organic garden consulting business. More on this later….

Although Thom’s back is getting some much-needed rest from the long hours of weeding, pruning, and planting at Bainbridge Island and Suyematsu Farms, Thom already misses Karen’s perennial smile and positive attitude, Mike’s congenial laugh and non sequitur humor, Carol’s infinite hospitality and amazing baking, and Betsey’s sage advice and dedication to her trade.  As Gerard wisely suggested to him, Thom aims to continue to tackle life’s challenges by keeping his hands in the soil and his head in the bottle (No, Gerard and Thom are not alcoholics; they are both winemakers).

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The pumpkins that Thom, Karen, Manuel, Elodia, Juana, and Heather planted and tended at Suyematsu Farms.

Ironically, it will be quite difficult for Thom to follow Gerard’s advice in the next two months, as he will be somewhere with neither soil nor drink to aid him in his pursuits.  For the next seven weeks, from September 27 until November 14, Thom will be participating in a research expedition with the Sea Education Association (SEA).  He will be sailing aboard a tall ship, the SSV Robert C. Seamans (RCS, pictured below), from San Diego, CA to Honolulu, HI while studying plastic pollution in the North Pacific Ocean.  For six consecutive weeks, the crew of 35 will have no land in sight as they explore the impacts of humans upon one of the most remote places in the world.  You may track the progress of the expedition, including daily blog and photo updates, on the Plastics at SEA website (this link will be updated for the 2012 expedition soon).

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Thom’s first voyage with RCS in 2003, from Tahiti to the Marquesas to Hawai’i

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Thom’s second voyage on RCS in 2005, from San Francisco, through the Santa Barbara Channel, to San Diego.

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Photo by Joel Sackett

Three generations of agricultural excellence at Suyematsu Farms on Bainbridge Island.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

“I guess I’m not going to be farming anymore,” Akio told Mike after repeated health problems and a difficult trip to the hospital.

Akio Suyematsu is the 90-year old patriarch of Bainbridge Island and Suyematsu Farms.  His parents had moved to the island from Japan before he was born, and he had lived his entire life farming the land where I now work, minus the shameful interval in the 1940’s when his family was swept off the island and relocated to internment camps for the purpose of “national security,” followed by a stint serving in the U.S. Army in the European Theater.  After the war ended, the family returned to their land and resumed farming.  Of all the Suyematsu children, eventually only Akio remained to continue growing what some consider to be the best strawberries and raspberries in the Puget Sound.

But his health is declining and gone are the days of weeding, planting, cultivating, and fertilizing his beloved fields of strawberries, raspberries, and pumpkins.  Try as he might, he could not bring himself to return to the fields he has seen through nearly 80 years of production.  I had the privilege last winter of spending a brief moment in the raspberries with Akio as we removed clips from the trellis wires.  After an hour out in the cold, Akio was too exhausted to continue and, to my knowledge, has not worked outside in the fields since.  To say that the brief moment of farming I shared with Akio was inspirational would be an understatement.  The man lives, breathes, and sleeps farming.  He is the real deal, an archetypal farmer who understands that life comes not just from the soil, but from the blood, sweat, and tears that growers pour into their profession.  What, then, is life for a farmer who is no longer able to be present with the soil and his crops?

When I heard Mike recount to me what Akio said, my reaction was unexpected.  I became incensed.  I couldn’t believe what Akio had said.

“Not going to be farming anymore?”  Utter nonsense, I thought.  Mike and Karen, my current employer, wouldn’t be farming here if it weren’t for him!

Every good farmer knows that life does not simply end with death, or in Akio’s case, with convalescence.  Life feeds on life.  Life grows from life.  Death produces compost that feeds more life.  What does a radish become once it enters our digestive tract if not the manure that becomes the compost that feeds the soil that supports the next crop’s conversion of solar energy into biodegradable biomass?  The linear, western viewpoint of life – and farming – terminating in death ignores the reality of the hardworking farmers who are only in business because of Akio’s endless knowledge, experience, and generosity.

Bainbridge Island Farms, Paulson Farms, Laughing Crow Farm, Butler Green Farms:  these farms only exist because Akio had the keen foresight and generosity to offer his land, tools, experience, and knowledge at well below market prices in the hopes that his legacy would survive.  Akio is legendary at these farms for his work ethic and humility, his stoic perseverance in adversity, his high threshold for pain, and his meticulously weed-free fields. There is only one Akio Suyematsu. But every legend is still a mortal.  As Akio’s mortal body undergoes what all of ours eventually will, let us not forget that the farms on Bainbridge Island owe to Akio their very existence and will be farming in his image long after he departs.  Mike, Carol, Karen, Betsey, Brian:  these farmers are the repositories of Akio’s knowledge and experience, they are his hands by proxy upon the land he worked, issuing forth a new generation of agriculture.  They are, in essence, his agricultural children.  His grandchildren are alive and well, too, carrying on the proud tradition of growing food from the soil beneath their feet:  Dana and Aaron at Around the Table Farm, Becky Warner of City Grown Seattle, Renee and Luke in search of land, and myself.

Regardless of one’s beliefs about an afterlife, it is a truism that the cycle of energy and matter does not merely end with death.  Our bodies are filled with the very same atoms that coursed through and composed the bodies of prehistoric dinosaurs and pterodactyls, of woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers, of giant sharks and ancient ferns, of massive redwoods and hulking Neanderthals, of ammonites and trilobites, of algae, fungi, and bacteria that were living billions of years ago.  Once our consciousness is gone, a mere memory in the eyes of our descendants, our energy and atoms will continue to cycle through life forms as diverse as the most colorful coral reefs and rainforests, for eons to come until the Sun devours the Earth in a fiery ball of plasma, the Universe collapses back upon itself, and we return to the stardust from whence we originated.

Akio is still farming.  He is farming because Karen is still farming, carrying on Akio’s weed-free cultivation style while growing organic raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, currants, pumpkins, winter squash, and sweet corn.  He is farming because Betsey is farming, plowing the earth with her draft horses to produce some of the finest potatoes, garlic, and onions in the Puget Sound.  He is farming because Brian is pumping out some of the greatest volume and diversity of organic vegetables in the county.  And he is farming because Mike and Carol of Paulson Farms are continuing Akio’s tradition of composting yard waste and maintaining the farm’s arsenal of tractors, while milling locally harvested lumber, producing handmade soaps, and growing organic vegetables, nursery plants, trees and shrubs, and eggs.

I think it’s high time we stopped viewing death and illness as an endpoint, but rather as a transitional state.  Akio has passed a formidable torch onto a new cadre of protégés, representing a small but significant transfer of knowledge and culture in an all but endless cycle of life and death, growing and composting.  Meanwhile, the pumpkins and corn are sprouting in the fields, the raspberries are flowering and buzzing vigorously with the activity of bees, and the first strawberry harvest of the season is upon us.  As Karen told me today while heading to the hospital to visit Akio, “The show must go on.”

Because of Akio’s deep commitment to the next generation of local farmers, the show will go on.

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About a month ago, I contacted the executive director of a local farming organization to inquire about options for low-income and temporary housing on Bainbridge Island.  I was interested in renting a room in a house that had recently been renovated by her organization for the purpose of housing new farmers and interns.  The woman I spoke with seemed genuinely interested in my involvement with Day Road Farms and the Bainbridge Island Vineyards.

She asked me what my background was, what my housing needs were, what my prospective future in farming looked like, how long I had been working on the island, where I currently lived, how I was commuting, etc.  I told her that I was an ecologist and marine biologist by training but had been farming for five years, that my wife and I ran our own organic farm in Maine for three years before moving to Seattle last summer, and that I had worked for several different organic farms over the past few years.  I felt that the conversation was going rather well and that I had made a positive impression on her.

 

Then she said this:

“So, what’s your day job?”

 

What?  How was I supposed to respond to this question?  “Oh, my day job!  I’m so glad you asked!  Well, during the day I’m an investment banker and a lawyer, which helps to fund this absurdly expensive recreational pursuit, which I only practice at night when there’s a waxing full moon and Jupiter is ascending in Scorpio, of course.”

Last time I checked, farmers do indeed work during the day!  It’s not too often that you can find me out in the fields in the middle of the night (although I admittedly do work by headlamp once in a while).

This episode reminded me painfully of the time that a very close family member stated that my farming was merely a “hobby.”  Pardon me, but I have never known anybody else to practice a hobby for 10-18 hours per day, every day, and to be able to feed their family (and friends) and heat their house with the products of said “hobby,” thereby allowing a rather comfortable, warm, and well-fed lifestyle on an income well below the official “poverty level.”

What’s my day job?  What is that supposed to mean, anyways?  Is that some sort of thinly-veiled insinuation that organic farming is not a legitimate career choice or a respectable, full-time profession?  Was she implying that it is impossible to make an actual living by farming?

Frankly, I was embarrassed, humiliated, and insulted by her question.  I didn’t really know how to answer.  So I balked, and babbled… “Well, I have a Master’s degree in ecology, and my wife is a marine biologist who works for NOAA at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.  I taught high school for the past two years while running our own farm.”  I was getting nowhere with my explanation.  It was pointless drivel that only served to confirm what she had implied.

Clearly, I had taken the bait.  She caught me in a trap; by answering her question I was admitting to her that I also believed, perhaps subconsciously, that organic farming was not a viable profession.  I had bought into the rhetoric and ideology of our technocratic society, which espouses the notion that if you don’t spend your days either behind a desk and a computer in a sterile office environment, or toiling along an industrial assembly line at a manufacturing plant, or spend your nights serving those who spend their days in the corporate boardrooms, then you are not producing anything of real economic value.

 

Getting off the phone, I felt disheartened and defeated.  What message did it send about American culture if the executive director of a farming organization apparently did not believe that farming constituted a viable career choice?  I told Alia what she had said, and she responded firmly to me, with every ounce of confidence she could muster,

 

“Thom, you are an organic farmer.  That is who you are.  Your day job is organic farming!”

 

Alia was absolutely right.  I knew it immediately and had known it all along, but for some reason I could not bring myself to say it to the woman on the phone.  I am not farming as a lark.  It is not a “hobby” or a recreational pursuit.

I farm to feed my family, to heat our home, to clothe and to shelter us.  I farm to protect the soil, water, and air that sustains our lives, and to conserve the wildlife that adds depth, beauty, and a spiritual connection to the planet we inhabit.  I do not spend my daylight hours praising Gaia in drum circles, making hippie jewelry out of flowers, or doing rain dances.  I farm outside in the sweltering sun, in the pounding rain, the silent snow, and the biting wind.  I farm from dawn to dusk, until my hands crack, blister, and bleed, until my back cramps and my fingers go numb, until my body aches in fatigue or shivers from the cold.  And then I farm some more.

I farm until the daylight dwindles, the crickets chirp, the coyotes sing, and the bats emerge in the sky.  Most days, I farm until I can no longer see the soil beneath my feet.  And then I exhaustedly turn the nighttime over to the owls, raccoons, and skunks, and I crawl, covered in dirt, into bed to dream of seeds, soil, and fruit, before I wake up the next morning at dawn to do it all over again.

That is organic farming.

That is my day job.

And I love it.

 

A month later, I spoke to this woman on the phone again.  Remarkably, after discussing the housing situation once more, she asked me:

“So, what’s your day job?”

 

This time, I answered without hesitation:

“I am an organic farmer.  I have been farming for five years.  I am now farming on Bainbridge Island.”

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Oxbow Farm

For the past two months, I have been working at the Oxbow Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Environment, nestled within the Snoqualmie River Valley floodplain between Seattle and the Cascades. This organic farm works at the vital intersection between organic agriculture and environmental conservation, feeding several hundred people in the greater Seattle area while engaging in active habitat restoration and education programs along the Snoqualmie River. Needless to say, a tremendous diversity and abundance of wildlife inhabits the farm, ranging from furtive coyotes and bears, to majestic eagles, hawks, and falcons, to cacophonous flocks of songbirds and waterfowl. Recently, the Coho Salmon (and the tail end of the Chinook Salmon run) have been heading upstream to spawn.  We’ve been catching glimpses of them jumping in the river, presumably to either knock parasites from their bodies or loosen eggs in preparation for spawning.

While heading out to harvest basil earlier this week, I spotted a bald eagle perched right along the edge of the Snoqualmie River directly across from me (Oxbow Farm borders the river).  It flew downriver a ways and then doubled back to perch in a tree along the edge of the farm.  I couldn’t tell what the eagle was doing along the river, as it startled and flew as soon as I stopped for a better look.  On my way back from harvesting, a tiny songbird darted overhead, chasing what appeared to be a falcon, probably a peregrine.  The peregrine and songbird engaged in some impressive maneuvers as the songbird harassed the peregrine, which evaded the tiny mobbing songbird with amazing agility. After swerving back and forth overhead across the farm, they hit a tree line and the falcon suddenly braked and swooped upwards.  In the next instant, it reversed direction and dove at the songbird, turning the tables and engaging its own aggressive pursuit of the small bird.  Shortly after, they disappeared behind the tree line, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see who won this aerial contest of speed and agility.

On a more melancholy note, yesterday I observed one of most somber avian behaviors I have ever witnessed.  During the summer, we had a huge abundance of Canada geese on the farm.  They flocked back and forth to and from various waterways in large V-formations daily.  I always love watching them fly overhead, especially when they perform barrel rolls to drop altitude rapidly in preparation for a landing.  Most of them, I suspect, have already begun their autumn migration southward, and the sound of their calls have become increasingly rare.  But yesterday, I, for the first time ever in my life, observed a single lone goose flying overhead.  I have never seen this before:  a goose without its flock.  Unlike the geese flying in flocks, whose flight is very direct, focused, and rapid, and whose calls are quick and excited, this one flew much more slowly.  It was constantly searching back and forth with its head, looking frantically in all directions and honking in what I interpreted to be an apprehensive call.  It almost sounded desperate in its search for others.  For such a gregarious animal, it seemed utterly alone.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a strong sense of loneliness before from a wild animal.  It reminded me of the immeasurable importance of social relationships for gregarious animals.

My own time spent working at Oxbow Farm has been highlighted by incredibly positive social relationships with my co-workers, a group of energetic young farmers exuding unmatched enthusiasm for their challenging trade, with perpetual encouragement and mutual support for one another.  The most valuable lessons I have learned from my experience at Oxbow Farm have less to do with how to properly care for soil, nurture crops, and sell produce, than with that lone goose I watched flying, lost and bewildered, overhead:  community matters.  Farming is as much about growing and fostering healthy connections with other human beings as it is about fostering living soil and growing healthy food.

I sincerely hope that goose found the community it was searching for.  Thank you Oxbow Farm, for helping me to find my own.

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As the rain pours down relentlessly outside, irrigating our early spring crops, we are finally taking a break from our hectic teaching, school, and farming schedules to compose our third Orizaba Farm newsletter.  The recent weather has been quite unpredictable and highly variable lately, making it challenging to decide when to water the garden, when to wait for rain, and when to head for cover as surprise thunderstorms appear suddenly from previously clear skies.  Just two days ago, a powerful hail and windstorm struck during Thom’s bike ride home from school (where he teaches math part time), knocking over two massive trees and numerous power lines on our road, blocking vehicular traffic.  Fortunately, our farm was spared any major damage.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the weather, the lettuce and spinach in our garden are ready for their first thinning and harvest, and our peas are sprouting densely.  The fall garlic is shooting up vigorously from their beds of mulch, already exceeding a foot in height.  Everywhere we look, new life is emerging from the rain-drenched and sun-warmed soils:  tulips in full bloom, berries and fruit trees setting their delicate flower blossoms to lure pollinators, ferns unfurling in shaded clearings within the forest, mushrooms sprouting from the compost pile and leaf litter, and bees frantically gathering nectar and pollen from the sea of golden dandelion blossoms.  Of course, the vitality of spring has its ups and downs.  While the land is coming alive and creatures of all types are awakening from their winter hibernation, arriving from long distance migrations, or hatching from thawed eggs, we are already finding it nearly impossible to keep up with weeds in our gardens and berry patch, and black flies swarm us incessantly every moment we spend outside.

To celebrate the arrival of spring, Thom, Mike, and Dean participated in the annual Kenduskeag Canoe Race.  Despite never being in a canoe together, the three of them pulled off a 5th place finish in 3 hours, 23 minutes, 50 seconds, out of a field of 43 canoes in the Open Division (for canoes with more than two people).  In the end, they were happy merely to have successfully navigated the 16 miles of river and maneuver through challenging sets of Class III rapids without once overturning their boat. The record low water levels this year made for a slow and obstacle-laden race, with many canoes striking treacherous rocks hidden just beneath the surface, capsizing in rapids and calm stretches alike.  You can see photos of the race at the following websites:

http://www.kenduskeagstreamcanoerace.com/Galleries/2010/large-107.html

http://mbarkerphotos.zenfolio.com/p418954081/h2af2c8ba#h3e19e2b1

Back at Orizaba Farm, the excitement of springtime takes on a slower pace, in time with the rhythms of seeds germinating, trees leafing out, and flower blossoms opening.  Almost every day, a new seed is sown or crop is transplanted from the nursery to the gardens.  This past week, we planted our sprouting potato tubers that we saved for seed (and had professionally inspected for late blight), and we will soon be seeding our first rows of carrots, beets, and radishes.  We’re currently in the process of transplanting several hundred onion and leek plants, and have moved peppers, tomatoes, okra, and tomatillos into larger pots as they are growing rapidly in our sun-warmed plant nursery.

The chard we seeded are just starting to poke through the soil of their raised bed, elucidating a new discovery for us:  each carefully spaced chard seed that we planted is producing on average three, tightly bunched seedling sprouts, a novel trait that we have not yet witnessed in any other seed types.  As always, the daily lessons in cultivating life continue to emerge at Orizaba Farm from our constant stream of trials, errors, successes, and careful observations.

Just as the first rewards and surprises of the growing season have emerged, so have its first tribulations.  A mystery pest attacked one-third of the broccoli seedlings we transplanted during their first two days in the garden, killing and maiming the smallest seedlings.  Few clues have been left behind in the wake of the carnage to reveal the identity of the killer.  To cover our bases, we have sprayed organic castile soap and diatomaceous earth, covered the broccoli with floating row covers, and even placed mousetraps in the row.  Fortunately, as we continue our investigation of the scene of the crime and ramp up our defenses against this unseen predator, dozens of broccoli plants await and grow strong in our nursery, planted from seeds we saved from last year’s broccoli crop – reinforcements to answer the call of duty and head out into the garden once they have attained a more resilient size.  Another crop lost:  another invaluable lesson learned.

In our endeavor to learn the priceless art of seed saving, we have transplanted a number of carrots and onions from our root cellar into our garden.  As biennial crops, these vegetables do not flower and produce seed until the second year of their life, making it a challenge to save their seeds in the highly seasonal climate of Maine.  After storing the root crops in our cellar for the entire winter, we replanted the largest and healthiest individuals into our garden in hopes that they would, as the old saying goes, go forth, be fruitful, and multiply.  Most of their sprouts have finally emerged and we anticipate harvesting a healthy crop of seeds from them later this year, which we will plant in 2011 to continue the ongoing cycle of life.

Anticipating a possible out-of-state move next year, we are taking every possible opportunity to experience unique aspects of the Maine culture and environment during our potentially short stay in this breathtaking state.  To that effect, Thom finally had a chance to participate in a favorite spring pastime of Maine outdoorsmen:  fiddlehead hunting.  As the weather warms and spring rains bring hibernating vegetation back to life, tiny ostrich fern fiddleheads begin to lengthen and unfurl along the banks of streams and within the flood plains of Maine rivers and creeks.  Creeping along close to the ground, one can pluck gallons of furled fiddleheads in a few hours, enough to freeze and continue eating for the rest of the year.  The fiddleheads are a delicacy and highly prized by locavores, New England chefs, and wild food connoisseurs alike.  They are equally delicious sautéed with butter and garlic, pickled in a sweet mustard sauce, or combined with other local, seasonal vegetables in a variety of dishes, ranging from stir-fries to pastas to hash browns, or even as a pizza topping.  We sautéed our first batch with butter, last year’s garlic, and steamed wild nettle gathered from the same site.

Although the narrow window of opportunity for gathering fiddleheads has since closed, the wild dandelions are flowering and our tiger lilies are sprouting.  As we patiently await the first greens from our garden, dandelion fritters and stir-fried lily sprouts prove themselves a reliable staple accompanied by the remaining potatoes, onions, and garlic from our root cellar.  As the seasons turn, our gardens evolve with the changing weather, our behaviors adjust to accommodate the changing needs of our plants and soil, and our diets gradually shift from the energy dense storage crops of the winter to nutrient-rich spring greens.  We are, ultimately, what we eat, and we have become a reflection of the natural world that surrounds us and flows through us, through the matter and energy contained within our food.  For better or for worse, at Orizaba Farm we continue to strive to maintain as intimate a connection with our immediate environment as possible.  With the promise of a new growing season upon us, we look forward with anticipation to the unique permutations of energy and matter that will manifest and flow from our soil.

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