Thursday, April 22, 2010

Salad in our Bowls

There were remnants of slushy snow patches on the ground, but I was standing, sweating, with my sleeves rolled up. I was inside the cob-and-recycled-glass greenhouse at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead lifting sheets of remay from rows of radishes and hardy greens, propping open cold frames, turning flats of transplants to better catch the sun.

And there was water spraying…slightly out of control.

Today was my day to water the greenhouses. It’s a fairly pleasant job, and simple. More than anything it’s a welcome excuse to notice, carefully, how different plants are growing, how quickly various patches of soil are drying out, what needs to be thinned, what is ready for harvesting. Each of our three greenhouses here at D Acres has a slightly different set-up with regard to water. A collection tank off our barn roof gutter offers abundant water and short hauling for our lower hoop house. Buckets and watering cans are our precise distributors. The new kitchen greenhouse requires a hose run from an outdoor spigot though an extra tank, when filled via the hose, accommodates the watering can option as well. Our “g-animal” cob greenhouse is best watered with a hose and watering wand combination.

This is where things can get slightly out of control. It would seem to be a straight-forward process…ok, yes, I can generally keep myself dry. But I’m short, some shelves are tall, and the hose rarely wants to bend in my preferred direction.

For someone who spends a fair amount of time getting dirty, I don’t particularly like getting wet. But it’s a moot point in the end, because I sure do like eating…and this time of year I’m willing to employ the word ‘ecstatic’ with regards to salad greens. Testing my mettle against a hose a few times a week is an exaggerated comeuppance for sure.

The more worthwhile point to be made is: it’s April and we’re stuffing ourselves with salad! Yes, that definitely deserves an exclamation point. Our freezer continues to burst at the seams with bacon, sausage, and the likes, so no-one can justly accuse us of eating like rabbits. But after a season of potatoes, turnips, and squash every day, greens are a delicacy. Some spicy, some sweet, some bitter, some so potently green, others fresh and light to the palatte…forgive me - throw in the word robust and I’ll start to sound like a wine label.

But you get the point. It feels like a power meal of nutrients, all that photosynthesized energy fueling our own muscles, our own efforts. And we’ve been stuffing these delightful leaves down our hungry gullets for a couple of weeks now. So the real story is season extension.

The warmth of the sun, when captured by simple set-ups of glass or plastic, is remarkable – even before it feels like a trustworthy springtime outside. Sure, we arguably have a bigger set-up than the home gardener may want. But don’t use that as your excuse. We also make use of cold frames, simple boxes built with a glass pane top (i.e. old doors or windows), essentially creating a mini greenhouse. These, too, do the trick, reliably producing greens while Jack Frost is still threatening to come ‘round. So think about it. If we’re going to provide for our own food in this northeast climate, we need to do so beyond the months of June, July, and August. Cold frames, indoor starts, greenhouses: these are all ways to do so. Please, drop on by the farm, ask us some questions (try some salad), we’ll even offer you some salvaged doors to build your own cold frame. Just be sure to make use of it, and spread the good and tasty word. Growing your own food is quite doable…and the reward so delightful. That’s right, nod your head; how ‘bout giving it a try yourself?

as published in the North Country News

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Calluses are our goal

One of the more frequent comments received from friends and strangers alike note the rough quality of my hands. Our hands, really; the statement stands for all of us here at D Acres. It would seem that the trend is for smoother paws.

A fine ideal, but there are simply too many stacks of wood, beds of weeds and dirt, mounds of compost, heavy buckets, and various other odds & ends to thwart the silkiness of our digits. An opposable thumb is, after a few twists and turns, connected to strong arms and a willing back. So there you have it. Calluses.

It seems to me that there are some notable advantages. For one, sharp edges, hot surfaces, and ill-intentioned splinters have a challenge inflicting damages. Too, a hardened handshake can command some attention, especially in the realms of human-powered endeavors and general ingenuity. The badge of hard work, the certificate of consistency. This, at least, is what I tell myself.

And, here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, it’s what we tell others as well. This past week we hosted a group of students from Wisconsin (they gave commendable accolades to NH cheese). They spent the majority of their spring vacation at the farm, and four days engaged in fairly intense work. Without much grumbling they persevered through two days of hard rain and soaked socks. In fact, the sunshine that followed may have elicited more complaints due to the threat of sunburn.

A few eight-hour days accomplished a lot. In terms of farm operations, we were able to complete some major projects that we couldn’t have done half as quickly on our own. And with regards to the students, they rapidly learned how to run a wheelbarrow and use a screw gun. They sheet mulched new garden beds, built rock steps, planted peas, stacked wood, transplanted bulbs, pruned berry bushes, fixed fences…the list goes on.

As the time for goodbye neared, we gathered together with the students and talked a bit about the week. What we hoped to have taught was a sense of the work – its difficulty, its variety, it joy; the opportunity to build some calluses was our goal.

“You certainly did that,” one student laughed, “we’re sore.”

Arguably, the sort of soreness that lets you sleep real deep at night. And the sort of soreness, I’d add, that comes from simple hard work, where contentment is engendered by the process itself, not just in the finishing of a task. Perhaps, then, what we’re really working for is to broaden the confluence of hardened handshakes.

So here’s to a handshake economy in all its connotations, including our ability to proudly carry our stories, our lessons, and our experiences in our hands.

as published in the North Country News