I love each season for it’s own unique character. One of the challenges and pleasures of living in Iowa is living so intimately with all the weather throughout the year. The transition phases wake me up from the depths of one to the beckoning of the next. In the past two months, I’ve felt the gradual nudge from the introverted spirit of winter to the growing energy of spring.
Our seeding phase of farming began late February. From the depths of our basement, under grow lights and with assistance of heat mats, the season's crops get started. First comes broccoli and cauliflowers, then tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, lettuce, spinach, herbs, and more.
Tim's holding what will be our second field planting of broccolis. The flats on either side of him are for our first field planting. The greenhouse fills up first with broccoli and then, as the field conditions open so we can plant outside, greenhouse space opens for the more tender tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, etc. It's a game of timing and hopefully cooperative weather.
I thought this note was just going to be about sightings of Spring. But oh, no – I’ve got to start with the smell of spring!
Our upstairs home office was a bit warm recently, so we cracked the window just a titch. I went to tend a task downstairs and when I walked back up the steps, I was welcomed with that deliciously, sweet, fresh smell of the outdoors. Now I’ve always loved the smell of outdoor dried laundry. In fact, we have intentionally never purchased a clothes drier, preferring the dryer of the great outdoors. There’s just something so fresh about the breeze having blown through clothes, towels, and other items. I suppose someone knows the chemistry of how the breeze imparts its delicious sweetness into our clothes. I don’t really need to know that. It’s enough to just bury my nose in clean clothes and drink in the aroma. I bet you know this smell too. Can you recall catching that aroma off of someone who’s been outside – “Oh, you smell like the great outdoors!,” you might say.
In addition to my nose catching a whiff of spring, my ears have welcomed back the “goose music” as Aldo Leopold calls it. The geese have been waiting patiently by the small opening of water down at the lake last week. This past week with rain and wind, the water is open. They have begun to stake out muskrat house territories. Flocks of grackles, robins, ducks, gulls, swans, and even sandhill cranes now fill the air with the announcement of changing seasons.
In the previous entry, I wrote that our farm motto “raising healthy food…raising hope”, comes from our vision that raising food with our crew, from this land and for our members, customers and friends opens channels for reconnection on a profound level. There’s a lot to unpack about the phrase “hope”.
Today, I ran across this following quote by John Fetzer - “Love is the core energy that rules all…love is the one ingredient that holds us all together.” I don’t know that, in our pop culture, we discuss this kind of love much. I don’t know that a heart-shaped box of chocolates quite captures what Fetzer means. I do think we should look at what’s going on all around us with this statement in mind. I’m daily amazed at the outpouring of demonstrations around this world – from the Middle East to Wisconsin to our own Iowa statehouse. It can be scary, but if we believe in Fetzer’s statement, then we just might dare to look closely at the power of love.
While little has been made, to date, of the connection between Middle East protests and food, Tom Gjelten, of National Public Radio, touched on it briefly during a report last week and Mark Pearson, of Iowa Public TV’s Market to Market, mentioned it again during last Friday’s show. Food, the price and access to it, they are saying, is playing an underlying role, finally breaking the boundaries. High unemployment, numerous other forms of repression that I can’t even suggest to understand writing from the comfort of my rural Iowa setting , have been bad enough, but add to that rapidly rising food prices, and the outpouring of discontent seems to have lit the Middle East on fire. Where the protests will go is hard to say. But as the people who have been oppressed, to a certain degree at our own comfort, are clearly saying “Enough!”, there are impacts for us. We should be prepared to wake up to a new reality; we should seek ways to accompany their journey even if we can’t engage the political solutions needed. What pleasures we have enjoyed, low energy prices, for example, connected to these repressive regimes, surely will change. The global reality we live in these days calls us to look into Fetzer’s description of love.
"Love is the core energy that rules all…love is the one ingredient that holds us all together."
~ John FetzerDaily decisions about how we use our resources here may not have immediate impact on the people rising up across the globe, but it’s a place to start. Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner, is noted for her influence through the simple act of tree planting. At One Step at a Time Gardens we recycle as much as we can, avoid waste generating supplies as much as we can, work with natural rhythms in our production, and are part of the developing and sustainable local food system in Iowa . We’re not perfect by any means and recognize there are plenty of areas to explore for improvement. We understand it’s a process. We invite our members into that process with us. Maathai‘s planting of trees harbors the love and hope that I find in raising food. The love that Fetzer describes pervades the spirit of sustainability, our politicians should be held accountable to it and so should our farming.
Much ado is made about love near Valentine's Day. I'd like to add my own twist with a letter about love from the farm.
6:30 a.m. February 13, as I sit down to write, the eastern horizon is streaked with hot pink and lavenders. I want to take in that intensity, to be part of it. On our winter skiing trips around the farm, I pause to "feel" the sense of this place, feeling the swell of the land, the deep winter quiet. While out doing evening chores, I listen for the owls, calling so clearly in February. Our "Big Hill" has its own sacred sense that three logs, stacked near each other, invite visitors to stop and soak up. I have felt stirred in the majestic mountains of the western U.S., but that is an infrequent, special trip. This farm regularly takes my breath away. It also holds lessons of love that can help meet some of the challenges we find all around ourselves today.
Looking south from a top a grain bin over our Bin Hill gardens toward East Twin Lake.
In the February 12, 2011 issue of the Mason City Globe Gazette, there was a bold headline exclaiming "Area population drops" and further on, a report on President Obama's recent address to a prayer breakfast in Washington DC. Not unlike the census report, the prevalence of polarization in politics sometimes feels inevitable. However, the words by President Obama encouraged a lighter pursuit - "…a spirit of civility.", the cultivation of a desire for openness between "…our brothers and sisters with different points of view" to discover …"a way forward that we can travel together." Our farm motto of "raising healthy food…raising hope" has come about because of the power we see in the farm for food production to open channels for reconnection on a profound level. A thread of love, grounded in the farm, weaves itself between the concern about population decline and the encouragement that we all work toward mutually supportive goals.
The growing and sharing together of the food from this land creates an intimacy, rebuilding connections that have been fractured through our times of distant and automated food and farming systems. Our farm members tell us stories of their excitement of sharing great food with friends and family. The newly developed Iowa Food and Farm Plan, just introduced to the Iowa legislature, offers our whole state the opportunity to make a commitment to this kind of food system. The numbers reveal the economic promise, the farming practices hold environmental promise, and the experience reveals the social benefits.
This farm, and many others like it all across Iowa, holds lessons of love for us in experiences of inspiration as well as practical production that can help meet some of the most challenging issues of our day. On this Valentine's Day, be sure to include thoughts of love for the land that feeds you – body and soul – as you send out your messages.
The best spot on the farm in the evening is in our living room, where we can be warmed by the fireplace. It’s been said that firewood releases its trapped sunlight energy to warm us when it’s burned. Before that release we are warmed in the release of our own energy chopping the wood. Likewise, I thought about the
vegetables from the farm – specifically those we delivered recently as our Winter Share. They represent eating this past summer’s sunshine captured and transformed into the pigments, minerals, vitamins, and complex sugars and carbohydrates. When you bite into the carrots or cut open the squash, you unleash that light energy, preparing it for the discovery of your taste buds and body through your meals. As we journey toward the shortest day of the year and we celebrate our many different holiday traditions – savoring the darkness, while also anticipating the light - take some time to ponder what it means to eat “light” at this time of year.
We send Happy Holiday greetings to you and your family from all of us at the farm!
“When do we put the chains
on the tractor?,” we teased this morning with the thermometer reporting negative 4 degrees F outside. “Oh, not until it’s cold enough for our fingers to freeze,” answered Tim with a grin. And so it was today. With temperatures hovering around freezing the past couple of weeks, but no snow on the ground, we didn’t want or need the chains on the tractor quite yet. But with our first serious snow lying about, today would be the day we’d want some traction.
Putting on the chains is a bit like saddling Sass, our mare. Oblivious to this rude comparison, Sass is busy, at this writing, nuzzling hay in her paddock, well buffeted by shed and grove from the still blustery NW winds.
When I first saddle Sass, she takes a deep breath and suddenly the end of the girth strap doesn’t stretch as far as I’d hoped. We negotiate for a bit and I settle for less than desired and she settles for tighter than desired. I believe President Obama and the Republicans are practicing this negotiation lately.
So too with tractor chains; the first task is getting the bulky set of interconnected links up and over the tires. It requires laying the chains over the tire, moving the tractor’s position so the ends are accessible to be hooked together. On both the inside and outside of the tire there’s a heavy latch to hook onto a loose link. Once all four latches are hooked there’s a little more adjustment of the links up and over the tire tread. Then it’s off to the snow plowing.
After clearing the bulk of the main yard area, Tim stopped for an adjustment. Likewise, when I’ve been riding Sass for a while, it’s worth getting down and cinching the girth now that’s she’s gotten past her bloating game. I usually gain a notch or two.
In this adjustment, Tim had to first repair a link that broke off, then he tugged and yanked and gained one to two links at each latch. That will probably set the chain position for the winter. Then he was off to finish today’s plowing heading down the lane and then to clear the barn accesses.
On this beautiful, bitter cold Sunday, we’re making wintry tracks.