Women’s Work

Cherie and I both work full time on the farm. This time of year we both work very long days, every day. Without both of us, it couldn’t get done.

When we send out emails to our customers, or our weekly newsletter, the signature block always has both of our names. We try to emphasize as frequently as we can that we are a partnership, and that the farm belongs to and is run by both of us.

It can be frustrating, particularly for her, when people fail to recognize that. Often the responses to our emails will be addressed only to me. Sometimes a response comes back addressed to me even if Cherie signed her name only to the original email.

We split the duties with social media, but Cherie authors and posts most of them. Yet almost without fail if someone responds to them they use my name only. Cherie will post something on Facebook and responses will be things like “Thanks Bill!” Or “Bill: here’s our order…” or “Great photo Bill!” Recently it was happening so frequently that Cherie wondered what folks think she does around here.

I know it’s frustrating for her when people seem to perceive that the farm is me, and me only. Some of this may be attributable to enculturated gender roles and stereotypes. It happens in lots of other ways too.  In our household Cherie is the one with the mechanical skills so most household fix-up projects are done by her. But she’s told me about asking questions in hardware stores and having workers there explain to her what she should tell her husband about the items she is buying (they assume she is just buying the item, and that her husband will be the person using it).

Hopefully these ways of thinking are changing. After all, 30% of U.S. farmers are women.

For the women farmers out there I’m sure you don’t need to hear this, but for everybody else, we need to start putting to bed the old stereotypical image of farmers as men only. These days that is simply not the case.

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A New Story

The globalization of food culture, media images that perpetrate an industrial diet, the cultural narrative that holds agricultural work as lowly, the financial system that pushes farmers toward commodity crop production, regulations that take existing agricultural practices for granted, and the pecuniary interests of seed and pesticide companies all contribute to the agricultural status quo. The very notion of a uniform crop growing on a controlled substrate draws from scientific paradigms of a generic material substrate of uniform elements upon which we impose order and design.

That’s a lot of stories, layer upon layer, that have to change. Thus I say that our revolution must go all the way to the bottom, all the way down to our basic understanding of self and world. We will not survive as a species through more of the same: better breeds of corn, better pesticides, the extension of control to the genetic and molecular level. We need to enter a fundamentally different story. That is why an activist will inevitably find herself working on the level of story. She will find that in addition to addressing immediate needs, even the most practical, hands-on actions are telling a story. They come from and contribute to a new Story of the World.

Charles Eisenstein
from The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

Natural Pest Control

We’re having a great tomato crop this year, which is a welcome relief after losing almost all of last year’s crop to blight.  Our old-fashioned heirlooms are difficult to grow, but they’re the best tasting tomatoes in the world.  So obviously they’ve been popular with our customers and we’ve been eating like royalty.

Blight is starting to rear its ugly head again, and the harvest will probably be cut short of a full season.  We have another garden of tomatoes on the way though and it should start producing soon.  Hopefully we’ll have tomatoes all summer.

With tomatoes, plant disease is a much bigger problem for us than pests.  But there are pests, the worst of which is the hornworm, which can do a lot of damage.

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When I was growing up I knew these as tobacco worms.  Tobacco is a nightshade, like tomatoes, and these worms love feasting on tobacco leaves as well.

Hornworms camouflage well.  The easiest way to find them is to look for damage to the plants and the worms’ droppings, which are easily recognizable.

Often I’ll find a hornworm that looks like this.

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The white cocoons were made by parasitic braconid wasp larvae. The wasps lay eggs under the skin of the worm.  After hatching, the larvae emerge, build their cocoons and consume the hornworm.

We remove hornworms when we find them.  If a worm has these cocoons on it, I remove it carefully from the plant and drop it outside the garden so as not to harm the wasp larvae

Nature’s hornworm control.   No posions necessary.

Shoveling Poo

Keeping the soil in our 18 gardens healthy and fertile without the use of any commercial fertilizers requires constant effort and attention.  We carefully follow a rotation plan and we use cover cropping.  Our goal is to produce 2 cover crops that are tilled back into the soil for every crop that we harvest.

We don’t use any off-farm inputs to fertilize.  Instead we use compost we make here, the litter from our chicken coops, and manure from our animals.  We like to think that we harvest sunshine and rainwater.  They produce the grass, which feeds the livestock, which make the manure, which fertilizes the gardens, which feed us.  It’s a beautiful self-contained system, designed by nature.

Even though humans have been farming this way for thousands of years, these practices are rarely followed anymore, having been replaced with the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.

But we’re happy doing it the old-fashioned way.  Yesterday morning I shoveled out the horse’s stall, where he likes to hang out during the heat of the day.  I took the wonderful fertilizer that he deposited there and spread it on the garden that produced our garlic this year.  About this time next year it should be producing tomatoes and other goodies for us, thanks to a recipe of seeds, soil, rain, sunlight, compost, human labor and a dose of horse manure.

That’s a good combination.

 

Long Days

Friday night our faith community sponsored an art show in town that we really wanted to attend. Foolishly I thought that it might be possible to finish picking and prepping for the market in time to make it to show.  But as it turned out we were still working into the night to get ready, so we missed it.  Then we were up at 4 a.m. to prepare, load up and set up before the market opened.  Fridays and Saturdays are our busiest days on the farm.

For those of you who are farmers market vendors, obviously you already know this. For everybody else, remember that when you see your farmers on Saturday morning they’ve been up a long time after likely putting in a very long day on Friday.

But I don’t mind the long hours on Friday and Saturday (except on those rare occasions when that interferes with something else we want to do).  For me, as with most of us I assume, it is a labor of love.

And it was especially satisfying that yesterday was our best day ever at the market,  just as last Saturday had been.  Our community is beginning to support local food, and our farm, in a very encouraging way.

 

Rooting for the Bees

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The Virginia Department of Agriculture reported this week that between October and April nearly 1/3 of the managed bee colonies in the state died.  Unfortunately we contributed to that statistic, as our lone surviving hive died in February or March.

This kind of die-off is happening all over the country and a host of explanations have been suggested.  Pesticides are almost certainly responsible in some way, although the details are still unclear.

I’ve seen a lot of references to the supposed disaster that will follow if all the honeybees die off, including claims that we are so dependent upon them as pollinators that if they die we humans will die off too.  But that won’t happen.  Sure it would mean the end of some things, like commercial almond and cranberry production, but sustainable diversified farms like ours would carry on largely as normal.  Nature provides plenty of other pollinators for our vegetables and fruit trees. After all, the honeybee is not native to North America, having been brought over from Europe by the early colonists.

But having said that, the loss of honeybees would be a great tragedy.  They are beautiful creatures, and aside from being great pollinators they also give us honey, arguably nature’s perfect food.

Nature has a way of adjusting to respond to threats and environmental change.  Species do go extinct–far too often these days.  But often they find a way to overcome threats and emerge even more resilient.  Let’s hope that’s what happens with the honeybees.  Without them, the world will be much less beautiful.

Stormy Weather

There was some really nasty weather in our part of the world yesterday.  A tornado touched down a few miles away, which is very unusual here.

Fortunately the bad stuff only brushed us.  We got some much-needed rain and little else.

But it did put on a show in the sky.

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Notice the trees bending in the wind

Notice the trees bending in the wind

The aftermath.  Starting to clear up.

The aftermath. Starting to clear up.

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