Archives for posts with tag: seeding

Wednesdays in February are unique on the farm, not only because they’re when we make huge gains on filling the nursery to the brim, but also because they bring a sudden surge of diverse people to the farm.  We’ll spend these next three Wednesdays seeding our entire inventory for the spring plant sale in April, and because it’s a cooperative fundraiser for the Youth Farm and Grassroots Garden, volunteers from Grassroots migrate to the farm to help with all the seeding.

There’s the staff: myself, Ted, Rachel from Grassroots.  We rarely work together, so it’s a treat to have Rachel for a full day on the farm.  She knows all the Grassroots volunteers and has helped with this process for a few years, so it’s key to have her help in doling out the seeds and keeping everyone busy and happy.

Today, there were also a few internship applicants.  We offer three paid intern positions each season, and now is the time to interview the promising ones so we can hire in time for a March 1st start.  An all-time all-star youth farm crew leader was the first to arrive, and didn’t even need to volunteer with the main group to remind Ted what an amazing learner and farmer she is.  Later, a man came who’s always had office jobs but has dreamed of an outdoor, garden-related career.  He was eager, bright, and far more promising in person than on paper.  Later, a young student from the University of Oregon came and worked alongside me while Ted interviewed another applicant that’s been volunteering at Grassroots for years.  After today and meeting a few more potential interns last week, we’re in a good place: it’ll be hard to make a decision with so many qualified applicants.

The bulk of the group today were Grassroots volunteers: several middle-aged woman on the “seeding crew” at the garden who come every year, a couple of newer volunteers, the gentleman applying for our internship, and a stellar man who volunteers at both gardens and always has experiments and ideas up his sleeve.  This year, he said he’s throwing everything he thought he knew about gardening out the window because of a book he read about the soil food web.  He’s inoculating roots with fungal mycelia and considering no-till methods for this season in order to promote a healthy soil ecosystem.  Our systems at the farm seem so established, but ideas like that remind me that no method is set in stone, and that we can all continue to learn and refine our growing techniques.  I’m looking forward to picking his brain about it more in the coming weeks.

There was a brand new Youth Farm volunteer today, too.  A retired man who’d never been to the farm dropped in soon after we opened, and stayed well past lunch time.  We’re always excited when new individual volunteers show up: they become incredibly helpful once they get to know the farm, there’s time to really get to know them when they volunteer regularly, and they tend to teach me just as much as I’m teaching them.  He rode off happily with a handful of chard and bok choy when he left.  I hope he comes again.

Duck Corps, a volunteer group from the U of O, had their first service day today as well.  They are four strong this term, and all seem eager and curious about the farm.  Because they plan to come once a week for many weeks in a row, I like to spend longer than usual talking with them about the farm and our mission, showing them around, and learning about their own experiences and interests.  It’s these conversations that give this place so much meaning for me, and even more so for the people that visit.  I’m reminded that the things I start to take for granted– Community Supported Agriculture, direct-to-consumer sales at markets and farm stands, organic growing methods, locally sourced food at food banks– are usually novel to the hundreds of volunteers that come here each season.  There’s so much happening, and there are so many people that have yet to be involved!  It’s discouraging because it feels like we haven’t made progress, but also encouraging because there’s so much room for growth.  One person at a time.  Or four…

And last, there’s the first: when I arrived at the farm about 40 minutes before we opened, one of our regular volunteers was already waiting there.  He’s been coming to volunteer with us since before Ted’s time.  He’s consistent when his work schedule allows, and he’s probably learned how to do just about every task we do.  He usually needs just a little guidance, and likes to make sure he’s explaining himself more than fully, and doesn’t seem to want praise or reward.  When I started two years ago, he came like clockwork every Wednesday for over a year, so that I didn’t think much of it– until he stopped showing up last summer.  I think he got a job that interfered with our schedule, but it was a shock.  Such a sure figure can just one day stop being there.

So now, when I start to feel overwhelmed when there are a lot of people to lead or orient or work with, I try to remember that they might one day stop being there.  That now, here, with each other, is all we have.

Advertisements

Game on!  There are now, suddenly, about 170 flats of seedlings waiting to germinate in the greenhouse.  We sprung into action today– a bit late, by commercial standards, but just in time nonetheless– and set in motion a process that will continue for months to come.  The onions we seeded could be sitting in your pantry at this time next year.  The hot peppers will be dried and still spicing up local gardeners’ salsas in the cold, darkening days of the coming winter.  All those cabbages may turn into sauerkraut that bubbles well into summer.

All that, and so much more, started in a few hours on a sunny day in early February.

IMG_20180203_150441901.jpg

Storage onions ready to be tucked in.

We arrived a bit early to set up: boards and tables for prepping seeding trays, seeds and tags for labeling each variety, the vacuum seeder to speed up the process, and the seeding chart, which might as well be called the Farm Bible.  Right at ten o’clock, a pair of our consistent volunteers drove up and said they’d been waiting all winter for February to roll around so they could come back to the farm.  They were a heart-warming start to the day, and a reminder that my experience with volunteers gives me back exactly how much I invest in it.  If I slow down my to-do-list-brain, work alongside the wonderful people that show up, and let go of the amount we’re accomplishing, the real work of educational farming starts to blossom: a shared memory, an exchange of ideas, a connection that sparks our imaginations, a reassurance that this is what matters.

So I kept at it with volunteers this morning while Ted interviewed three internship applicants.  The pile of over a hundred flats to be vacuum seeded– a task that so far only staff has been trained on– loomed in the corner all morning.  The trick is, vacuum seeding is an incredible time saver.  The machine sucks seeds onto tiny holes in a metal plate, and keeps them in place while I turn over the plate onto a tray.  When I block the suction, the seeds instantly drop into their places on the tray, turning a 5-15 minute job into 30-60 seconds.  It’s fun!  It’s also really loud, and means that I’m working alone, and any volunteers are left to themselves.  That can work, of course, but when it’s the beginning of the season and reconnecting is just as important as getting seeds in their places, I push the vacuum seeding aside until most everyone has gone home.  Then one of our neighbors, a teenager that started volunteering alongside the youth crew last August, is comfortable working on peppers by herself, and I step outside the now steamy greenhouse into direct sunlight, pop on our industrial ear muffs, and start in on those onions.

IMG_20180203_143958337.jpg

The vacuum seeder set-up.

Ted took over while the last internship applicant worked alongside me hand-seeding green onions and greenhouse tomatoes.  When the young man said goodbye, we gradually picked up our pace as the sky turned from grayish blue, to gold, to orange, and then faded.  I made up a few more trays to finish seeding all the Swiss chard flats we need while Ted scrambled to keep the seeder running.  Minus a few trays of tomatoes and eggplants that can wait until next week, we miraculously finished our long seeding list.  Onions, scallions, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and that Swiss chard that slipped in at the final hour.  Fitting for the first day of planting: work until night falls.

I road my bike home under stars.

This is, in my wildest imaginations, the first of a daily reflection on my experiences at the FOOD for Lane County Youth Farm, set squarely in the midst of a painstakingly gradual and messy rebuilding of a food system that sustains us all.  The process is gradual and messy enough to have me believe that whatever I write will have no impact on the longterm path of our unprecedented global trajectory.  Because what I do every day on the farm seems to somehow chink and chip away at it– seems to create a shift, subtle though it may be, in my self and those around me and the material world in which we engage– I can’t help but believe that sharing it with a wider audience might strengthen and quicken that shift.  Where the change comes from I hope to articulate throughout this season.  Where it is bringing us, I have no idea.

May it be beautiful.


“Thurs.  Farm seeding.  72’s- 12.  128’s- 75.  200’s med- 31.  288- 30.  6-packs- 119.”

For all the anticipation, pretty pictures to look back on, and ideas brewing throughout my month off from the farm, the start of the season was predictably unglamorous.  The last couple hours of my day were spent mostly alone, filling tray after tray with potting soil.  12 trays for spinach.  75 trays for Brassicas like early broccoli and cabbage.  Each tray will temporarily house up to 128 baby plants, which will grow comfortably in the propagation greenhouse until we hoist them out to harden off and give them each a wider berth in the fields in April.  31 trays for lettuces and the like.  30 for onions.  The 119 6-packs for our spring plant sale didn’t get filled today– sunset cut me off.  They’ll have to wait until Saturday.

I find that the potential for monotony in such projects quickly disappears with company, with mindful attention to what I’m doing, and with a deeper understanding of how my actions affect a greater whole.

Filling trays in old shoes

Filling spinach trays in old shoes

Company came with Ted and Joe.  Ted, for anyone that doesn’t know the farm, has been managing this piece of land for over a dozen years.  More on him later.  Joe is one of our longstanding volunteers, who I actually met through a friend years ago before I started at the farm.  He shows up randomly and sparsely throughout the year, but reliably when we’re really in need, like trying to build greenhouses in the middle of harvest season.  Or, when we’re not expecting any help on our first day, but there’s a ton to do already, and he happens to be “in the neighborhood.”  He’s grumpy, argumentative, breaks stuff on a regular basis, and is one of my favorite people to see walking up to the tool shed.  Not just because he’s game for any crazy project we need to do– more likely, it’s because he doesn’t pretend to be anyone else but himself, and has a kind heart, and laughs out loud with me while we pull apart empty old cracking seeding trays on our hands and knees.

The attention rushes in when the seeding trays stick together.  All too often, they compress in their nested state of storage over the winter and don’t budge apart, or clamp back together after teasing me with a teeny wiggle apart.  It can be infuriating!  Sometimes I find patience to pry each corner apart, millimeter by millimeter, until the whole tray starts to loosen away from its neighbor.  Sometimes I throw the whole block of trays aside and find another chunk to work on, or do something else for a while.  The whole time, regardless of whether the process is smooth or clunky, I come back again and again to how my fingers are moving, what sounds the trays are making, how my breath feels under so many layers of winter jackets.  Between those moments of coming back, my mind drifts to my next task (filling the trays, carting them to the greenhouse), the errand to run after work (buy storage containers, eggs), my insecurities (am I taking too long? what if I spill that entire cart and have to re-do it all?), and back again to the moment at hand (breathe in, pull that last corner, breathe out, rip the tray away with a crackling of plastic).

And what of the whole?  Why in the world am I choosing to spend my attention and energy stooping awkwardly over piles of crackling plastic trays?  Despite the romantic appeal of small scale food production– the gorgeous produce, smiling sun-kissed crews, ethos of perseverance and wholesomeness– the day to day projects I find myself doing are often laughably ordinary, difficult, and repetitive.  I know intuitively why I do it, but it’s a long story to try to put into words.  My hope is that by the end of the season, the answer is unarguably clear to everyone that reads this.

Thanks for beginning with me.