Farmer Tam’s Field Report for June

How’s the Farm Doing?

My brother Bill stopped out a couple of weekends ago for my Mum’s 81st birthday party.

It had been a while since I had seen him. He’s my favorite brother. Actually, he’s my only brother. He is gentle and thoughtful… a truly generous man who approaches his work as art. He’s the genius builder behind the Pumpkin Cannon. And the Scarecrow Band.

As we settled down for a beer, he asked us the loaded question, “How is the farm doing?”

“Are you asking me?” I laughed. How do I begin to describe to this kindred spirit – a fellow entrepreneur, how the farm is doing? He sees the fields. Brown. Not even the weeds are growing. Even the grass around the yard is starting to crisp and crunch underfoot.

I say, no one goes into farming to become a millionaire.

You go into farming because you have a spiritual calling to grow things, because you care for the earth, because you recognize the truest essence of yourself, the earth mother. Or at least that’s why I did it.

I am devoted to the land, to creating a community and to improving the quality of people’s lives through good food and some intimate time with nature. I want them to come to an open place, away from the busy-ness of their lives, and feel the luxurious freedom of a field.

Space. I want them to observe clouds, listen to birds, feel the texture of leaves, smell sun-warmed strawberries, and taste food in its purest form, custom grown for them. I want to give the gift of life – of a place in their hearts, drenched in earthy smells, wrapped in the sky and trees, dazzling with a swipe of merry breezes, tagged with a brilliant sun.

So, how is the farm doing?

It’s still that… always that… a gift, in which I am the receiver and the giver.

How is the farm doing? The thing is. There’s a DROUGHT this spring. I tell him, “It’s like a never ending marathon. I’ve run this one, once before. In 2001 – the year after Kate, my daughter, was born. The one in two hundred. Drought. Year. That’s never supposed to happen again in my lifetime.

It seems straightforward. I know it will rain. Tomorrow. Or maybe Friday. The clouds come. Three drops of rain. They evaporate into thin air. At least this time, the ponds are full. We can pump water. We’ll irrigate! How hard can it be? So you train for the marathon. You do rain dances. You search the sky. You pray for rain.

You pump water. You keep planting – adding a few rows of precious transplants every day. And hand water them. All. Intervals and sprints. Hills and long flat stretches. 100 zucchinis. 300 cabbage. 25,000 pumpkin. 400 Cauliflower. 400 Broccoli. 200 Leeks. 10,000 Onions. 150 Lettuce. 200 Kale. 100 Brussels sprouts. 50 Bok Choi. 100 Parsley. 100 Banana Peppers. 150 Field Tomatoes. It had better rain soon. There’s 20 rows of potatoes. Thankful to see they’re up and growing!

You dedicate yourself to the physical activity and pray for Mother Nature to step up. You believe you can do it, and with the right drills and instruction, with appropriate exercise and guidance, you should be able to finish. You won’t be the fastest in your age group, but you can finish… even if you crawl across the finish line. Right?

The rain will come. We hope. Maybe Saturday this week. We’ve got the soaker hoses going. The Carrots are coming. And the Beans. A row of Peas. But no other seeds have germinated. Not one. No Parsnips. No Choi. Not even a radish! The seeds lie dormant in the powder dry soil.

You believe you can do this. You know you will finish. It’s late now. It’s June. And so you run… kind of way back in the back, because, let’s be honest, you can’t influence Mother Nature. The rain will come when it comes. Stay calm and keep farming. A marathon is not for the faint-of-heart. I got this.

And then you get to the back end of the ten miles. You are no longer swaddled by your fellow runners and the waving supporters have thinned out. And you realize that now you are only a third of the way there… and all the training you’ve done is showing up in your plantar fasciitis and there’s a tweak in your hip. You aren’t quite as confident as you were. You are alone now. It’s up to you to get it done.

You can’t deny that you are running a marathon. You are mid-marathon, accept your choice and do the work. You may walk. You may jog. You may peel off to go to the bathroom. But only you can finish the race. You must. Get the irrigation going!

Bill laughed when I made these comparisons. He laughed because he recognizes them as certified-organic truth. Then he asked me, “What’s at the finish line? Is there a finish?”

“Yes and no,” I told him.

The marathon is the current set of circumstances. You start with a fresh new idea, a new approach. You study it, research your seed catalogues. You see what other farms are doing. You gauge their success by what they tell you. You wonder how much of that story is true. You compare your journey.

The route is a map that is hard to read. There are plenty of hurdles. The County – a new Special Event Bylaw. A drought. The cutworms – they’ve munched the first planting of onions – the ones that did get the moisture when it snowed. But then it froze hard with a black frost of -7C the week after. Good thing we planted another set of them out in field by the pin cherries, 10 days later. They’re ok.

You won’t really understand what it means to pass along that path until you do. You won’t know the quality of the light, the intensity of the heat, the barrenness of the drought, the damage of a black frost, or the richness of the rain until you get there. You won’t know the deficiencies until they come. You can’t know. You don’t know.

And what can start to settle in – is doubt – which your body holds as pain. It can keep you awake at night. Unless… you imagine the finish line. The act of crossing that finish line is much greater than the time listed, or a bunch of carrots, or the medal, or the cold beer waiting in the fridge.

“What’s at the finish line?” he asked me.

Relief. Satisfaction. Wonder. Accomplishment. Joy. Exhaustion. Belief. Luck. Mud. Glorious Mud.

The rains should come. They usually do. For now, we’re planting more inside the greenhouses. Cucumbers. Basil. More Peppers. Seed some Komatsuna and some Scarlet Frills, where we can water. It might come a little later this season. But the harvest will come. The finish line.

Image: Tam’s gift to me is a hundred moments like this one – my little guy running free in fresh air and open space – through glorious muddy puddles. Me getting to say ”Yes! Go!” all day long. The farm has a very special place in our hearts – it’s where we come back together as a family every Sunday. Thanks Tam – we’re praying for mud puddles up to our knees! Heather