G(u)arden Log

[Below is an essay I wrote as part of the program for a dance piece entitled G(u)arden, performed by the Low Mountaintop Collective in downtown Providence last week. The dancers built a garden onstage out of trash, and used their bodies to move through histories of colony and resilience on this land. As part of their preparation process, they came to the garden and rebuilt a section of our dilapidated fence. I am grateful to these artists for alerting me to the choreography of the plants around me, and the dance of my daily work.]


THIS WEEK WE PUT THE FIRST SEEDLINGS IN—and just like that again food will come out of the ground. The garden has mostly its last death still on it— fall's yellow stalks felled and frozen until now. But under them are new leaves— the herbs, the weeds. That green, you can walk every aisle of the store and never see it.

What was her name, the woman I belong to, who could cure with plants the rash this man has. A grandmother's name— what better was there to memorize? Than the smell of her, which came from the land into its animals. The story of the arriving of one's own life is a good story.

But this garden is the garden I was born to today— plastic frays and disintegrates into the dirt. Our dog carried over a nest she found containing the sinewy skeletons of two baby birds strangled by a strand of our tarp. I have killed here; I have planted, picked and planted again. I eat lots of greens and little pieces of polyethylene. In rain I am half happy, half feel dirtier after, damp with acid and soot. This field, this city, I am its animal. I have a smell. I have a nod for the dandelion coming up against the curb.

The weather changes rhythm again like a drunk drummer— all I can promise you of spring is that eventually your feet sink into it. Some dances our bodies remember, like the high knee step of mud. Some dances we are taught— my crops in drought did choreograph thirst. They hit the ground soft, one leaf at a time, they often survived but sometimes died.

Observing closely death makes a prism of the heart— rage is one of the lightwaves that breaks through. Rage for what we forgot, the dancers murmur, and I start a list for my fathers: the precise place we came from, its seasons, its dances, the reason we left or the reason we came, what we did when we got here, what they were like (the bad years), how we got through, what we ate, what makes us ashamed, my grandmother's grandmother's name.

The best answer is soil. Soil and soil, we came from, our grave. This land has had many killings— most of its trees are young. So I am on my knees this week, putting in seeds. Digging out the dark earth worms turned for us last fall. Taking some trash to the landfill. Taking other trash— that apple core, that cardboard, that once-humming form— and letting it curl back into the earth to unfurl again and unfurl.


I know a guy

Is what we joke the mobsters say. Is the nepotism famous in our state. I know a guy is how anyone becomes president, how anyone wins. It is the knit cap with eyeholes that all the real thieves are wearing, their power suit. I know a guy— colloquialism for privilege— it's in a handshake, hidden cash— white power + patriarchy passing bills back and forth.

Power relies on our isolation, our dependence, our last dollar. If we don't know a guy, we have to buy: food + medicine + booze + gas + infant formula + abortions + legal help + bail. We have to buy internet, and then search it obsessively for a beating heart.

But it's not just the gangsters and billionaires who know a guy. It is actually an age-old attitude of resilience. Everyone whose people have survived under conditions where power preferred them dead or submissive has survived because of the network of care fostered in service of survival. It is also a profoundly agricultural attitude— it is only since I started farming that I really began to understand the subversive reciprocity that is possible in community. This season I "knew a guy" who could drive my hogs to slaughter and a guy who could slaughter them and a guy who let me butcher by her side. I knew a guy with a basement full of grow lights when my greenhouse fell through. I knew a bunch of guys also trying to grow vegetables in a drought, each with helpful advice. I knew a guy with a pie. I knew a guy with manure, a guy with leaves, a guy with a post-hole digger. I knew an elder with herb knowledge, I knew a child with good ideas about the shape of a garden.

I know a self-taught HVAC expert; I know a guy who reads law all night for fun. I know three plus herbalists, four plus masseurs. I know a guy who really knows her history. I know 3+ DJs, 5+ drummers, at least a flash mob's worth of ass-shakers. Several well-read intersectional feminists. A lot of poets. My sister got in the truck the morning after the election and said "Well. I guess I've got to study law." Another friend said she's learning nursing. Another, midwifery and abortions. There is what you know and what you are ready to learn.

I woke to Trump-elect and did a quick inventory of what I've got:

How to can tomatoes— write poems— bake bread— large-item bike transport— wintertime ocean swim to confirm you are alive— vegetable tips— moon-howl— a recipe for dandelion wine— books for many occasions— amateur tarot— last-minute Seekonk campout— a buddy at the poetry slam— hangin out with your kid— amateur officiant at your queer love ceremony— white friend at your sucky confrontation with a racist dude— sure I will do the North-South trail with you and bring good snacks—

and that's just what's legal. Depending on who you are, I might be your guy deep, beyond the reach of what can be printed.

I want to practice saying that: "I'm your guy." And also asking are you my guy when I need something. Just in case obamacare crumbles and food stamps disappear and ICE shows up and the cops multiply; in case we encounter even more frequently the many faces under the knit mask. Two can play the favors game.

We can meet online, but we also have to be face to face and hold each others' babies. We have to meet at the soil, around a fire, around actual hot food reading poems.

This is all to say that Sidewalk Ends Farm is here for you— we know some stuff and have some stuff and know a lot of awesome people who also know and have a lot of caring skills + useful tools. One of the young women at our camp pointed out that spade forks make good riot tools— just sayin. HMU.





What is the document of August? It is the thick skin of my hands, the summer's lingering muscle— easily still I lift a bag of feed for the hens. Yes my body holds some proof of where it's been. There are a handful pictures, from when Sarah or Tess put down the harvest bin for a moment, wiped the mud off her hands and held up a dusty phone. Already the glisten on our midday faces in them is the filter of a past heat. There are 10 quarts of tomatoes put up in my kitchen; I know I picked them. But I have almost no poems to show for the warm months, and I am poet, so where did they go?

If poetry is how you see and hear and feel the world, and you're too tired write during the farming months, doesn't it feel like you aren't living half the time? Asks my friend who is an artist too. And it is my big sad thought, most summer nights, when language— so green and upright in my mind that morning in the field— has, by nightfall, withered to the imperatives eat + sleep. It was a drought summer, there were murders on the radio while I picked food. We raised three pigs for slaughter and slaughtered them, and yes I sometimes scratched their rumps and looked into their eyes. Eight young women were loosed on the farm at the peak of the heat to work and learn and giggle and eat. I had a sad love. The dahlias disrobed and flashed the whole neighborhood. Daily the raw material of another season poured in through every sense organ, filled me, and didn't leave except as sweat.

Most of the artists I know are exhausted— by labor, by motherhood, by illness, by school, by the efforts of staying alive and well in this racist country, by the efforts of love. It is one of my dear missions to encourage my friends to rest when they can; rest, the empty bed for the next crops. The word document comes from the Latin verb to teach. I believe that our art is a vital document of our time, a necessary part of our learning and teaching each other to live better and more gently. But it is impossible to document exhaustion; the fact I am writing now means that my labors have eased. Already the hard days fade to a proud nostalgia— it was a different season's girl who started picking at sunup and was still on her feet feeding the pigs at dusk. I admire her, and I don't hasten her return. 

My most rigorous writing teacher from college haunts me with a warning she offered as I handed her my last assignment— that if I wanted to be a writer, really write, then I would have to be a writer first, not a farmer. The farm was already in its nascent stages; she warned that the work would steal writing from me if I wasn't careful, that a real writer needs more time than farming would allow. And she's right— six years later, I have no book. But she's also wrong— I have hundreds of poems, most of them secret but beloved to me. I filled many diaries, sent many letters, wrote several bad songs. Winter comes; I bend again to document a whole years' worth of new poetic knowledge before the next thaw.

There's one other thought, beyond the I must that Rilke encourages every poet to listen for in herself, which I have heard and keeps me at it every winter. As long as I am farming, I have to accept that many of the poems I live won't get written. But that doesn't mean the document is lost— it can be had, the whole poem, in a moment. On my twelfth hour with aching feet when the call of a hawk draws my eye up to an architecture royal in the clouds, and an entire poem germinates, is watered, grows there. I can have the whole of it, the feast, in one beat. And then bend again to do with my knife what I came to do. I might not share on paper or out loud, but I do share it. It enters my face and my voice, I think it does.

There is the longed-for bed Audre Lorde pushes us towards in our work. Sometimes I find it. To stoke at once the fire and the fire, slake at once the thirst and the thirst. To ride again the pendulum through heat to the blessed dark.


 Last day of camp AKA most exhausted / rich / love-filled day of the season.

Last day of camp AKA most exhausted / rich / love-filled day of the season.

rainy morning drought reflections

** This is a letter that we emailed to our CSA in the spirit of gratitude and full discloure **

Dear CSA, we need to talk to you about the drought.

Now that the weather has turned, we can take a breath and begin to reflect on this growing season.

We, and all the other farmers in our area, have been manically tossing around this word - drought. "The drought!", I've heard myself say in response to all varieties of questions - how's the farm, what's new, how are you ? It has felt like the right answer, considering how all-consuming the climate has been for us this season.

We are fortunate to live in the northeast, where water is not usually high on our list of worries. But this season was a major reality check, and it feels important to share some reflections on what the drought meant for us at Sidewalk Ends with our CSA community, since you are the ones who really rode it out with us. I'm not writing to you to fish for reassurance and compliments, or to make excuses or complain about a hard time. As we flesh out our ethics and our methods as business owners and farmers, open communication and sharing of the truth sit high on the list of priorities.

So if you have a moment to spare, please read on! And know that we have a deep, unwavering appreciation for you, our CSA members, and the support that you continue to offer us.

What does it mean that there's been a drought?

Perhaps most importantly, scarce water means that the crops we transplant are stressed. Coming from the nursery where we water the little seedlings in their cells twice a day, the roots in the dry soil of the field have to struggle to find water. Stressed plants are much more susceptible to diseases and to being attacked by pests. "Chemical free" means that we don't spray our crops with pesticides to fend off the inevitable attacks. We rely on the health of our soil to create healthy crops, which are able to hold their own and pull through bug pressure. This year, we didn't see much resilience in our crops... in many cases (kale, basil, arugula, turnips, radishes) the bugs won.

The crops that we seed directly into the soil had a hard time as well.. it was tough to get the soil consistently moist enough for the length of time needed to get the seeds to germinate. Once they sprouted, again there was a battle to keep the beds hospitable for the tiny seedlings.

Little water means that fruiting crops made fewer, and smaller fruits. We haven't calculated our final yield numbers yet, but our arms could tell the difference: every bucket of green beans was half as heavy coming up from the field as last year. Cucumbers lived hard and died young. Beets had to be watered constantly. The summer squash seemed like just a visitor in our field, here today gone tomorrow.

The drought means expensive water bills and the new responsibility of diligent, hourly attention to the irrigation lines and their many glitches and spontaneous leaks. [It should be noted that we are however SO LUCKY to have municipal water, as many of our friends' farm wells ran dry this summer.]

This season shined a spotlight on our relative inexperience as farmers. We can't blame everything on the drought. Sure, all farmers and all farms suffered this season, but we know a few farms that didn't seem to take much of a hit, and those farms are a testament to their smart farmers.  They stayed alert and saw signs early enough to take action, and most importantly, they have spent years building resilient soil on their land.  Our goal is to build our knowledge and instincts, and our soil, to become as hardy as those farms! They are our heroes and our mentors.

We take our commitment to our CSA very seriously, there is no less trite way to put it. By accepting your money in the spring, we make a promise to share the harvest with you each week, and we do that earnestly - you are our priority. In past seasons our income has come almost perfectly in thirds - 33% CSA, 33% wholesale to restaurants, 33% farmers markets. All sales are down this year, some weeks we've brought just a few crates of food to our Thursday market, but the CSA has already paid and we are committed to parceling out food to you, first and foremost.  We considered buying in produce from other farms to fill out what we had to offer the CSA this year, a practice that some other CSAs employ, but to us, that isn't what a CSA is meant to be. CSA members sign up to ride out the season, feast or famine (hopefully never famine!), weather and human error all included. By joining the Sidewalk Ends CSA you support young farmers and avid learners, hopeful experimenters, sometimes overacheivers. We hope you went home happy most weeks this season, and enjoyed what bounty we could muster.

In what was, at moments, absurd hubris, we took this drought season as an opportunity to try a bunch of crazy new things! We bought piglets in the spring, cheerfully ignoring the fact that that meant we'd be occupied with slaughter and butchering and getting the pork sold in the heart of August mayhem. We designed and ran a week-long, intense farming camp for high school girls, also... in the heart of August mayhem. We added meat birds to the rotation of chores and responsibilities for the first time. And in that August mayhem, our fall carrots were seeded, then watered, then weeded, and then... fried by the sun. Re-seeded... and again, fried by the sun. Other mistakes were made. We literally just forgot to seed winter squash. The pigs, the chickens, and the camp all added to the life and vibrancy of our farm, and your support as CSA members (as well as many of your purchasing of meat) made it all possible.

Anyways, this is all to say, THANK YOU for being the community that believes in us come flea beetles or floods. Six seasons in, we are perpetually humbled by the vastness of knowledge required to be good stewards of the land and abundant producers of food. We haven't crunched all the numbers, but it looks like Sidewalk Ends Farm survived the drought of 2016— and we've already started spreading compost and manure on the field for next year. Here's to a nice cold winter (die pests, die!) and rain as regular as the mailman in 2017.

We have so many lessons and daydreams inspired by the challenges and joys of this season, and we hope to get them down on the blog on a more regular basis during the cold months. Stay tuned!