Document

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.

L

 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!

 

april 4th

April 4th— it snowed all day. In defiance I took the electric blanket off my bed. It is spring, damn it, I refuse to keep preheating sleep.

A cheerful spate of seedings was pencilled into the calendar for this week— the first spring greens— but that dirt is four inches under now. False spring is close to the feeling of heartbreak. I want to take it out on my old lovers— I knew warmth, last week, my body was bare to the sky— tonight the space heater breathes on my calves like a pet. I am not comforted by it. I want it to die.

Is it possible to turn thirty in New England and ever fully trust the sun? (I am asking, by extension, about love.) My friend— a Mainer— is in the midst of a hurt. It is an instance of her own golden rule overlapping only partly with the golden rule of someone to whom she is vulnerable. We walk in the park and she tells me she wishes she could have seen it coming. And isn't that our constant refrain, with the peas just up and now snow? With the seedlings shivering in the greenhouse while the heater breathes weakly from the corner.

Actually I am learning exactly what I need in this business, which is to give up on augery. There are lots of hot days every year, and most of them happen when I think they are supposed to. But chaos is only increasing— Janis Joplin's advice comes to mind— "if you have it today you don't wear it tomorrow, man."


Today I had snow and so an hour at my desk. Tomorrow, maybe, some sun for the seedlings. Next week, if we're lucky, soft turned dirt.

-lbl

what's up our (many-layered, extra bundled) sleeves

It's fully winter in our little city, and this weekend my robot phone tells me it's supposed to dip well below zero while we're huddled in our beds. I don't feel too chilled - Laura and I have been sitting down for a few hours each week and parallel playing on our computers to tick away at our schemes for the upcoming season, and there's no part of my week that's more satisfying!

winter has had it's ups and downs already. the farm truck has been in the shop for more visits than we'd prefer. the roof to our coolbot blew off in a particularly aggressive snowstorm. it's been dark. but many muffins have been baked. we've vacationed and staycationed. Mabel is finally catching on to the idea of the morning snooze. we've made friends at the dog park. we've ordered all of our seeds from Fedco and Johnnys Seeds, and more from our friends at Small State Seeds. we inventoried the seed we managed to save from our plants this past season, and our bounty was encouraging. we engaged in a NOFA/RI sponsored mentorship w farmer and soil-health enthusiast, Derek of Brix Bounty Farm, and we came out of it with a very fully developed action plan to bring our soil nutrients up to their ideal levels. our practices are more and more reflecting our values as farmers and as stewards of the land, and that feels good.

we've made charts. we've made lists. we've set up meetings, and left many voicemails. we're zooming in on what makes sense for us, where we are in our evolution. winter is the time when Sidewalk Ends is more Business than Farm, and it's a funny hat for each of us to wear, but it pays off. we're adding an East Side pickup for our CSA at the Temple Beth-El this season. we're well on our way to getting our veggies into some new and new-to-us restaurants in Providence. we're dreaming of piglets. we're scheming with some Brown students to build chicken tractors for meat birds. we said goodbye to our old layers and are cleaning out the coop for new ladies in the spring. 

we're thinking hard about our labor force and what shapes it will take in each phase of the season. soliciting workshares for all sorts of tasks. welcoming friends with plans of being in our world for stretches of time. Laura has dreamed up a week long immersive farming camp for young women of Providence, and we're reaching into all the corners of our networks to try to make it happen (please let us know if you have experiences to share with organizing a camp/grant writing/logistical wizardry!). 

though the sentiments may be clichéd, we mean it when we say that we can't wait to grow vegetables for you this season. we're sincere in our expressions of gratitude for your support. it couldn't be more true that we love being your farmers.

stay toasty and well fed... spring is just around the corner.

-s