As expected, small towns just don't have as much going on. I'm used to the city, having lived the last 4 years in Minneapolis, and have a tendency to think there is always something to do somewhere if I just look hard enough. At the very least a coffee shop, Hard Times Cafe, or a bar will be open for hanging out. It's not like that here in a county of 15,000. We just don't have the in yet to all the things happening out there, because I know they exist. So, for that reason we spend a lot of time at the farm entertaining ourselves. Saturday night resulted in the very delicious entertainment of a campfire and s'mores. We dug a new fire pit out in the middle of the field (since the last one was sitting under pine trees and among dead pine needles) and created small flower beds made out of cinder blocks. We were lucky to have a rainless night Saturday so it seemed like a perfect thing to do. Josh got the fire started with the contents of our small recycling bag and eventually the moisture steamed out of the logs until they were burning too. I'm quite sure s'mores are god's gift to the world, just saying. Here's a look at our foggy bonfire. Oh, and lunch.
Another thing to get used to, and I've talked about this before: the rain! On Sunday we did laundry and Sunday afternoon it rained. Our clothes never get entirely clean so in reality we put our clothes into a machine, it dampens them, and then they take up space in our cabin and kitchen, basking in the moist air.
Harvesting salad greens
This morning started with a 6am alarm clock and a 6:40 accidental wake up time. This was different than normal. While usually we get up at the oh so lazy hour of 7am, on Tuesdays and Saturdays from now on we will be getting up at 6am (or the last possible minute to get dressed, eat, and get to work). On days like these it's good to get any amount of sleep possible because once we got to the barn we were loading the truck with wood baskets, laundry hampers, knives, and tools too take over to the 1st harvest crop: salad greens. We worked in pairs on opposite sides of the row and met in the middle, delicately slicing the petite leaves of red russian kale, mustard, and arugula. Polly, speedy as always, did nearly half the bed while the other four of us mowed down the rest. They call her The Pollinator for a reason. Within a half hour we filled 4 hampers, enough to fill 48 bags, but we weren't able to marvel in our feat for long, it was on to the next crop. As we were tossed and turned in the truck bed on the way up the hill, the fog held on to the tree tops and distant mountains. The gardens squished under our boots as we walked up and down the aisles trying to pick out the most worthy heads of lettuce and keep count of how many we'd picked- not such an easy task. 144 lettuces, 144 bok choys, lots of radishes, and a guestimated amount of green onions. The onions were tedious because once pulled up they needed to have the outer skin of the bulb peeled off. So after the madness of the previous picking we were all able to huddle around the onions pealing, stacking, and chit chatting.
It was then that we returned to the CSA barn and got down to business. Two CSA members showed up to work their required hours and deliver bags to the drop off sites. A part-time employee and excellent organizer, Kim, had us all whipped into shape washing, weighing, and bagging vegetables- and again counting. I need to work on that. It's no wonder the vast majority of members ask for half shares. In each was 3 heads of lettuce, 3 bok choys, a big bag of salad greens, a handful of radishes, and a hand full of scallions. Full shares got double of that. Better have a chicken coop full of children to get that finished. Still, it's good stuff so for those who like salad, it will be like heaven, especially after a long winter of grocery store lettuce. The great thing about working on the farm is getting the excess, and we started to eat them on the job. Radish snacks? Not quite peanut butter, but it'll do.
Produce a Plenty
And it was quiet again. After lunch it was down to three of us and with the impending rain we found things to do away from the gardens. The most essential but frustrating: learning how to drive manual transmission. To have a true, legitimate farm, it's required to have old beater trucks, many of which we have here, and because they are old they are stick shift. We both killed the trucks multiple times and gave everyone a good jolt but it was a crucial step in becoming more useful around here. We ended at 4pm as the rain made its way back to our mountain and later I took a shower as the rain fell just feet away. A bazaar, fantastic experience.
Wearing the hot pants
Rain since Friday and no sign of stopping for a few days. Just have to remember that we're going to miss this in July. Well, on to bed. It's almost 10:30! (How standards change)
I've never lived in the mountains. I've never even lived anywhere with hills. That is why everything here seems so exciting. On Thursday morning it was cool and damp and when I walked out of the cabin I realized I was standing in a cloud. Fog had settled into our little section of the mountains and lay thick enough that we could see it moving by. We walked to work and with each step the road revealed itself to us little by little. The weather is just as strange. It seems to have fallen into a pattern. Monday and Tuesday are almost guaranteed to be cold and/or wet, generally uncomfortable, Wednesday is a toss-up, while Thursday and Friday are generally warm and sunny (aside from this week). And guess what the forecast is for the next two days? Rain and highs in the 60s. Gotta respect consistency. And as far as farming goes, you can't get much better than a weekly rain. We will see how it goes over the rest of the summer. Here are some photos from the morning:
And for your viewing pleasure, I have a few pictures from a short ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway. On Saturday, after taking a slow morning, we decided to drive to Mabry Mill, an old mill restored to its picturesque glory. In the 1860s a man and his wife moved there and somehow, by the grace of god, the man built a mill for grinding corn. It's hard to comprehend how people did things back then without the use of trucks, machines, and motorized tools. Everything must have been a chore. Of course, while we were there, the mill closed, just as everything else in this area, so we never actually saw the inside of the mill. Such is life in rural everywhere. On the way, we stopped at a Rock Castle Gorge overlook. It was pretty incredible. Take a look:
This was our last two full day weekend. Starting this week, we will be getting up at 7 am on Tuesdays and Saturdays to harvest for the CSA. Saturday will end at 12 and naps will begin at 12:15. So long slow morning, so long.
There are about 9 people that live and/or work on this farm. Here are a few of the quieter folks around.
View from the shower
I hate to say it but my clothes have reached a degree of filth previously unknown to me in my 23 years. Despite washing my work jeans weekly, they are now permanently stained with dirt. In fact, while drying on the line they had a faded stripe of light brown down each leg and the ends of the legs have changed color all together. Of course, I have other clothes for the evenings and a shower to use so I don't let the filth last. It's nice however to have clothes that can get anything on them without a care- grease, mud, cleaners, manure...
One of the compost piles
Yes, manure. The best way to make rich compost is to use animal excrement combined with hay and let it sit for a long time. To assist the breakdown process you must turn the compost every couple of months or so depending on the size of the pile. And that's what we did on Friday. Polly brought in the backhoe which has a bulldozer implement. She picked up huge loads of manure and moved it a few feet away to create a new pile. Our job was to use fork hoes to even out each layer of manure and cover it in hay. As the pile got larger the new loads became less stable on top and, as you can guess, large blobs would come rolling down, right onto our boots. So now there is manure on my work clothes too. It was a fast process so once it ended we'd hardly had time to think about it. The best part about it all was the fact that we were soon going to take a welcomed break and go to a tea party. No, not the political kind, it's doubtful those happen around here. One of Polly's friends has people over every other Friday for tea, snacks, and conversation. So Polly, Josh, and I had been working with manure and Ann had been working with the tractor. In other words, shit and grease...and tea. They still let us in, and even let us sit in the nice dining room. The woman raises chickens, rabbits, and ducks and gave us eggs. The duck eggs are huge!
Attempting the wonderful
Other than forking cow poo, we did a LOT of other things this week. Raked the irrigation pond (aka muckraking), replaced hoe blades, vacuumed the office, thrashed and planted oats, sharpened knives, moved the brush, transplanted seedlings, planted geraniums and begonia cuttings, cleaned the outdoor shower, planted leeks, scallions, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, weeded the radishes, and the salad mix, cut branches off a tree, cut barbed wire, and set up sprinklers. It's hard to list all of that. Doing so much really makes the week fly by. At night we can hardly do more than the most basic tasks. It's a successful night if we can take showers, use the internet, and do laundry. One night we showered, used the internet, popped popcorn, and watched a movie. That was huge.
Floyd on a Friday night
As for this weekend, we have a consensus: Floyd > Roanoke. For a change of scene, Josh and I decided to drive to Roanoke to see a movie. When we got there we were both hungry and couldn't find a decent place that wasn't too fancy or closed. After driving up and down the same streets we realized this place was not very cool. We finally found a Mexican restaurant and did what anyone would do in a lame town: get drunk and sing really loudly all the way home. We didn't even go to the movie. Oh well. Favorite song right now: Sweet Tooth- Dave Rawlings Machine. Look it up!
One would think that living in rural Virginia would mean monotony and weeks of isolation, aside from the occasional crazy redneck out shooting squirrels. Well this is wrong. I know we've only been here two weeks but we really haven't been bored nor have things been monotonous. Nor are there squirrels, oddly enough. (What do the rednecks shoot?)
First of all, like I've mentioned before, the weather is absurdly unpredictable. Monday was chilly but sunny and eventually I was down to a sweatshirt. Tuesday, however, was entirely different. We woke to temperatures in the 30s (both inside our cabin and out), put on a few layers and headed to work. By 11am it was still freezing, cloudy, and windy and beginning to rain. At lunch I made it up to 4 layers and long underwear. Naturally the sun came out later. Wednesday was very cold too. We spent a good part of the morning working with Ron and Kevin (one of Ron's workers) to help them set up a new tractor sprayer. This meant frozen hands dealing with nearly frozen water. Later it warmed up but it was slow-coming. Thursday was much nicer and Friday was downright hot. It supposedly never gets above 90 here so I can at least count on that. The good thing about living at your job is that you can go home and change at lunch if necessary. So far, that's been needed.
Today and last night have been the most eventful, however. Last night we made our way into town and ate at a restaurant with live music. Afterward we wandered the street (singular). With the livable temperatures come the lively people. Rather than everyone cramming into the Country Store's Jamboree, people hung out on the street and formed pick-up bluegrass bands. One had a woman singing "Keep on the Sunny Side of Life". I know that's an old song but I can't help but think of "O Brother Where Art Thou". This is no sleepy town, perhaps because of the population. This town is filled with old hippies (and their tie-dye), new hippies (and their tye-dye), young farmers, old farmers, hicks, and everything in between. It helps that everyone knows at least someone in every circle so it's easy to get people together. We still haven't tried out flatfooting but maybe someday. It'll take a few beers though.
Sunset in the Blue Hills
Today, after having a welcomed slow morning, we headed to visit a friend from the farm and drop off some eggs for her. She gave us a tour of her cute little house and garden and then we went to visit some people next door we had met before. They both also work on farms in the area. We eventually made it into town for sandwiches and an outdoor concert. The music was good and old timey and the breeze was nice. Another friend was there so we talked with him for a while. Already exhausted from social overdose, we headed to the next activity. The farm next door (as in through the woods and up a hill) had a birthday party and invited everyone they knew and didn't know. Josh and I have been talking about trying to meet everyone in the community and learning their different trades and I think we met them all tonight. There was a toolmaker, a brewer, a fruit grower, vegetable farmers, chicken farmers, cattle farmers, farmers farmers. It was a great bunch. There were also a few great dogs lying around which was probably the best part. The night ended with a bonfire and some yodeling. Can you top that?
I apprenticed on a farm in southwest Virginia from April-October 2010. This blog contains all the anecdotes and observations from that adventure.
See more of my photos here