Sunday, September 29, 2013

A bittersweet goodbye

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

-Mary Oliver


I am leaving Mud Creek Farm CSA.  I am choosing to be with my partner, who lives four hours away in the Hudson Valley.

For several years now we've been doing the long-distance thing, taking Amtrak back and forth every few weeks across the state. It gets old! I am very much in love with this man. So I've decided to make the move to his town, and I truly believe that I'm leaving Mud Creek Farm in very capable hands. It will continue on without me, the Community Supported Agriculture spirit quite alive in the dedication of the members and the eager new farmers. 

This was the hardest decision I've ever made. The farm has been my everything for the past five years. I had found my calling, followed my passion, sweat and toiled-- and the community had embraced it, resulting in a hugely successful operation. Mud Creek Farm has been in almost every local publication, on TV, radio, etc. We were voted “Favorite Farm of the Finger Lakes” in Edible Magazine this year.

I have never been so satisfied by my job. So much gratitude from CSA members! What a feeling to be feeding hundreds of families, many of whom I know well after years of nourishing them. I've seen babies grow from pregnant mamas into curious kids, wandering around looking wide-eyed at flowers and bugs and tomatoes. I've seen people stumble awkwardly onto the farm in early spring, and then leave strong and glowing with health at the end of the summer, raving about kale and potato soup.

Playing the role of “Farmer Erin” had become my primary identity, and I embraced it and loved it. What an amazing gift to be able to do something I enjoy that people appreciate so much. I truly feel that farming is in my blood, that growing food is something I need to do.

As I grew the CSA from 80 members to 400, I needed helpers. The first few years we relied solely on volunteers, then I hired full-time interns, young folks who wanted to learn how to farm. This year I hired an assistant manager, Ruth, and a greenhouse manager, Jonny. The crew was absolutely amazing this summer. I left for two weeks in August, and they hardly missed a beat. 

When I asked the crew mid-summer if anyone wanted to return next season to work for Mud Creek Farm, three of them said YES! Ruth, Jonny, and Josh. As I anticipated my absence next year, I started thinking about what a great team they would make. 

Ruth has 5+ farming experience under her belt, and her strengths lay in field operations, tractors, and spirit. She worked for Peacework Farm, one of the very first CSAs in the area. She was raised on an organic farm in Vermont, and her dad runs a winter-storage vegetable operation. She is an incredible person. It's kind of nice, too, that the business will stay woman-run.  She's ready for it.

Jonny managed his own small CSA last year, and has leadership and organizational skills, and a great attention to detail. He will be managing the greenhouse transplant production, and harvest/washing of produce. His dedication to CSA member satisfaction will ensure that the quality of the produce and the experience remains the same great Mud Creek style!

Josh grew up with a hammer in his hand. He knows how to work hard, has 8+ years experience in construction, and he's decided farming is his true path now. He learns quickly, and because of his focus and determination, he's become quite skilled at tractor cultivation. We're very lucky to have him.

All three of these guys have an amazing work ethic and devotion to the CSA's mission. As much as it saddens me that I don't get to work with them anymore, they are totally capable of running the farm without me. They have more than earned my confidence, and proven again and again that they have what it takes.

I've spent the summer training them in on every detail of the operation, working closely with them sometimes, and sometimes just letting them learn lessons on their own. I've tried to be the best mentor I could be, guiding them into their own confidence on tasks. Next year I will be a phone call away if they need anything. But I feel like they are ready to take it and run with it.

One challenge is that this shift in management coincides with moving the farm location to new land.  (See the last blog post for details)  Sure, it will be a lot of work to break in new fields, move sheds, water lines, fences, etc. But this might give them a chance to claim the project as their own, clean-slate. To put their hearts into the physical building-up of the farm, like I did. They have a more ideal land situation than I ever had-- a 5-year lease with long-term potential, and they might even get a pond and a pole barn, things I only dreamed of!

Sure, the farm's going to change. The farmers' unique strengths and personalities affect everything about a farm. But while Mud Creek's farmers are in charge of all the planning, growing, and harvesting, the real heart of the CSA organism is the members. Not only do they support the farm financially, but they become a real type of community, one with its own strengths and personalities.

It is my hope that the members of Mud Creek Farm CSA continue to be the active and supportive heart of the farm that they have been for these past five years.

Ruth, Jonny, and Josh are all committed to keeping the mission of Mud Creek Farm alive – to provide the highest quality vegetables to CSA members, produced as sustainably as possible. 

They will carry on nourishing people in the community, both physically through delicious healthy produce, and soulfully, through a positive and hands-on experience of nature, sustainability, and abundance.  


And I will get to venture into the unknown, this time without a 5-year business plan. 

I will really value the friendships I've made with CSA members over the years, and I'll miss so many people!  I hope to sustain these connections, even from afar.  I will try to keep up the blog.  Come visit me when you're in the eastern part of the state!  I hope to visit the "new" Mud Creek Farm often, of course, too.

But during this sabbatical from farming I'll get to explore other sides of me, besides being "Farmer Erin".  I know that growing food will always be a part of my life, but now I get to round out my experience a bit, adding new roles of family, domesticity, music, activism, maybe even writing a book... Who knows?

 The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On this harvest moon...

September... the peak of summer's bounty.

The full moon closest to the autumn equinox is known as the "Harvest Moon" because its light has traditionally helped farmers gather their abundant harvest into the night.

There is that sad moment you know that summer is slipping into fall.  That tragically beautiful hour that you feel winter's chill creep in sometime in the early evening one night, and the next morning you realize that all the plants in the field feel it too.  The grand race to ripen before the cruel frost replaces summer's kind warmth.  Even the grasshoppers, the butterflies, and the mourning doves know it.  Even the fungus on the squash leaves, the disease on the tomatoes.  Everything alive quickens its pace, soaking up every ounce of a sunny day, holding on through the chilly nights, the inevitable slowing toward winter.  Last chance, its now or never.  And now: it's tomatoes!


We pick as fast as possible.  The bins of food we harvest get heavier and heavier.  September makes my back ache. 

We strategize.  We pick almost every day now.

We haul loaded wagons of veggies in the from the fields.


We wash in tubs of cold water that make our fingers numb.

The Native Americans have called this time the "Corn Moon" as well, so I guess it's appropriate that we had such a great run of sweet corn this month!  We were able to give a solid two weeks of delicious organic ears of sweet corn to our CSA members, and even have a little "bonus" pick this week too.  So tasty!  I like to snack on it raw in the fields of course.


 As I cultivated the fall lettuce, carrots, and beets, I had an almost bittersweet feeling that it was the last time we'd be doing it this season!  Oh, how I do love when the soil is at the right moisture, and it just crumbles and flows through the cultivators.  Like the satisfaction of brushing your hair, or maybe a big Zen garden, full of carrots and sunlight and life.

The bittersweet feeling of fall is that much more poignant right now because we are leaving these fields.  Five years of growing vegetables and flowers and cover crops on this soil.  Five summers of plowing, planting, weeding, irrigating, and harvesting.  We will mourn for the loss of this place and be grateful for the years we spent there.  But saying goodbye to things is natural, just like the frost takes the summer crops back every year, and the snow blankets the land, clearing the slate for next year.

But the green and the warmth always comes back in the spring!

And we've found a new place to farm!  Just five minutes up the hill.  A very special place.

We will be right down the road from Ganondagon, the historic site of a flourishing Native American community.  I believe this is a really good sign, because the Native Americans cultivated lots of corn and other crops to sustain themselves, possibly in the very fields we will be working!  We are also right around the corner from The Apple Farm, a great U-Pick family operation, stop by for hot cider and donuts this fall!  Our new landlord has been a CSA member for years, and is really wonderful!  What amazing luck.

The soil on our new fields is a rich silt loam, with small rolling hills throughout.  It is more quiet and surrounded by more farms than developments.  It will take a lot of work to move the farm, and we hope to get a lot done this fall.  Can't wait to get started.

A new beginning.  We will be asking for help!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bounty and Weeds

Hi folks, Farmer Ruth here.  We've been enjoying some beautiful weather at the farm lately.  The intense heat has broken, so all the harvesting has been very pleasant.  Last Thursday was absolutely perfect, it rained all morning so harvest went nicely and we didn't have to worry about wilting, and then it became sunny and beautiful for distribution!  That never happens!  I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop, but we are all enjoying it. 

(She's enjoying it too)

As the season has gone on, I've been running more distributions, and I have to say, it's one of my favorite parts of the week.  After all the hard work, its great to see all of that bounty laid out on the table, and to hand it to people who are just as enthusiastic about vegetables as I am.

I love talking recipes with people, there are so many different great ideas in the member pool that I'm starting to think we should have a Mud Creek Cookbook.  

I also love seeing all the little kids at the farm, and watching parents use every opportunity to teach, whether it be counting cucumbers, reading signs, weighing out two pounds of roots, or knowing what a kohlrabi is (consensus is that it's an alien head).  Its also great to see so many kids excited to go pick vegetables in the you-pick garden.  I know for a fact that veggies taste way better when you get to pick them yourself!

The pick-your-own garden has been looking a little weedy lately,  and this Friday was a little rainy; perfect time to weed.  Jonny, Josh, Betsy and I all spent most of the day pulling weeds, and it made me feel so much better.  It's immensely satisfying to make it beautiful out there for people to enjoy what we get to enjoy every day.  And, as it turns out, Jonny's pigs love purslane, which is the particular weed choking most of the you-pick section.  I love it too, and I suppose its really only a weed when it's growing where you don't want it.  

Pig food!
We did keep one weed, though.  It's our pet amaranth.  Erin grew amaranth as an experiment a few years ago, and now they pop up here and there.  It looks like a tree growing out of the beans, and it's so big and impressive, we would hate to pull it up. (Besides, if we did pull it up it would probably take about 6 bean plants with it.)  Betsy calls it "Queen of the Weeds."

Weeding the you-pick garden the day after a fantastic distribution day reminds me why I want to farm this way.  I love the connectedness of this little oasis we've created.  Thursday in the distribution shed, I looked out in the parking lot and saw lots of cars, but no one was around.  I looked out in the field, and there they all were, talking, picking, laughing, little kids running around and asking questions.  One of the members was walking back towards me, her arms full of bright flowers and beans.  "I just have to tell you," she said, "it's so wonderful out there."  She looked the way I feel after a good day; tired, happy, and fulfilled.  Why would I possibly want to farm any other way?  I get to feed people food.  But I also get to feed people a field of flowers to stand in, where children are laughing, and no one is telling you they need that progress report and you can just stand there, eat a bean or two, smell the lemon basil, and listen to the birds.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sweat, garlic, and pigs

Mid-July means harvest harvest harvest, sweat sweat sweat!
 As more of the fruits of our labor ripen, we bend our backs to bring them in from the field.  

Bee stings, horse flies, mosquitoes, gnats, all sorts of insects bother us while we harvest.  We concentrate on performing the task at hand, as the sun beams its brutal rays down on us.

Sweat soaks our shirts, and lately I've been enjoying a peculiar "waterfall" experience happening on my face, starting at around 8am, and ending whenever I decide we should stop working to avoid collapse.  I place zucchinis into bins, watching drops of sweat fall from my brow fall onto them, pre-salting people's dinners!  I decide to stop when I can't do two simple things very well:  catch flying zucchinis tossed at me, and keep count.  The heat turns your brain into mush.

I've been appreciating the existence of facial hair -- eyebrows exist to keep sweat from running right into your eyes.  My female version of a mustache and beard hold beads of sweat as well, and I struggle to find a clean place on my shirt to wipe my face, something not already covered in dirt and sweat.  This must be detoxifying, right?

At  least we've been staying well-fed!  We have been blessed with a few kind CSA members and neighbors who've brought us lunch, so that when we collapse onto the picnic tables, we have some kind of calories to power us through another afternoon of work.

We decided to harvest our garlic in the hottest weather yet - over ninety and SUPER muggy.

We grew a record number of garlic bulbs this year -- over 7,000!  We dug them with a chisel plow, to save our backs (last year we used digging forks by hand!)... working smarter, not harder.

Another smart thing we did was clean and bunch them in the shade.

Even the dog got exhausted!


Luckily, we had the help of a few volunteers, and that made it go a bit faster.

We took the bunches of garlic to Jack's barn loft to hang.

Boy, it looks nice up there!  Now we wait 2 or 3 weeks or so until the garlic "cures", or dries down.  We have put a bunch of box fans up there to speed the drying process.

Also, Jonny got his pigs!  They are in the far back field, next to where we just pulled the garlic.  They are really cute, and look really happy in their jungle of weeds.  And they're growing fast!