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!