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Waltham Fields Community Farm (incorporated as Community Farms Outreach, Inc.) is a nonprofit farming organization focusing on sustainable food production, fresh food assistance, and on-farm education. For more information about Waltham Fields check out our website!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Notes from the Field: Balance

The solstice is all about extremes: light and dark, summer and winter, growth and hibernation. The equinox, which passed last week, is a completely different creature -- especially, I think, if you happen to be a vegetable farmer. In spring and fall, daylight on the equinox is the equal of dark; these are the balance points on what the New England nature writer Hal Borland called "the wheel of the year", and each holds the memory of the season that is ending as well as the seeds of the one to come. In spring, the muddy equinox often comes with reddening maples, yellowing willows, the call of a red-winged blackbird along the river. While most people venture outside for the first time in a while and rejoice that winter is giving way to spring, we farmers have more mixed feelings about that moment in the year. For us, the rest, peace, and potential of the winter becomes reality, anxiety, urgency, and unpredictability in the spring; while we are also glad for the lengthening daylight and the melting snow, the spring equinox is a clarion call to action that shakes us from our dreamy winter state.

The autumn equinox is similar for us. Even though it comes as New England becomes its most beautiful self for a short time, many people feel a little melancholy at the beginning of autumn; it signals the turning from summer's ease to the daily challenges of winter. Even the call of the geese heading south can sound lonely as the sunsets creep earlier and the nights bring a familiar chill. On the farm, though, that sense of melancholy is balanced by the awareness of fruition and completion, the knowledge that the coming of autumn marks the turning point for us from frenetic energy to a more measured pace, a chance to slow down, sum up, and take stock of the results of the season's work.

There's still plenty to do on the farm. We're in the middle of a long, slow sweet potato harvest, as well as a big cover cropping push, which is made much easier this year by the biodegradable plastic we used under many crops -- it can be turned in with the tractor instead of pulled out by hand, so it is a huge time and labor saver as well as being MUCH less plastic in the landfill. Our harvests continue five days a week until the end of October, but now they are interspersed with the end of the season work -- cleaning up, pulling stakes, mowing and disking and seeding cover crop, and watching the land slowly return to what I like to think of as its "Big Sky" winter look. We know that our good friend and work sharer Naomi's freezer is getting full of her preserved vegetables from the farm and her own garden -- so bring on the fall.

This has been a funny growing season, for us as well as for some other growers. We were fortunate to avoid the worst of the rain from Hurricane Irene and the other wicked late-summer storms, but we got our fair share of water nonetheless, and it had an impact on us. A shortened tomato, okra, and melon season, less pepper ripening and hot pepper production, washed-out fertility that means many crops have seemed to come to a standstill in the fields -- all of these are results of cool weather and lots of rain. As we've said before, this unpredictable weather seems to be the new normal, something that we vegetable growers are going to have to learn to live with over the next ten or twenty years. Resilience, adaptability, and flexibility in the face of failure seem to be becoming some of the most important traits of a successful farm operation. The equinox, that balance point, often brings us a sense of enduring gratitude, even when we can still feel the season's work in our bones and our backs.

There is also the enduring lesson that fruition is a close relative of decay, that all we do breaks down and passes away -- sometimes in rich leaf mold, sometimes in smelly rotten pepper and tomatoes. The harvest is close to the compost pile. The end is sown with the seed. We grieve as we celebrate, reap as we mourn, all in the balancing season.

Enjoy the harvest,

-Amanda, Andy, Erinn, Dan, Larisa and Lauren

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