Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Dad and Degrees

Monday September 10, 2012

I'm flying up to Seattle on an evening flight so that early tomorrow morning Kymbrelee and Arycia can pick me up to go see my Dad and Mom in B.C.

My Dad - my favorite and only Dad. My Dad who has always been a strong man in my life - in fact - THE strong man until he had to share that spot with my husband - is sick. Very sick. This is my fifth trip up there this year.

As i settled into the familiar blue and tan seat I was musing about how I wished the farm didn't tie us down so much because I wished I could go spend time with them more often. But in the same breath I realized that there were lots of people who don't have the luxury that I have had of being able to "pop" up to BC as often as I have this year. So I must be so grateful for the blessings I have!

That began a tumbled bouquet of thoughts about how thankful I was for a husband who lets me make his load much heavier so I can go see my Dad... Amazing kids who each step up to the task of covering duties for me... And in the mix came up thoughts of our farm family who love and care enough to shoulder a bit more of the load so I can go on a moment's notice. Come to think of it, I never did answer Jonathan's question about the cabbage. He sat waiting for so long. But I know when I text him in the morning he'll probably say , "no problem I saw you were busy so I figured it out." Earlier today when I told Azul I was thinking of leaving tonight - her response was in keeping with who she is - "I think we'll be OK Janice, you better go." The thoughts continued to tumble. I thought of Roberto's impromptu sales pitch to Grandpa Felix today convincing him to purchase the very last farm sweatshirt and Michelle's excitement about just watching "Forks over Knives" and Joanne's little comedy act about mice who get away with just eating the peanut butter. Then there's Jesus who always says "Mrs Janice you need to go see your Daddy. Tell him I love him."

As those warm thoughts relaxed me I opened up Southwest's famous Spirit magazine. My eyes fell on some fascinating thoughts on page 36. "A November 2011 study by Facebook and the university of Milan, which mined data from the social media site's 721 million active users, found that the number of intermediate links between two strangers - better known as degrees of separation - is, at 4.74... When considering another person in the world, on average, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend."

And that began a whole new tumble of thoughts. And recurrent amongst them all was that I am keenly grateful we get to grow food for people who care enough to try to get even closer than 4.74 degrees to their food! That led to thinking about our upcoming FarmDay and how fun it's going to meet "our people" ....

And that landed me back on a spot somewhere near where I'd begun ...
I thought of how much my Dad would love it if only he would be well enough that we could fly him down for our FarmDay. He doesn't ever know strangers so he'd be in a farm full of instant friends. And oh the great conversations he would have. Of course I know in my heart of hearts that he won't be well enough - and that's not an easy thought.

But then I realize that in a larger part than I realize, I owe my passion to be connected to the people who eat our food, to my Dad and his insatiable love for people and connections. If there was a way, my Dad would make sure that there were never any degrees between him and anyone - ever. And that thought reminded me of the land my Dad and we his children and grandchildren look forward to. And truly there won't be degrees of separation there.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Our team

I actually wrote this in September of 2011 and that's when it should have been posted... But every once in awhile life catches you on the side and whips you along and it takes so much focus just to keep up and make each day count that the extras don't always fit in... So sadly, this tribute to our team didn't make it onto the pages of our blog when it was supposed to. But here it is now, a year later when we are again harvesting spaghetti squash. Hopefully you can step back in time and "be right there" with us at last fall's harvest...

Earlier this year we were flying to Albuquerque on business. The airport was jammed with people going home from a big game. A couple of guys ahead of me in the security line were swaggering along bragging about "how great we did". Turned out they'd flown all the way from New York to watch their team play. As I overheard them reliving all the great plays of the game I began to ponder.

I find it a little ironic that these
celebrated sports stars get such admiration, applause, and enormous paychecks. I'm trying to think what real effective good these famous sports stars contribute to our society. I mean honestly, if they werent playing their games - could we continue to function as a society? We sure could. And since I am not coming up with any ideas on what lasting value their feats accomplish - let me tell you about our team.

A few weeks ago we harvested over 500 bushels - that's over seven tons - of Spaghetti Squash in one day. Of course for an automated factory farm that wouldn't be any great feat. But our team consisted of 3 guys who did it all by hand. Translate that - 3 guys got 15,000 pounds of spaghetti squash off the field and into the cooler in one day. I want to dare any sports star - or you for that matter - to work all day in the field picking, boxing, and lugging that much weight around in the scorching sun. You think that football players work hard - hmph - you oughta see our team! First off football games don't last all day and during the game the players seem to spend half the game either huddling or standing around watching the other team huddle. Our team doesn't have time to huddle - they know the urgency of getting the squash out of the field and into the warehouse. And they are constantly bending, lifting, throwing, catching, hoisting, and carrying to meet that goal.

And if you think sports stars are coordinated - well I wish you could see our team! It is spectacular to watch them. They toss those squash so fast that no one dares to miss a beat. And in the same instant that you catch one squash you've got to be carefully putting it in the box while you watch for the next squash shooting your way. And there is no pausing in the pace.
Then there's the guy who tosses the bushel boxes up to the other guy on the Gator. Yeah they just toss them on. Ha! Imagine keeping up a rapid pace of tossing 30 pound boxes through the air. Or how about the catcher - he has to catch them, set them down squarely on the pallet, and be poised to catch the next box. All in one blink. I'm sure it would only take one thunck of a box landing in my arms to flip me off the side of the Gator.

But they do it. And they keep up the pace all day. There aren't any cheerleaders dancing in the sun with them. Not one of them has ever made it into sports illustrated. And, trust me, no one on this team gets super sized paychecks.

This is the real stuff of life. These are the real heroes who are growing and harvesting real food - substantial sustainable food. Food that has a story fraught with the commitment and sacrifices that our teammembers made to help get it to our tables.

So the next time you hack open a spaghetti squash or crunch into one of our crisp cucumbers or get squirted by our juicy tomatoes - remember that you too have bragging rights. By choosing our food, every bite you take cheers us on!

On behalf of the team - Thanks for joining us on this productive
journey to better health.

Hungry for Change


Recently we watched a great documentary called "Hungry for Change". It is definitely a worthwhile watch. It reminded us again that the effort to grow fresh sustainable food that carries its flavor right onto your plate is definitely worth it.

The documentary outlined the change that has taken place in North America over the years. Wow what changes there have been! And certainly not for the better.

But the good news is that now that people have experienced first hand the devastating effects of industrialized agriculture -- change has been happening again. This time it's a good change. A change that is sweeping into communities across North America. And it's a change that makes us recognize and deepky appreciate the life changing value of real food grown by people who care.

If you get a chance watch the movie - I think you'll be glad you did. And like me, it may deepen your resolve to be Hungry for the Changes that make our lives and the lives of our neighbors better.

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Location:Bell Ranch Rd,Willcox,United States

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stray Sunflowers




Late yesterday afternoon as I walked past the Zucchini patch on my way home my thoughts jumped around as fast as the grasshoppers on the dirt in front of me. It seemed like at the same time that I was gratefully thinking about my wonderful plight of being married to a farmer and living in such a quiet place I was looking at the zucchini and wondering how soon it would start harvesting and thinking that it'd be great to eat supper on the lawn. Pretty unrelated and random eh?
As I walked through the trees into our yard I suddenly spotted two beautiful dwarf sunflowers tucked in beside a bushel basket that I'd left laying on the rocks from weeding a rose bed at least a month ago. It seemed like they had literally popped up out of nowhere - in an instant. Intellectually I know it wasn't instant - because instant and plants dont really belong in the same wagon. It just seemed that way. Their brilliant and seemingly sudden appearance swerved my thinking to ponder their story as I went inside to chop onions and sweet potato greens for supper.

In late April of 2007 our daughter Kymbrelee, and son-in- law-to-be, Immian, decided that they wanted to have their July first wedding on our lawn. Our yard was just barely waking up after the last frost and according to the calendar we had about 67 days till the wedding. I grabbed the Johnnys catalogue and looked for fast color. Marigolds and Dwarf Sunflowers were among my top picks. I did an expedited order and we began planting. Thankfully, true to the genetic make up of the seeds - the yard was in full bloom ready for a romantic wedding by the evening of July one.

The sunflowers were incredible. The striking effect of hundreds of beaming sunflowers bordering our expansive green lawn was perfect. Their plump yellow faces were a bright contrast to the more delicate petunias and the splashy marigolds. But in spite of their tremendous impression on us that summer, I've never planted them again.

I am crazy about flowers. My therapy is to plant them, weed them, pick them, and spend quiet time in my yard so I can enjoy them and the gazoodles of butterflies and hummingbirds they attract. My flowers nourish my soul. But since the farm claims most of my time planting and tending my flowers has to fit in the left over cracks. So I choose flowers that will give me beauty for the longest time. Sadly, sunflowers do not meet those criteria. But in spite of the fact that I've never planted them again since that summer, every year I get a few persistant volunteers popping up here and there in our yard. And sometimes in the most unlikely places! Those two were growing in rocks on top of a weed barrier where there wasn't even regular irrigation! Perhaps a bird or the wind or both had dropped the seeds there where they lay dormant until one day the conditions must've been perfect for those two little seeds to germinate, grow and burst forth in those flamboyant blooms that fed my soul as I hurried into the kitchen to make supper for my hungry family.

It suddenly sobered me to realize the long lasting impact of the things that I allow into my mind. A scene from a movie, the lyrics to a song, a talk show host's comments, a magazine article, and much more are seeds getting tossed onto the soil of my mind. At some point given the right conditions they will spring up into more thoughts, words, or actions. The harvest will depend on the type of seed planted but it will happen.

That evening as we lingered around our weathered picnic table I sat back and basked in the glow of the tiki torches and the buzzing conversations of the bugs and of us. As our conversation bobbed from the health benefits of sweet potato greens to Bella's penchant for fresh juicy tomatoes to why opposites attract and whether or not that really works in marriage my mind strayed back to my musings on my way past the zucchini patch and how truly blessed I was to live on a farm and be constantly surrounded by the workings of nature and be immersed in wholesome hard farm work. It's the kind of life that leaves you so bone weary at the end of the day that quiet evening conversations with family and close friends are more exciting and meaningful than an amusement park or a thriller movie. It makes you learn to see gold in the dirt under your fingernails and in the inconvenience of getting drenched by a popped irrigation hose. And best of all, every day in almost every corner of the farm there are cause and effect lessons to learn about the deep things of life. The seriousness and depth of the lessons keeps a person grounded in the real things that make up the very substance of life. Today a couple of stray sunflowers were my teachers.




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Monday, August 15, 2011

Bella




So this is our third year to grow watermelons and a myriad of other shapes, sizes, varieties, and flavors of melons. I love melons! And at the immense risk of sounding like I've got an ego the size of one, I'm going to say that we grow amazing watermelons. Really though, we can't take all the credit - it's just a great combination of our cool nights contrasted by sunny hot days, good choices of seed varieties, careful veganic organic growing practices, and most of all the blessing of God. Back to the melons. To put it in Chuck's words - he's the produce manager at AJs in Scottsdale - he says we grow “dynamite melons."

This year we have encountered a new challenge to our quest of getting our "dynamite" melons onto people's tables - coyotes. They love the thrill of eating fresh juicy watermelons on a moonlight night. Truth be told, they eat them whether the moon is out or not. It seems that just as fast as they ripen, the coyotes eat them.

This season, knowing we were starting our FarmBox program, we intentionally planted small succession plantings of “Little Baby Flower” watermelons. They are bursting with intense watermelon flavor and are just the right size for FarmBoxes. And boy oh boy, do the coyotes ever love them! And better yet, they love it that we have planned a steady supply for them all summer long. Sigh.

Recently it dawned on us that perhaps our issue is that late last summer Andy, our beloved Redbone Coonhound of many years and Cheetah, Grandpa and Grandma’s Great Pyrenese, both died. Perhaps the absence of big dogs on the farm was creating an open invitation to our Coyote Watermelon Bar. So we decided that perhaps we needed to find another big dog to join the farm. Aimee spent an entire afternoon in Tucson visiting with dozens of eager dogs at the Pima Animal Shelter. Bit by bit she narrowed her choices down till finally she settled on Bella.

Bella really caught Aimee’s attention because she seemed to be exceptionally intelligent and observant. In addition she had remarkable people skills, and good manners with the other dogs. Only Bella knows her full story and why she was there, but the sketchy information that the shelter was able to provide is that she is a 9 month old German Shepherd that a friend of the owner had dropped off. So we adopted Bella. Right from the start, Bella seemed to be immensely grateful to have been chosen to be a member of the family. She is poised, beautiful, loving, and obedient and has been trying very diligently to learn all the family rules and we already love her.

There is only one ironic flaw to our happily ever after story. Last Friday morning Bella came out with Byron and me to the watermelon patch to survey the night’s Coyote damage. Imagine our surprise when she started eagerly gobbling up the remains of partially eaten watermelons. That was a little disconcerting. Then picture our shocked dismay, when she moved over and selected a nice melon still growing on the vine and proceeded to start to nibble on it! Thankfully, “Bella, no!” was all Byron had to say and she happily went back to the half eaten ones. I stood there, my jaw hanging down while Byron broke out in gut busting laughter. I should have known that would be Byron’s response to this latest turn in our quest to save the melons. If there is one thing I love about him, it is his ability to think the best of every person and every situation. “Well,” he said after his laughter subsided, “She may not save the melons but we sure do have a swell new pet out of the deal.”

The question remains, “Will Bella do her job and keep our melon patch safe from the coyotes?” We don’t know yet. But like my husband, I think that for now, I better choose to think the best of this ironic situation and of our delightful new family member, Bella.



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Location:E Gaskill Rd,Willcox,United States

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Harvest




This week we acquired a new farmhand. I'm going to call him Hank. I'm actually not sure if he CHOSE to come here or was sent by well meaning family. There are lots of good reasons to send a seventeen year old city kid to the farm. I started noticing them pretty quickly. We were out in the squash patch harvesting acorn squash and a brewing late afternoon thunderstorm was fueling my box filling pace. I quickly became aware that I was filling two boxes for every one box that my lanky teenage harvest partner was filling. Now I'd like to be able to say with a swagger that at age fifty one I can outdo a strapping seventeen year old in the squash patch. But I'll just be straight up and say that in reality he was just greener than green. I don't even think that he noticed the glowering clouds much less put clouds and thunder together to equal storm arriving soon. I tried to help him understand the concept but instead of translating into increased speed it only provided him with fascinating conversation material.

Each time Aimee came roaring down the row in the muddy green Gator to pick up another load of bulging bushel boxes he found new excuses for diversion. "Hey Aimee, maybe I should ride back to the warehouse with you to help unload the boxes". "Hey Aimee if you're tired of driving I can drive for you"

Suddenly on one of her fly bys, she dropped off Jonathan. He hit the ground running - literally. As I watched him fill up boxes on the run, take flying leaps over the rows to rescue left behind squash, and dive under the leaves as he flew by to sleuth out elusive squash I was amazed. And suddenly my mind shifted gears and backed up 10 months to the day Jonathan had arrived.

He showed up with smooth white hands, perfect fingernails, a pale face, and an insatiable appetite for socializing and laughter. I couldn't for anything figure out how he could make it on a farm. Back then, the mere thought of him becoming invaluable would've made my eyes roll. It seemed like every job I gave him took way longer than I thought it should. It seemed like his mouth moved faster than his four limbs combined. He got depressed if he had to do solitary tasks and when he was doing groupy tasks his hands usually stopped so that his mouth could function at top speed. He'd easily kill baby plants by forgetting to water them or absently overwatering them and he regularly did tasks opposite to the instructions just because he forgot or got distracted. A farming career for him seemed like a guaranteed crop failure.

So now as I hurried to catch up to him enough to at least breathe in some of the dust in the wake of his efficient productivity, I began to ponder. Why did he seem like a such a natural leader as he hurried us along by his example and his energetic comments? Clearly today he is invaluable to our farm. What had suddenly happened? Or was it sudden?

Farming changes you. While tough callouses form on your hands they melt off your spirit making you see miracles in baby lettuce plants and awakening in your heart a deep seated longing to cooperate with the Creator in this process called growing - growing good food for people - real people.

As the sun gradually gives your skin that ruddy look that city slickers call a farmer's tan your instincts get ripened and deepened to pay attention to subtle things that city slickers don't even notice like the difference between a melon aphid and a potato aphid.

While you learn the art of painstakingly raking a raised growing bed smooth you unlearn expectations for instant results.
And just as the germinating seed teaches you patience the seemingly suddenly ripe crop of orange honeydew - that everyone is waiting for - on a day that was already full to the brim with harvesting and planting, weeding and watering - pushes you beyond what you thought were your physical limits to get it harvested at its peak and sent out to the people who are counting on you for food - real food.

The longer you farm and the more mis-steps you experience the more indelible becomes the urgency of timing. There's a right time to seed, to water, to weed, to harvest, and just as imporant is the time to deliver. The sense of urgency at each stage seers itself into a farmer's instincts making him count his steps and minutes as if they were gold. And gold they truly are. The wisest man who ever lived said that, "The king himself is served by the field" Ecc 5:9

As I pondered I realized that while Jonathan thought he was just planting, weeding, watering, tending, and harvesting crops those very crops were working a slow but steady transformation of him. An abundant harvest was happening. His fields were serving him.

Suddenly my thoughts were yanked back to the present. Hank was actually running! We were done and as he loped by me and plunked himself down on the tail of the Gator so he could catch a ride home - he waved his arms around regaling us with his tales of the afternoon. His beaming ear to ear grin reminded me that another harvest will be coming; just be patient.



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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Of Farmers and Chefs...




On the first Friday of April four of Phoenix's best chefs hung out with us in our kitchen swapping tales over bright red and orange tomatoes, crispy cucumbers, colorful peppers, petite heirloom lettuce, and homemade sprouted kamut bread. It would’ve been clear to any of the local bugs and critters that we weren't making any pretentions of elegance – in fact since we’d just harvested the veggies and all come home together after our windy late morning hike around the farm I handed them my not so professional knives and just like regular farm hands they pitched in and washed and prepared the veggies for our “build your own” open faced sandwiches while I set out the strawberry smoothies and other sandwich fixings.

Last Sunday evening I gazed at my very most favorite (and only) husband as he settled into the expansive leather armchair across from me in the Talovera at the Four Seasons Scottsdale. Suddenly I had the sense that this romantic anniversary dinner was about to astound me with an array of contrasts to the simple farm fare we enjoyed the last time we had shared a meal with Chef Jesse Hansen.


The spicy but not too spicy grilled salsa handcrafted with our Sunizona tomatoes and served with crisp local Arizona tortilla chips was the first taste sensation of the evening.


When Andre brought us glasses of cucumber infused tomato water, my skeptical nature wondered how THAT combination would work. But the crisp sparkling flavor immediately won my confidence and convinced me that I had to figure out how to replicate it back at the farm! Thankfully on one of Jesses’ frequent trips to our table to visit with us and regale us with the innovative methods he uses to create his food masterpieces he shared the secret.

We farmers are noted for our self sufficiency but Susan and Andre’s disarming friendliness and careful attention to serving us with amazing finesse and style, deftly wiping up even the slightest condensation from our water goblets, and noting exactly when we finished one course and needed empty dishes removed or goblets refilled was enough to make even the stoutest of us melt and be pampered. And we did just that.



The dinner reminded me of attending a great concert. The courses and dishes created from fresh nutrient rich vegetables grown on our farm and other local farms followed one another in succession to our table - their beauty and elegant simplicity always equalling or outdoing the previous rendition and delighting our eyes and tastebuds alike.


Watching Jesse's face light up as he spoke about sourcing fresh local ingredients and the artistic techniques he uses to skillfully harmonize them into his culinary creations reminded me so much of the passion I see in my husband when he talks about growing and plants and teaching young people how to farm.

For desert - peach pie - we moved out onto the patio and as we enjoyed the approaching thunderstorm and the musky scent of the creosote bushes heavy in the air, I realized again the brilliance of local farmers and chefs teaming up to make it possible for people like us to enjoy unforgetable romantic evening dinners.

Thanks Jesse and team for an evening to remember!


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