Category Archives: Sustain

Writing My Way Out of a Paper Bag

Well, well, well. When I took a full-time job last spring, I didn’t really think I would stop writing my blog altogether, but what did I know? Turns out my new job at the Vineyard Gazette Media Group keeps me pretty busy, especially in the writing department. A few months into the job and I was feeling very grateful to my high school English teachers, who gave me a voice, the 5-paragraph essay, and the concept that all hypotheses should be supported with documented facts! What I learned from my college English professors was a bit more vague, partly because I was writing poetry and fiction, but also because I may not have been paying attention 100 percent of the time.

At any rate, my job is great because I get to flex all kinds of writing and editing muscles. Though I’m no reporter, I’ve wound up with a regular column in the newspaper called Off the Menu. This summer I interviewed and profiled chefs across the Island; two of my favorites were this one on the Artcliff’s Gina Stanley and this one on Ben DeForest of the Red Cat. For the winter, I’m writing a looser column, sometimes about a particular ingredient, with a recipe; sometimes about a local food event. I also write features for the magazine (Martha’s Vineyard Magazine); in the issue on newstands now is my piece on the Larder and Jefferson Munroe.

I edit a publication called the Vine, which is a color adjunct to the paper that comes out seven times a year and focuses on people and businesses in the Vineyard community who make it a special place to live. In addition to assigning and editing that content, I write at least one of the features in each issue, too. My favorite so far was this one on 800-square foot dwellings. (I take some of the photos in the Vine too, but the best part of working on this publication is collaborating with talented and energetic photographer Jeanna Petersen Shepard, who took the photo above.) I also write a weekly events newsletter called Island Time (please subscribe!).

I’m also helping my fabulous boss, Jane Seagrave, publisher of the Vineyard Gazette Media Group, with new product development and with some updates to a tourist website called MVOL.com which the company purchased earlier this year.

As far as freelance writing goes, I still contribute the occasional feature to Fine Cooking magazine, like this piece on tomato bread salads from this summer.

And Simple Green Suppers is happily sailing along. Most recently, Outside magazine chose it as one of its best cookbooks for busy adventurers. And the West Elm design blog chose it as one of its ten cookbooks to help you through the busy season. Best of all Simple Green Suppers and my friend Sarah Waldman’s Feeding a Family (both published by the most wonderful Roost Publications) were chosen by the American Booksellers Association to be highlighted in The Indie Next Holiday Gift Guide flier. Half a million copies of the flier were printed and sent out to 11,000 independent bookstores. (And only a handful of cookbooks are on this flier.) Please, please, please, if you are going to buy books for presents this year, support your local independent bookstore.

This week I’m heading to an event at Metro Bis restaurant in Simsbury, Connecticut, where chef Chris Prosperi (who I first met on the radio when I was a guest on Faith Middleton’s The Food Schmooze, which Chris appears on regularly) will cook a five-course menu highlighting recipes from Simple Green Suppers.

My little farmstand puttered along this summer. I did realize with the new job that there was only so much effort I could put into the garden this year, but it gave me the whole summer to get used to the idea that at least for now, the market gardening chapter of my life must close. I have no doubt it will reopen some day, but in the pursuit of keeping a roof over my head and some kibble in Farmer’s bowl, I have to focus on work that returns a little bit more money per hour than the market garden does.

And speaking of roofs, I have a new one to call my own—only it is not on Martha’s Vineyard, where the real estate market left me behind while I was dilly-dallying. But it is all good; I bought a little affordable house in Delaware where my father’s family is from and where I spent summers growing up, and for now my parents will live in it, as it provides them with a one-floor living situation where my Dad can more easily care for my Mom, who is frail. All of my various book collections, kitchen tools, watercolors, photographs, pottery, garden gear—all of the stuff that distinctly defines me as a non-minimalist—now has a home to call its own, and I can stop dragging it around awkwardly from rental to rental, always losing something along the way. Farmer and I will go visit our stuff and my parents every few months, and in the meantime we have moved to a lovely winter rental here on the Vineyard (summer could be interesting; I think Farmer would be okay with tent living?!) and will continue to be optimistic about the possibility of living and working here on my beloved Island for as long as we can.

I truly am grateful for this gift of writing , a skill I was taught 40 years ago that I can still use to market myself today, and hopefully for many years to come. I like to say I can write myself out of a paper bag if I have to. That isn’t a very pretty image, but the point is that it’s a skill, not a talent, and a very useful and versatile one at that.

 

 

A New Job, With Gratitude

I have a lovely bit of good news I’ve been meaning to share with you. You might not think it is the most fun or exciting thing, because it involves work. But for me, it is a game changer.

I have a new job. A full-time office job. For the first time in nine years.

Perhaps you got the slightest hint, during those nine years (many of which I was writing this blog), that self-employment was, well, exhausting. And financially…challenging.

It also was amazing and wonderful and the best decision I’ve ever made in my life (up until now!), because I took a risk—a lot of risks really—and the rewards were huge. I got to pursue a dream (that I didn’t really even know I had) of being a farmer, I got to write books, I got to manage my own schedule, I got to burrow into my new community. All while living on this Island, which has turned out to be the biggest reward of all.

 

For better or worse, I am now ridiculously attached to this place, in a visceral way. Mostly it has to do with the immediacy of nature; once you step out your door you are in it completely. The other-worldly curtain of grey fog on an emerald field, the mirage of sparkly ocean that glistens just around the bend, the clear black night sky hole-punched with infinitely luminous patterns of starlight.

That kind of attachment makes it hard to leave a place, even when you know it is time to realign with the real world.

Which is why I am so grateful to have my new job as an editor at the Vineyard Gazette Media Group, publishers of the 170-year-old award-winning Vineyard Gazette newspaper and Martha’s Vineyard magazine (where I have contributed food pieces for many years). As special projects editor, I’ve got a bunch of creative editing and writing challenges to work on, starting with editing a publication called the Vine which began as a supplement to the paper and now stands alone as something closer to a magazine. With my long career (pre freelance!) in magazine editing, it’s a good fit.

 

There are so many wonderful things about my new job, starting with my smart and friendly coworkers and my fantastic boss, but I thought for now I’d just show you some pictures of the office,  an  historic house which was added on to over the years (the newspaper presses are on the first floor), and of the neighborhood. It is pretty cool. (Top photo is the front of the office; the next photo is the side/back entrance; the  photo directly above is the view of the harbor at the end of the street; the middle photo is the plaque next to the front door of the office.)

As much as I love the rural end of the Island where I live, coming to work in the picturesque New England village of Edgartown is kind of a kick. (Or at least it has been this spring; I’m sure my attitude will change with summer traffic!) It certainly beats other office buildings I’ve inhabited.

To add to the fun, my office space is actually the archive room, so I am surrounded by bound copies of old newspapers, old books, and a treasure trove filing cabinet of newspaper clippings organized alphabetically by last name (Belushi, Clinton, Kennedy, along with Luce, Mayhew, Silva, etc.). (I also have a nice view out my window!)

You are  probably wondering, and the answer is no.

No, I am not giving up on my vegetable growing operation completely (and certainly not on cooking)—I’m far too stubborn for that. I have had a stern talk with myself though about making the farmette a much lower priority for this year. But since I built a lot of infrastructure here last year, it only makes sense to use it. So I am planting mostly tomatoes, flowers and beans, and will harvest and open the farm stand Friday-Sunday. I hope that will work out. I did say I was going to wear less hats, but I am a slow learner.

On instagram I use these hashtags: #sixburnersuecooks #sixburnersuegrows #sixburnersuewrites. We’ll just have to add a fourth one: #sixburnersuehasarealjob

The Fly-By Summer

IMG_0140IMG_0101It’s a strange summer. Slow in getting here, fast in passing. The tomatoes have barely started to ripen and already it is time to pull the onions out of the ground. The weather is confused—dripping hot one day, New England chilly the next night. It’s like summer and fall all at once. But I’m okay with that. I like fall, and I feel a bit disconnected from summer this year.

I can’t complain. Grace and magic and kindness and opportunity have conspired to give me a new farmette business with a little farm stand plunked fortuitously close to the road.

IMG_0127My fencing and irrigation and weed controls are working as planned, so everything (well, most everything) is thriving, and the whole darn thing is actually manageable.

IMG_0133The soil still needs a lot of improvement, so my yields are not what they could be. But the real conundrum is space. The 4000 square feet I carved out this year isn’t enough for the little business to really thrive. 10,000 square feet is a quarter acre, and that would be great, but I can’t necessarily get to that here. I might be able to carve out 2000 more feet, but first I’m going to figure out a way to get a small hoop house built (and hopefully a chicken coop and pen, too). Then perhaps I will lease an extra little bit of land somewhere else next year, and grow more flowers on it. All things to consider this fall!

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I did finally break down and buy a new camera, as my old one died and I’ve been borrowing from friends. I went with the cheapest DSLR I could buy and still get good quality—an older Canon Rebel T5—and I just took it out of the box yesterday.

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IMG_0145So of course the first pictures I took were of tomatoes and flowers–probably my two favorite things about the late summer garden. Fortunately, with our warm fall out here, I’ll have tomatoes and flowers until late October of even early November.

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IMG_0130But I hope I can find some good tomatoes and flowers to enter in the Fair, which is–yikes!–next week! I did say summer was flying by.

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And the last bittersweet sign of changing seasons: The President and First Family arrived for their vacation last weekend. It still thrills me to see the motorcade whiz by, and I will always be grateful that they’ve chosen to come here for their vacations. Now if they’d just stop at the farmstand…

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Building the Market Garden(s)

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This is very cool, I promise, and constitutes the best possible excuse for the delay (again!) in blog posts: We have plowed, tilled, composted, dug, fenced, planted, mulched, and irrigated 4500 square feet of market garden space in exactly two months. During that time, we’ve also harvested from the earliest plantings and even turned a few beds over. (And opened a little farmstand.) I say “we” because I’ve had help from all over in this endeavor, and I feel proud that I set this challenge for myself, made a plan, and then reached out for help at every step of the way.

If you’re interested in a brief overview of how it went, read the timeline below. But life is short, so if you’re like me and in a rush, just take a quick glimpse at the photos (which are a mixed bag, considering I’m still short a camera lens and using an old phone, too!), and you’ll get an idea of the progress.

And then, please come visit the farm stand if (or when) you’re on the Island. I’ll be open every day now, from about 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. (Self-serve.) Many folks don’t realize that I’m not at the old farm and that I’m starting up a new business, so I can use your kind word of mouth to let Islanders and visitors know of my new location. I still have mostly just greens (chard, kale, salad mix, etc.), but peas and squash (and much more) are coming.

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Directions: I’m in West Tisbury on State Road, on the left just past Island Farms Road (a little bit up the road from Vineyard Gardens) if you’re coming from Vineyard Haven. The property has a long stone wall along State Road and two driveways. Take the first driveway (if coming from VH) or the second (if coming from West Tis.). The farm stand is right behind the stone wall. You will see my chalkboard sign on the road. We don’t have a farm name yet, but you’ll see “Sixburnersue” on the farm stand!

The Timeline:

In early April, property owner Trip Barnes and I walked around and decided where the gardens would go. We chose three areas that had enough sunlight (LOTs of trees here) and that could be reached from a water source. There wasn’t just one area big enough for me, so we staked out three. All were covered with sod/grass, meaning they would need a lot of work to become garden beds. There was also a fourth, very small area, that had been a vegetable garden, which I immediately pounced on to get started since it didn’t need to be plowed.

We then set about finding a farmer who could come with a plow and turn the soil over in each of the three spots. (Farmers are pretty short on time in the springtime.)

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On April 24 and 25, farmer Andrew Woodruff of Whippoorwill Farm came out and plowed and tilled each garden area to break the sod apart and loosen the soil to a good depth. (Yay Andrew!)

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Andrew left me with two good-sized piles of compost, which I then shoveled over each garden area. Next I called my friend Jim Costello to come with his powerful rototiller and turn the soil once more. We then had soil that looked plantable. (Yay Jim!)

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The next and biggest challenge was fencing. I quickly erected some temporary fencing around the two smallest gardens so that I could get started on making beds and pathways. (And do things like get an asparagus bed started and onions in the ground!)

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Then I made my fencing plan. I wanted tall (7- to 8-foot) deer fencing around the two bigger gardens and medium-height fencing around the flower garden (the third area). And I wanted to double up on the bottom with 3-foot chicken wire buried 6 to 8 inches (rabbits and rodents).

Trying to balance time and budget (shipping heavy rolls of fencing and fence posts to the Island can get very expensive), I finally ordered the mesh fencing online from a reasonable source. (I measured about 16 times to make sure that the 330-foot rolls were going to do the trick.)

But I still needed to find 40 heavy duty fence posts—that I could afford and also manage to get in the ground. This took a while, but through another farmer friend, I found out that another farmer on the Island, Mitchell Posin, was the Island dealer for a fencing company.

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I talked to Mitch and we settled on 9-foot galvanized metal T posts. I would need to sink them 2 feet, so that would work with my 7.5-foot high deer fencing. Mitch put the order in and also told me that he’d be happy to give me some of his round wooden posts (9-footers) for the corners of my gardens. (Yay Mitch!)

The fence posts missed their first ride to the island but managed to hitch a ride in the back of Andy the Sheep Shearer’s truck the next week. (Andy comes from New Hampshire to the Island twice a year to shear most of the Island’s sheep and to do demonstrations as well.) I was sure glad to hear that he had arrived. We piled in Trip’s truck one foggy morning and ran up to Allen Sheep Farm to pick up the posts from Mitch.

Now I had posts and fencing, but I had to figure out how to build this fence (and include a gate for each garden). In the end, I wound up going back to Allen Sheep Farm and borrowing a tool called a T-post driver from Mitch. It’s a heavy metal sleeve, or tube, with handles, that you place over the stake. Then you pull (more like bang—it is very loud) the driver down on the stake several times until the stake is far enough in the ground.

Help came next from my next door neighbor, Lena (who used to have a horse farm), and a woman visiting from Canada named Elizabeth (who still lives on a horse farm). Both of these brave women helped me figure out how to get the heavy driver onto the heavy (tall) stake before raising it up, and each volunteered to hold the stake in place while I stood on the ladder and banged the darn thing in. It was exciting when the first post went in, and even more exciting when the 40th post went in—thanks to help from two more ladies, Terra, and Helen.

Helen is the young woman helping me out on the farm this summer, and I have nicknamed her Super Farm Chick, because she is one hard worker. Together we did the rest of the hard work to get those fences done. The most tedious part was digging the trench around each area to bury the chicken wire (another friend, Ann, joined us for the last of it). Actually hanging and zip-tieing the deer fencing and chicken wire went pretty smoothly. Helen and I got so good at this by the end that we decided we could hire ourselves out as fence builders (ha!). And we had fun with the fact that the fence was almost entirely built by women. (Yay girls!) (I wish I had photos of all this.)

I had wanted to do something fun for the garden gates—I had my eye on two old screen doors—but I had to improvise for the short term and make the gates (or doors) out of the fencing material, some dowels, and some bungee cords for closing. Not pretty, but functional.

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After the fencing was done, Helen and I got going on the serious planting. I had already (with help from a friend’s son, Oliver), dug the paths and raised beds for the first garden so that I could get all my greens in . (I grew a very successful crop of baby bok choy in this garden, and I was happy to sell some of it and some beautiful Japanese turnips to State Road Restaurant. I’ve been harvesting lettuce, kale, chard and spinach from that garden, too.)

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Oliver and I had also gotten the potatoes in the ground out in the biggest garden. (Yay Oliver!) I knew deer didn’t like potatoes so I wasn’t worried about planting them without the fence up. Interestingly, not long after the potatoes sprouted, we saw deer tracks right through the bed. So I knew I was doing the right thing in planning on tall fencing—especially for that garden, where the tomatoes would go.corner

But now Helen and I were staring at 75 tomato plants, 60 eggplants, 60 squash plants, 30 cuke seedlings, and untold numbers of flowers (about 300 maybe?) that needed to get in the ground. In my zeal, I had started everything (both under lights inside and in my little mini tunnel outside) about the same time I always start, not thinking about how delayed I’d be in getting everything in. So all my plants were leggy and busting out of their pots (and needing to be watered twice a day). To get those plants in, there would be more shoveling to make raised beds, a lot of weed mat barrier and plastic to staple down, stakes to pound in, and lots of drip hoses (a whole other story) to set up.

It sounds so easy to just “get the plants in the ground” but there are dozens of things that need to happen before that little hole is dug and the seedling popped out of its pot.

But now I am happy to say that as of this afternoon, it is pretty much all done.

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All but a couple random flats of seedlings (and some extra tomatoes, which have been moved to bigger pots for the farm stand) are in the ground. Weed mat barrier is down in every path in each garden. Drip hoses are down and the irrigation, though jury-rigged, is functioning. Sunflower and nasturtium and cilantro seeds planted around everywhere to attract the good bugs and bees.

Whew. Now we just have to go back to the first garden and do some weeding and thinning and turn some beds over. Bok choy out, yellow beans in.

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Ready, Set, Go: Put Yourself in the Way of Beauty

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I have been reading a little book by Cheryl Strayed called Brave Enough. It’s a collection of quotes. I like it. Them. Many of them. All of it.

But my favorite is this very simple thought: “Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

This is really just another way of saying do something joyful. But beauty is (in my view) a very specific kind of joy. It is sensual and tactile, visual and aromatic. Calming in its distraction.

For me, beauty is almost entirely owned by the natural world.

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So I have been doing this—putting myself in the way of beauty. On our foggy morning walks in the woods across the way, Farmer and I are deliberately pausing (he to sniff, granted) to watch the limey-green ferns seemingly unfurl before our eyes. Blueberry blossoms—at our feet on the wild scrubby plants that hug the foot path and up in the sky on decades-old highbush plants—are everywhere. I am noticing the little white clusters of flowers on the bare-branched shadbush and the soft pink apple blossoms on our way back down the driveway.

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DSC_0096On the wooden steps outside my back door, I have set up a little mini potted-plant garden of fresh herbs and annual flowers and things that smell good and look pretty. Lemon thyme and scented geraniums. Dwarf dahlias and pink dianthus. A little piece of beauty.DSC_0078

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Lilacs. A big, fragrant, fresh-picked bouquet from my friend Judy is now on my kitchen counter and everything is right with the world.

DSC_0089My biggest pleasure, though, is unpinning the fabric row cover over the greens I’ve planted in my new market garden. The baby kale and mizuna and ruby streaks mustard with their toothy leaves look like puzzle pieces nestled together.

DSC_0109 DSC_0111The new pea plants are sending tendrils out to grab on and start climbing.

DSC_0101The ruby chard I transplanted has settled in and taken off.

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These beautiful vegetables are gifts to me from my own hard-working self. Every year I have a fear that I am going to suddenly forget how to grow things. Or that all the inherent risks will conspire to prevent anything from growing. This year especially, when I didn’t know where I was going to be growing until a few months ago, I am so relieved and grateful to have this beauty to turn to. Sometimes I think I grow vegetables as much for their looks as their taste.

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Right now, with the help of friends and fellow farmers, I am building the pieces of my new little market gardening operation. It is exhilarating and exhausting and full of beauty. It is tempting to get fixated on making progress, on getting enough beds planted and the fencing done, to get to the point where there is enough to harvest and sell.

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But I realized this morning, during a beautiful, misty ride up to Allen Sheep Farm (the grey, the green, and then the unexpected blue of the sea) to pick up my fence posts, that what I like best about this whole thing is the process, not the destination.

Maybe today you can find three or fours ways to put yourself in the way of beauty. Ready, set, go.

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And So It Begins: The Curse of the Impatient Gardener’s DNA

DSC_0091DSC_0100There are grow-lights in my bedroom, a sack of soil in my living room, and a shovel next to my sofa. This week’s newspaper is spread across my kitchen counter, catching crumbs of soil as I make a colossal mess transplanting and dividing tiny seedlings.

Just getting inside my front door means tripping over a pile of garden tools.

It’s not pretty. But it is exciting. I can’t wait to start growing things again this spring, because gardening is stuck in my DNA like a tenacious weed in a sidewalk crack.

DSC_0083I am so much my father’s daughter that it is scary. Yesterday, I looked down at the spading fork in my hands and the craters of dirt all around my feet (and all over me), and I thought instantly of him. I intend to call him (though he will read this first) and tell him that it is all his fault, this passion I have.

As a little girl, I trailed around behind him in his gardens (I wasn’t actually any help), watching him bring to life the drawings he made first with pencil and paper. Brick walkways and courtyards, perennial borders, rose gardens, grass berms. Camellias, dogwoods, Japanese maples, London planetrees, boxwood, peonies, asters, blueberries, beefsteak tomatoes, pole beans, parsley, portulaca, pansies, phlox. Miscanthus Sinensis Gracillimus. Rudbeckia Fulgida “Goldsturm.” I loved the names as much as the plants.

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And then there were endless trips to the plant nursery and the hardware store. I wish I had been paying better attention–especially at the hardware store. I stood in one yesterday contemplating a wall of gizmos with which I had no earthly acquaintance, wishing my interpreter was by my side. But my five-year-old and ten-year-old self couldn’t have seen into the future, wouldn’t have known that the gardening gene would lie latent for years only to bust out half way through adulthood with a particularly grueling obsession—growing food. (Or that I might someday also have to tap into the carpentry gene.)

DSC_0115This will be my eighth year with a market garden. While I’m waiting for a tractor to turn over the soil in a new plot for me, I’ve been able to do a little work on a small plot so that I can get some peas and greens going. (Hence the indecision at the hardware store: I am working on fabricating a bunny-proof fence, with my limited carpentry skills.) While working outside, I found some forgotten strawberry seedlings, left behind by another gardener in an area soon to be tilled. I had to save them, of course, so I dug them and and potted them up–like my Dad would. He’s never been afraid to move plants around, and it didn’t feel like home unless a dozen or so potted plants were hanging around on our patio waiting to get in the ground.

One friend asked me if I thought I might get tired of gardening, if the work would get to be too much. I don’t know how to answer that, because it is like asking me if I will ever get tired of cooking. I am hard-wired to grow things and to cook—fortunately. I really am grateful for these compulsions, since I am not good at sitting still for long periods of time, and I don’t like to spend too much time listening to the voices in my head! In other words, getting outside is essential.

Now if it would only stop snowing or raining every five minutes. Dad, can you do something about that?

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Sunshine update: I wrote this last night, but today the sun is shining. Check! Also forgot to mention that my impatience really got the better of me at the plant nursery the other day and I wound up buying just a few little seedling starts so I’d have something in a pot on my deck. Instant gratification. Happy.

 

 

 

 

A New Chapter for Sixburnersue

DSC_0071Dear Sixburnersue Readers,

This is a long overdue thank you note, of sorts. A thank you for being patient while I let blog posts go (mostly) by the way side over the last six months.

I have turned my book manuscript in, we have finished shooting all the photos, and now the book is in the hands of the talented editors and designers at Roost. I think it is going to be my best book yet! Still, we will have to wait a whole year before it is designed, printed, and published next spring.

It means though, that I can no longer use the book work as an excuse for not blogging. It means I have to be honest with you and tell you that there was, in fact, another reason for the temporary suspension of sixburnersue. Last fall, my partner Roy and I ended both our personal and business relationship. We retired the “Green Island Farm” name, and after debating who would stay on the farm property, I made a decision to move in December. (Though I am fortunately still in West Tisbury, and of course still on Martha’s Vineyard—no way I’m leaving this island!) Roy and the chickens are still at the old place.

Having written so much about our life on the farm, I felt I owed it to you to tell you this news, but it wasn’t (isn’t) something that I honestly want to dwell on in a blog that began—and hopefully will continue—as an expression of my joy in cooking and growing vegetables. Someday I will settle back into one of the many approaches I’ve taken to writing a memoir, and I will have yet another lens to look through! Life continues to surprise and challenge me, and some days (you all know this feeling), it seems to be nothing short of a Herculean effort to make it all work. But somehow, regardless of whether I fail or succeed, I’m always compelled to move forward, to keep trying, and especially, to keep doing what I love. Here’s the geeky truth: My high school motto plays an endless loop in my head. The Latin is “Inveniam viam aut faciam.” The English translation is “I shall find a way or make one.”

In that spirit, I have set to work finding a new piece of land on which to grow vegetables and flowers (and restart a small market business), and I hope to have good news to report on that very soon. In December, I also began working part-time at Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, so I get to spend part of my days in the company of books and book lovers. I’m continuing to write a regular food column for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and working on new features for Vegetarian Times. Patching together a living is a time-honored tradition here on Martha’s Vineyard, where more traditional jobs are scarce, so I am not alone in this endeavor. It might be less scary and more lucrative (well, definitely more lucrative!) if I chose another route, but it wouldn’t be as challenging or creative or ultimately as satisfying.

So I thank you again for hanging in there, and now we will get back to our regular programming!

Susie

 

 

Walking the November Road with The Farm Dog, and Other Clever Ways to Procrastinate and Contemplate

photo-539Now that our second photo shoot for the new cookbook is behind us, I am back to work in the kitchen and at the computer developing the last batch of recipes for the book. This means, of course, that (as with any self-propelled creative endeavor) there is some clever procrastinating to accomplish every day. You simply must get up from your computer or get out of the kitchen a few times a day to reboot your creativity!

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I’ve been spending an hour or two every day cleaning up and mulching the market garden, hauling the tomato vines out of the hoop house, ripping the twisted dried green bean vines off of the trellising, and moving strawberry plants around (they’re everywhere).

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Incredibly, there are still things growing in the garden. Every year I am amazed at how temperate the Island is in late fall, with the warm ocean waters still surrounding us. But this year it has been especially warm.

DSC_0108Since I topped off the Brussels sprouts plants, the little buds have grown bigger, and I’ve popped enough off the stalks to sell a pint or two at the farm stand a few times a week.

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And I just pop the baby ones in my mouth, too; they are sweet, nutty and crunchy.

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I even managed to grow a few kalettes; I was very excited about trying this new vegetable (a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts) when I got the seed, though I did read that they would take four months to mature. Unfortunately, I was late getting my plants in the ground, so the vegetables really only started to take shape a few weeks ago. I don’t know how much they will grow once the daylight seriously wanes, though I imagine they are pretty frost-hardy.

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We’ve got a last patch of salad greens under cover, and there are a half dozen magnificent and terrifying Ruby Streaks mustard plants that I never cut back sprawling three-feet round in a spiky pinwheel of purple teeth.

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So once a week or so I can make a small batch of salad mix.

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The parsley patch is epic.

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And, I have a bunch of flowers in my little secret side flower garden that seem to have no idea that winter is approaching.

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The calendula and snapdragons couldn’t be happier. I have to remember that—it really is cheering to have fresh flowers in November.

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Cheering is good, as I find November a bit foreboding and contemplation-inducing. Unlike my favorite month, October, when the buzz of summer is gone but the sky still swims with sun, November, with its spackle-grey horizon, its sticky wet leaves, its frisky wind gusts, is decidedly Act I of winter. I know how the rest of the play goes, and last year sitting in the seats until the curtain went up was torturous.

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But I am trying not to project, as the best thing about November, as opposed to real winter, is the walking. I can still get outside, it’s relatively warm, and actually, all those sticky leaves on the ground are a gorgeous kaleidoscope of texture and patterns. My favorite procrastination activity is walking with Farmer along the Land Bank path behind the farm, down across Mill Creek and over to Old Courthouse Road.

Technically, the path is closed for hunting season, so there is a point when we get to a locked gate and we both stop and stare at each other. Should we turn around? Go around? Jump over? And if we do, should we take the right hand fork, or the left?

Every time we are there, I can’t help thinking of Robert Frost’s classic poem, The Road Not Taken (which can be interpreted several different ways). So I leave it with you today, in case you’re walking the November road, or just contemplating winter.

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

 

 

 

An End to the (Thankfully) Not-Endless-Summer

DSC_0037Don’t get me wrong. I love the beach and lobster rolls and fireworks and the Fair. Especially the Fair. But there wasn’t exactly a lot of down time to enjoy these kinds of activities this summer. The farm was busy because we grew many, many, more vegetables. And many more people came to the farm stand (and bought those many more vegetables and every single egg). That is a good thing, of course.

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But the many (!) more hours spent planting, weeding, watering, staking up, pulling down, covering up, replanting, reseeding, weeding (yes, I repeat myself), mulching, harvesting vegetables, washing vegetables, packing vegetables, collecting eggs, washing eggs, packing eggs, stocking the farm stand, restocking the farm stand, closing up the farm stand every night, and doing it all over again, with dirty fingernails, dirty clothes, dirty hair, squash-juice stained tee-shirts, seriously ripped jeans, and pockets full of the weirdest stuff (rubber bands, shriveled green beans, plastic zip-ties, chalk, dog biscuits, pocket knives, seeds, bugs, nails, clothespins, three kinds of twine…and scissors, always scissors) – well, you can see how it felt a little bit like Groundhog Day, the movie. Doomed to repeat ourselves every day.

DSC_0005The good news is that the spell has been broken—Labor Day weekend has come and slipped away into the cool nights and shorter days of September. And hopefully, like Bill Murray in the movie, we’ve learned a few things about what works and doesn’t work when you’re in an endless loop.

DSC_0002One thing I know for sure—the best thing we did this summer was hire our friend Laura Watt to come work with us. (That’s her with her prize-winning turnips on the opening day of the Fair.) That girl is seriously energetic and noticed even the smallest of details, helping us to figure out all kinds of enigmas that pop up daily on a farm. She went from 0 to 60 in no time. And she did it laughing. (She is damn funny, and for that I am eternally grateful.) Plus, Farmer fell in love with her. He waited for her at the end of the driveway every morning and when she arrived, they would go for a walk together. Laura even filled his water bowl with her own Poland Spring water.

Roy, Laura, Farmer and I had a “company party” on Laura’s last day this weekend. Ice cold cokes, treats from the local bakery, dog biscuits  and party favors.

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(Okay, and we did pat ourselves on the back just a little for our 10 blue ribbons at the Fair this year.) We were very sad to say good-bye to Laura, but she promised Farmer she’d come visit.

DSC_0009Of course we still have fall to get through and we are still harvesting like crazy (literally hundreds of pounds of beefsteak tomatoes every few days). But there’s something in the air. Something good. Yeah, summer’s great, but fall is better.

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Of Eggs and Cherry Tomatoes

DSC_0003Summer creeps up and then whizzes by here on the merry Isle of crazed vacationers. And I mean crazed. More like frenzied, now that it is August. There are an extraordinary number of people here. Normally our population swells from 20,000 year-round to 100,000 in the high season (August), but I think each person has brought four more friends with them this year. And they are hungry. (Plus the President arrives in a couple days. Traffic? Oh, my.)

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Grocery store shelves are empty at noon time. Our own farm stand customers race each other to the refrigerator to grab the last dozen eggs (by 11 am they’re all gone) or the last six ears of corn (we have a lot of back-up there, thanks to Morning Glory Farm). Cherry tomatoes are disappearing like M&Ms at midnight.

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Keeping up with the vacationers is exhausting (add heat plus little sleep and you have cranky farmers), but of course we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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And there are those moments—the ones when you see how happy people are with their goodies. And I mean really happy. Beaming, grateful, excited. I totally did not expect that when I got into this.

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Or this: One of our farm stand customers, who’s been shopping here since the very beginning, is spending her last days (cancer) at home with her family up the road. She is a lovely lady, and she came by a month ago to tell me this news and to see if we had any of her favorite green beans, and eggs. Last week her daughter came by and said that what her mother is mostly feeling like eating right now is our eggs. Wow.

That’s all.

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