Under the Overgrowth

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Under the Overgrowth

If you are driving by the farm headed west, this might be the only sign you see as you pass.

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Unless you happen to come back around and look from the other direction, it’s entirely possible that one might think “Woodcock Centennial Farm” and a cute little sandpiper were all there is to know.  Misleading as that might be to some people, we will most likely never take this sign down. 

A centennial farm is one that has passed from one generation to the next, and been worked by the same family for at least 100 years, consecutively. They were a well known family in Old Dungeness whose headstones overlook the rolling valley in the old cemetery.

The main road past the farm also carries the name. George Woodcock, bought 160 acres of heavily forested land nuzzled next to the Dungeness River  in 1884. He was 32 years old and a bachelor.  His brother Samuel, a mason, bought 60 acres in 1886, and then the rest of it for $1,000  the next year year.  He and his brother cleared it by hand, hauling the lumber out with horses. He and his wife built the house we now use, where they cooked meals, did laundry,  took in the harvest, and Emma gave birth to 5 children. Those children raised cows, and grew seed crops, and their children kept it going until it was time for someone else.

It makes me feel a little more connected to this farm to know the history of the land itself, since that’s difficult to see now. Bits of the past become parts of the landscape and melt into the bigger picture as a whole. Farmland has often been at war with wild places, each pushing back against the other to regain dominance.

If you slip off the field-road into the woods, you can still see massive stumps with springboard notches in them.  We dig up lots of  little treasures out in the field. Usually it’s some unrecognizable lump of iron, half a horseshoe, a or giant carriage bolt.  Sometimes it is more intriguing, like this splitting wedge still in good condition.  The land was a forest once,  but it’s thankfully remembered.

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I wonder, walking around in a place where over 100 years ago, another person wondered what it might be like now, would they be happy with what became of their dream?

Just like the forests, wetlands, and prairies that precede them, it is the fate of most family farms to succumb to the years, and ravages of expansion.  Sons and daughters discover interests and passions of their own, and move away. Land gets cut into pieces, whatever woodlands are left will be leveled to make room for new subdivisions. Perhaps the daughter will move there and be able to say “ I grew up on that farm! It was a lot bigger then.”   Mostly when we talk about farming, we are looking toward what’s happening next. Is it going to rain next week? Are we going to have enough? Is the Farm Bill going to ruin us?  Something I learned in art school,  was the value of perspective. Sometimes when you are taking so many steps forward, it pays to pause, and look back over your shoulder. You might see something you didn’t expect, but you might also see something that you don’t wish to change.

Looking back, but not losing sight,

 - Jordan

 

If you are curious to know where some of this information came from, here are some sites to check out:

 

https://agr.wa.gov/FP/Pubs/docs/WashingtonsCentennialFarms-Color-Web.pdf

https://agr.wa.gov/FP/Pubs/docs/469-WashingtonsCentennialFarms25YearsLater.pdf

http://www.olypen.com/rfoss/pioneerobitw.html#woodcocksamuel

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To Do

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To Do

To Do

What happens to a dream deferred?

 Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

 

      Or does it explode?

 

                                         -Langston Hughes

 

Almost three months ago, Anna and Noah tasked us with writing our own job descriptions, with particular emphasis on our personal goals and farm dreams for the upcoming growing season. Below are some highlights we wrote: some practical, some whimsical. Let’s check in again in late fall to see how we did!

Adam:  (Who has time for this?)

  1. Have a horse drawn wagon instead of a harvest truck. Boo truck! Hurray ponies and coffee!
  2. Drive and continue donkey training: Ideally 2-3 times per week
  3. Finish my house
  4. Animal Care:   Have a flock of compost turning laying hens.

                                    Graze the headlands more, mow less

                                    Pigs to help perennial compost and packshed waste

                                    Build a proper shelter for cattle

Anna:

Personal dreams:

  1. More weekends spent deep in the mountains.
  2. Take care of a productive medicinal herb garden.
  3. Plant lots of trees around the farm.
  4. More time roller skating.
  5. Regular yoga/stretch movement practice.
  6. More relaxed time with friends and family.

Farm dreams:

  1. Get the farmstand beautiful, fun to stop at, and fully stocked all summer!
  2. Sharing the good food with more people by expanding our CSA.
  3. Having successful broccoli crops all season.

Joanne:

Leadership: Work on being a better leader by not getting stressed.

I dream that we are able to communicate our needs to each other so that we can effectively share the stress-load of what it is to run a farm. I want to support everyone here in their process of figuring out how to make farming a lifelong career and not get burnt out.  This season outside the farm, I am excited to build a cabin with my sweetheart, go on more bike trips, play more fiddle and put more energy into my small yogurt business.

Jordan:

  1. Try to figure out how to do a job that didn’t exist last year, while keeping in mind that it’s really not thatimportant and the sun will still rise if I don’t do it.
  2. Get better at communication.
  3. Help people more.
  4. Keep it all together and try not to think poorly of myself in the process of figuring out those things.
  5. Make time to harvest wild foods and make preserves, jams, pickles, and dried things to last through winter.
  6. Help Anna and Noah with designing and making flyers, postcards, and some merchandise to sell at markets. [Jordan has already made the employees some awesome shirts!]

Matt:

  1. Horse Work: Explore going to auctions to buy needed equipment.

                                                -Go to 2018 Horse Progress Days in Michigan and Montana.

      b)   Cropping: Plant flint corn and dry beans as season extension experiments.

                                                -200-600 feet each?

      c)   Free time: Continue playing hockey on Wednesdays and racquetball with Teresa.

Theresa:

  1. Plant a rice plot and an asian greens garden!
  2. Make lots of kimchi; trial new and different kinds of kimchi; try selling at market through the farm.
  3. Data tracking project on the farm to create a profit/loss analysis at the end of the season.
  4. Lift at the gym regularly and incorporate more cardio.
  5. More camping, hiking, swimming, and exploring the outdoors!
  6. Put more energy into self-care (ie. get regular massages, set aside alone time, practice saying “no”)
  7. Have weekly dinners with the farm-ily.

Noah:

I dream of putting focused energy into fertility, cover cropping, tillage experiments, equipment and efficiency improvements.

I dream of improved horsemanship, more field tasks that revolve around horses, a strong partnership with John [RRF’s draft horse mentor], and continued affirmation that horses are still relevant for the small farm.

I dream of bringing farmers markets and the CSA to next level (i.e. educational marketing, customer loyalty, good communication).

I dream of a website with educational content, communicating what is possible with a partnership between a conscious consumer and a conscious agriculture.

I dream of propagating perennial plants and planting them all over the farm..

I dream of working only 10 months this next season.

I dream of a having everyone happy and satisfied in their jobs.

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Growing Up With Grit

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Growing Up With Grit

Earlier this week, Noah and I had dinner with some friends of ours down the road. The two young daughters, 8 and 12, set the table as many kids are in the practice of doing. After dinner, they cleared plates, made milk bottles for the baby lambs, fed the lambs, picked the hooves of four horses, and gave hay to the rest of the animals. Then they shared with us the ice cream that they made earlier that day.

Their mom calls it “growing up with grit.” From someone who grew up in the suburbs of NYC, I was impressed.

These girls are doing more than just after dinner chores. They take care of the whole yard of animals. They help halter train their cattle so they can “show” them, they raise up baby goats and lambs, care for and ride their horses, and cook meals for their family. They are learning responsibility, determination, perseverance, observation, and diligence- and love it!

At our farm, there is one kiddo growing up farm-style. Perhaps, in the future, we will see more children surrounded by all the lessons that can be learned when growing up immersed in the natural world, caring for animals, growing food, and working hard.

But, you don’t have to be a child to learn these life lessons from farming. All of us at River Run are in the same course of study as our young friends down the road. These farming challenges often transform into lessons and if we are ripe for it, into either strength or wisdom. The dedication that growing plants and animals require is unrelenting. When you sign up for this, you sign up 100%. And so we learn how to prioritize other lives besides our own. We learn how to step up to the challenges and study the possible solutions. We learn how to show up to harvest lettuce at 6am, daily. Or how to to work fourteen hour days for a week straight just to catch up with all the field work. We learn to put the needs of our crew mates in front of our own needs.

Then there are the lessons we learn about life cycles. Whether it is the short life of annual vegetables, or the longer lives of the cattle and horses, we are faced with continual loss. We learn the lessons of impermanence. We have to face the fact that all life comes, goes, and transforms.

The farm gives us the opportunity to learn the lessons of resourcefulness. Balancing the never ending wish list with the tight budget, we learn to prioritize and make do with what we have. And when we are faced with an urgent situation, we learn to improvise. Luckily we have a farm role model, Adam, who is learned in the way of resourcefulness and improvisation. We all look to him and his apocalyptic junker mentality to keep the ship afloat. 

In my mind, the most valuable farming lesson is learning how to observe. There is so much to watch and take note of on the farm. Things change fast, and a farmer’s mind always needs to be in observation mode to stay on top of the many things going on. During chores, the younger of the two girls wanted to check on her goats and show them off to us while we were all around the yard. It was 10pm, we were out there with headlamps and the goats were standing motionless as we came in. Within half a minute, the girl tells her mom that the black goat is limping. I didn’t even see that goat move, how can she tell? I was thinking. I was looking at the goat, waiting for it to move so I could see it limping and then after some time of staring, it took a step. It limped. Then I noticed it was just barely holding one of its back hooves off the ground. It was so subtle, I couldn’t believe she had made that observation so quickly. These farmers have some years on me, I thought. I am inspired.

-Anna

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A Place in Community

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A Place in Community

Being a farmer means working with the seasons. It means the weather becomes the sole dictator of your work. Winter is a time for rest and planning. Spring welcomes a time for seeding and early spring crops. Summer is go time. A time to try to keep up with a bountiful harvest, new plantings, weeding, and in the midst of it all, making time to take care of ourselves. Fall means that in just a few short months, work will be sparse. Mother Earth’s way of telling us to rest our weary bodies and souls. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still much work to be done!

Being a newbie at River Run and farming in general (this is just my 2nd season of farming), I’m grateful to have so many amazing mentors to learn from. It has been quite a challenge to wrap my head around all the tasks that happen on a day-to-day, week-to-week, and even month-to-month basis. Like when did we get 10+ beds of carrots in the cabin field? Oh! A bed of zucchini is gone. And wow, we planted a whole lot of kale, and brussel sprouts, and cabbage. And we’re still seeding and planting lettuce? Whew. It definitely keeps me on my toes but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Back in 2015 when I decided to leave my cushy office job to pursue a more meaningful career, I found my way to farming. It provides the type of work and lifestyle that pushes me to do more. To do better. To find the joy in it that motivates you to keep going. To find your place in a community of people who share your passion.  With that said, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be continuing my farming journey with River Run next season!

Here’s a quick update on the farm! Yesterday we commenced the potato harvest. With two whole acres of multiple varieties of potatoes planted, we have a long way to go. But you’ll be enjoying delicious, round, scarlet nuggets of spuds at market this weekend. These potatoes are extra special because we use our horses, Bill, Linda, Duke and Red to do almost all of the field prep, cultivating and harvesting. We broke ground on a new field for next year. This allows us to apply cover crop to build fertility in our soil. The crew has also been doing some serious planning for Saturday’s Open Farm Day. We hope everyone can come for an afternoon at our beautiful farm. You get to meet your farmers, enjoy a breathtaking view of the Olympics, and eat farm fresh snacks. Jordan and I will be putting on a cooking demo to teach tips and tricks on how to prep and assemble your favorite veggies. There could even be some pickling and fermenting demos involved? Well, you’ll just have to come and find out for yourself! We hope to meet those who make it out and personally thank you for your role in being an essential part of River Run Farm.

Farmingly yours, Theresa

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Ten Observations

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Ten Observations

10 Observations from Matt

 

1. Noah and Adam take turns offering Linda her halter, hoping she approaches and accepts it. She runs circles around them and refuses to let anyone touch her for hours. The new guys are eating hay out of her manger. The new guys are nibbling on her grass. The new guys are in her space. Linda stops at the paddock gate and glares at them. Who’s the boss?

 

2. Red and pink peonies, heavy-headed, almost sag out of their vases. When you pick up the fallen petals from the tablecloth, you carefully stack them.

 

3. When the irrigation mainline first opens, I put my ear against the open hydrant at the end to track the gurgles galloping toward the end. I feel a stampede in my brain.

 

4. I scythed a swath of neglected grass. Looking back, dark green railroad tracks bend eastward, striking the line my feet shuffled the whole way.

 

5. Theresa doesn’t wear a hat.

 

6. Becky and Corey go for walks at dusk. Private time in a public house.

 

7. Joanne lifts a corner of row cover from a bed. I’m down wind. Peppery sweetness! The arugula is ready.

 

8. Four-hundred and fifty feet of carrots, forgotten for weeks, begin to puff out the row cover. You step on the pillowy cover as you try to hurdle the bed. When it tears, it pops. Underground and under cover, the first carrots of summer are always a surprise.

 

9. People who tend to crouch during meetings:

 

Anna (occasionally)

Noah

Matt

 

10. Riding on the back of the harvest truck to pick eight-hundred and forty bunches of kale, Elizabeth asks if passersby pity us. I don’t think so. I love growing things, deciding what lives and dies, as Adam puts it. Think of Sisyphus. Nature humiliates us every day, sending us back down the hill. How else do we grow food?

 

                                                Tell me, what else should I have done?

                                                Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

                                                Tell me, what is it you plan to do

                                                With your one wild and precious life?

                                               

                                               -  Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

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Putting Nature's lessons into practice

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Putting Nature's lessons into practice

For those of you who haven’t been here, River Run Farm is nestled at the bottom of the Olympic Mountains. The Dungeness River snakes its way across the east side of our property. Most of our fields lay prepped and ready for their new charges: organic squash, lettuce, kale and other market favorites. Our draft horses—there are now four (welcome to Red and Duke!)—nibble at the fresh spring grass. Our beets are getting thinned and our brassicas is getting hoed by someone in neon raingear—one of the new crew probably. The dandelions shared their bright yellow blaze with us, and now their seeds pirouette across the farm when the wind kicks up. Wet, transparent petals from apple blossoms stick to the technicolor grass. The hustle and bustle continues. People and plants. Everyone is busying themselves. Summer is close.

There’s a lot to do and we’re kicking ourselves, as usual, for not being more on top of our to-do lists: we’re a few weeks behind in our crop plan due to wet weather; our pack-shed still needs that deep winter clean. And it’s already May. Oh, and those dandelion I mentioned? They need mowing. These days it’s easy to feel like things are overwhelming, complicated, or too much. It’s easy to ask: am I doing enough?

I was reminded recently that periods of chaos, of unexpected change, and disruption are precursors to transformation. Nature teaches us this lesson with her typical circuitous logic. We learn how to be boldly vulnerable like our tiny transplants. We learn to have faith that the seeds we sow will miraculously yield radishes. We learn to take raging waters as a gift like the smooth river rocks do. We learn resilience from our overwintered kale that just keeps going and going and going. Nevertheless, she persists.

One of her best and most important lessons is gratitude.

We’ve started to make our weekly trips into Seattle to go to market. We’re at University District, and soon we’ll start at Ballard and Queen Anne as well as our full season Farmshare. The market hustle can get crazy, but I love the opportunity to meet some of you, to hand you your vegetables in person. The moments we share may be fleeting, we might only talk about horoscopes or the wintery weather, or I might bore you completely with the ins-and-outs of our quinoa production. But I feel so grateful for those moments, however silly and however short.

Because our lives are interconnected. We feed you, and you feed us. The reciprocity is so real. Our relationship is so honest and direct. When we choose to cultivate relationships based on mutual respect, recognition, and compassion, we take those lessons of gratitude, resilience, and vulnerability and we put them into practice.

I look out on our farm—wet, alive, vibrant, and full of life. I see the challenges we face, too, both on and off the farm. Are we doing enough? Yes, I think we are. – Elizabeth 

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New growth and blooms

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New growth and blooms

Spring has arrived. And just in the nick of time. Daffodils, hyacinths, red flowering currant, and Indian plum are all in bloom. I see the salmon berry flowers sprinkling the woods and, of course, the brilliant, strong and powerful dandelion blooms expand across the farm's periphery. The nettles are growing tall and the peonies are reaching up and out of their sleepy winter hibernation. Such a precious time, the springtime. All of a sudden, everything just seems to come alive out of the wet and the muck. And we are too.

The new growth on the berries and the sudden greening of the pasture sparks something in us all and the farm is bustling again. Like our own kind of bee colony we hurry around, accomplishing our individual and group tasks, putting all the pieces in place for our shared mission: an abundant and successful season ahead. Irrigation lines are being set-up, the horses are prepping beds for planting, seeds have been planted out in the fields, and the veggies we are all awaiting are doing their darn best to grow in these wet, cool, and cloudy conditions.

Lucky for me, I have the rewarding responsibility of seeding and tending to our baby transplants in the greenhouse. Because of this, I have been enjoying the wonders of spring for months now despite the wintery weather we've been having. Planting seeds and watching each little seedling emerge and grow is such a pleasure. There is something so invigorating about these new lives.

In the greenhouse, it all starts in February with the onions, shallots, and leeks. Now, in April, our two greenhouses are exploding at the seams with broccolis, lettuces, kales, chards, fennel, and cauliflowers. Today Becky and I sowed winter squash (kabocha, pumpkin, delicata, acorn) enough for a 1/4 acre planting! Yesterday we sowed loads of kale seeds and tomorrow we start some of our lettuce trials. Everyday we get to facilitate the birth and growth of new plants, each one their own little miracle.

During this time of year I am always reminded of why I farm. The growth of the spring plants and the pace of the farm bustle is still slow enough coming out of winter that I can keep pace with my thoughts and be in touch with the simple pleasures that as a farmer I get to surround myself with. It’s a time when I can be amazed that a few small little packets of seeds will fill our fields and, soon after, our farmers market booth, Farmshare boxes, and dinner plates. The pipes which Matt has been piecing together that span the entire farm will be transporting water from the mountain's winter accumulation to hydrate the fields of crops. With Adam's great help, the manure that has been collecting in the barn yard all winter will soon be turned into nutrient rich compost through a series of alchemist traditions and organic regulations to feed all our crops. These are just some of the magical aspects of the farm. This magic never goes away, but, I have to admit, it can sometimes be temporarily forgotten in the swift pace of summer. This time of year is cherished and fleeting, but it is followed up by summer's own set of magical moments- so bring it on!– Anna

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Early Spring Notes

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Early Spring Notes

As some of you may have noticed, it’s wet out there. Soil preparation is getting pushed back, as are planting dates. That means a little bit of lost revenue and a more hectic spring, as the same amount of work will happen in a smaller window. But I’m relieved.

There is so much that will be new in 2017, and we are behind. The extra time from this wet March is just what we need. It gives me more shop time, where I’m modifying old equipment and fabricating new equipment as we continue to transition from using tractors to horses. Adam has been designing and building a new compost system. It will improve our ability to make large amounts of weed free, microbiologically active compost- the biological backbone of our operation. Normally, he’d be getting the animals out of the barn and onto grass now, but he just left for Montana where he is shopping for a new team of horses (and skiing). Matt is, well it’s hard to keep track of him as he has the uncanny ability to fit so many things into his day (although, today he begins a ritualistic break from coffee, so perhaps that will change). He’s been pruning the orchard, organizing tools, cleaning the deep dark unknown realms of the farm, redesigning our field irrigation system, and installing a bunch of water lines for the greenhouses: setting the precedent for a season that will be organized, tidy, and appropriately caffeinated. Anna is the queen of the plants. She is everyday in the greenhouse beginning what will soon be food for thousands of people. That is on schedule, as it must be, for all we can do is count on warmer and drier weather patterns. With the extra time she is working to organize our season’s goals and to make sure our plan keeps us on task: channeling our idealism into a viable economic pursuit. Elizabeth is working to build our 1st full season Farmshare program. And with her typical incisive confidence, she takes on the rather large goal of getting 150 Farmshare members. This is an exciting, but tough task. 

As our new compost system will represent the biological foundation for the farm’s success, we hope the Farmshare will soon be the farm’s economic foundation: a group of loyal and committed customers who believe in what we are doing and the value of the product we produce. Believing that good farming practices are a requisite for ecological health, and soil health is tantamount to human health, farming the way we do is not our most economical option. But we are committed to a paradigm shift, one that prioritizes health, beauty, and the future over short-term economics. The Farmshare is our attempt to cast a net of support for these efforts.

The Farmshare, the new compost system, the improved organizational structures, the pack shed extension, the new equipment shed, more horses, improved equipment, new farmers, the list goes on. The one new thing that is drumming up the most support across the farm, is an effort to implement a minimum-tillage experiment. We’ve applied for multiple grants over the last couple weeks to help us implement this system and track its effects on soil biology. Again, too much to fit into a newsletter, I must cut it short. The gist is that we are finding the soil food web more complex and fragile than we ever thought possible. This discovery, and the corresponding evidence that a properly functioning soil ecosystem produces and retains nutrients that are crucial to healthy plants, is starting to inspire some gardeners and farmers to improve the way they farm. Exciting stuff, so what’s another little side project?

– Noah

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