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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