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Things We Learned This Summer, An Incomplete List

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Things We Learned This Summer, An Incomplete List

Kim Wilkinson

When the greenhouse tomato situation reaches never-before-seen levels of overgrown, you could call it unkempt. Or you could take a page from five-year-old Maisie’s book and call it a tickle jungle. (we recommend the latter.)

Lots of water, good hats, and sunscreen are all highly advisable ways to prevent heatstroke. So is a mid-afternoon, farm-wide, fully clothed mad dash into the ocean. (most effective when repeated daily)

If you give someone a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you put two former nurses on a farm, every pig ailment looks like an opportunity for medical intervention. A pig has an abscess that needs draining? Pass the scalpel. Another pig has an umbilical hernia that needs to be reduced? Pass the… duct tape?

Good planning and preparedness make for smooth farming. Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants farming (ahem… poor planning) makes for a good story. We’re suckers for good stories. Exhibit A: when your sheep and your sheep fencing arrives on the same barge, just so you can test to see how fast you can build a fence (and how patient your sheep are.)

There are few experiences more conducive to philosophizing than with your knees nestled in the dirt as your fingers make their way through the familiar rhythms of pulling weeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting berries. Eight-year-olds are particularly gifted in this area as we learned when one wondered aloud “but wait. Are you growing the strawberries, or are the strawberries growing you?”

Should your bees happen to swarm, only somewhat expectedly, and should they be accommodating enough to settle a mere 20 feet from your bee yard, leaving you to shuttle them into the waiting hive using any vessel available (Rubbermaid bin? Sure! Yogurt container? That’ll do!) do not underestimate their industriousness. That empty space you gave them for a couple of days, just until they got settled? They’ll fill it with the curviest of comb, so creative and abstract that you’ll end up inventing a word just to describe it. “Wongly” does the trick.

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Should your bees happen to swarm again one week later, entirely unexpectedly, and should you happen to have neglected to plan for this, test your team’s bee-wrangling skills by building an extension onto your hive platform, building a new beehive out of scrap lumber, retrieving the swarm from a cedar tree with a manlift, and installing the swarm in your hastily slapped-together hive. All in under an hour. Celebrate with ice cream.

Tiny piglets are adorable and snuggle-able and photo-worthy and will without fail poop all over you if you pick them up while wearing white shorts.

White shorts do not belong on a farm.

You can fill your bookshelves with the works and words of agricultural thinkers like Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, you can spend the whole Spring discussing the role of food in faith and community, and despite all of this it will be the fleeting moment when a child gleefully thrusts their hand into the flow of a sprinkler, declaring “I’m making wonder!”, that will stick with you for the rest of the summer.

All good workplaces need an office. We recommend a repurposed stump, salvaged from the forest. Bonus points if you roll it all the way from the forest and only narrowly avoid accidentally rolling it through half of the garden when it escapes from you and takes off down the hill. Celebrate with ice cream.

Fresh snap peas are delicious and lovely and fun and we cannot grow them to save our lives.

In bucolic landscape paintings and quaintly illustrated children’s books, sheep are made out to be innocent and mild-mannered creatures, not terribly bright or clever. This is a lie. Sheep are mischievous and wily and they will figure out how to thwart every fencing solution you can devise. So you’ve staked down the entire perimeter of the chicken fence? They’ll seize this perfect opportunity to knock down the gate, releasing all 99 chickens while they’re at it. (the chickens had better food, they said.)

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Good farming wisdom says not to name your livestock if they’re destined for the dinner table. Sometimes good farming wisdom is wrong. Name your sheep after notable French-Canadians. Only realize later that Maurice, Louis, Champ, and Jacques are actually ladies. Whoops.

The internet is loaded with in-depth instructionals outlining how to grow avocados from pits, most involving toothpicks, water glasses, and many weeks of waiting. We would like to propose an alternative:

  • Step One: Relocate your chicken flock to your greenhouse for the Winter. Feed them your kitchen scraps.
  • Step Two: When the Spring rolls around, evict the chickens so you can plant tomatoes. Not-so-carefully remove any remaining kitchen scraps that the chickens haven’t gotten to yet. Miss at least several avocado pits.
  • Step Three: Plant tomatoes.
  • Step Four: Accidentally pass over the sprouting avocado plants in every single weekly greenhouse weeding until August.
  • Step Five: Discover thriving avocado plants growing amongst your tomatoes. Celebrate your incredible avocado-growing prowess (with ice cream.)

Really, friends, what it all comes down to is this. We are students to this place, majoring in humility (minoring in bad farm puns and fence repair.) Just as the blank slate of a new garden meets us every spring, so too do these lessons in humility. Some we learn through our, uh, less-than-successful valiant attempts (though you may have noticed that we’ve become rather adept at laughing at ourselves through these.) Many more, however, are rooted in wonder. Swarming bees may teach us that we can’t be prepared for, nor can we control, everything. But more importantly, they teach us that bees are incredible creatures, infinitely more complex than we could imagine, simultaneously delicate and resilient. Sick pigs remind us again of our limitations, that things do not always proceed according to plan. But they also remind us of the miracle and mystery of life, renewing our awe for all of the times things do proceed according to plan (and also that duct tape is a legitimate treatment for an umbilical hernia.) The funny thing about it is, the more we are humbled by this wonder, the more our eyes are opened to it. As far as lessons to forever be learning go, we’d say these ones aren’t so bad.