I have been hounding the Butterfly Weed. For three weeks. The tips of the buds have been orange and yellow and white for that long. The Blue Thistle (Eryngium, to be precise) has been stringing me along, as well. Maybe I shouldn’t even mention the Lisianthus...
The peonies on the other hand, despite my practically camping in the field, always manage to burst open when I turn my back. Ask any of our pickers about finishing the field only to go back to the beginning and start in again.
Since the flowers, except for the peonies, have been in a time freeze for a few weeks, this has given me time to ponder the “deeper” lessons they may offer. As we get adjusted to a new place, with an experienced crew mixing with new members -and my adult kids, I realize that people, children included, are a lot like flowers. The more you micro-manage them, the longer they seem to take to bloom. And, conversely, when they do suddenly launch in a knowledge or maturity growth spurt, they leave me spinning and trying to keep up, forcing me to remind myself that they now have got this new area under control.
The veteren crowd, Vicenta, Alma, Ana, Lorena -well, they are like the peonies. They just jump in and improvise. I turn my back and next thing I know a new process or contraption has been invented to replace something from the old place.
My boys, Corbin and William, are new to the actual farming part of farming (as opposed to marketing). For what seemed like weeks I would walk through the farm and wonder what exactly they were doing. I couldn’t see much sign of productivity. I was tempted to try to over-manage them. I am so glad that I did not! By letting them make the place their own, and create their own workspace, I allowed them to do things that I never could. They rebuilt wagons, screen-cleaned literal tons of popcorn, and burned off fallow ground for planting. They maybe also destroyed a few things -like more than a couple tractor batteries and jumper cables. (So thankful no one lost any body parts there.) BUT most significantly, they became Masters of the Irrigation. The consistent water not only gave us full-sized Candy Onions in June, but also pretty much saved the whole farm during a localized drought.
It finally rained last week, and the Butterfly Weed, the Snapdragons and many other lovelies have finally opened. The peonies have crashed to a halt, making way for the impetuous lilies. My people are blooming, too. And they are just as beautiful as any of my flowers!
A word most farmers dread.
Although transplanting can be a pain by itself, several factors can make it nearly unbearable such as scorching heat, lack of workers, and in this case, wardrobe malfunctions. Unfortunately, for one of our newer workers, her first experience transplanting wasn't exactly kind to her. She learned the lessons of the field quickly one dreary afternoon. . . . . .
It was a dark Tuesday morning. I had woken up at around 5:30 am, tired and hungry. As I hurried up to get ready, I started to stress that I only had about 15 minutes to prepare, and there were absolutely no pants for me to wear. I quickly searched the room and found an old pair of jeans that were a bit big. I put them on and then realized that I also hadn't made my lunch! Feeling stressed already, I rushed downstairs without grabbing anything to hold up my slightly baggy pants. I needed to prepare my lunch with the 5 minutes I had left before heading out to work. Thankfully, my lovely room-mate had already covered it, knowing how forgetful I was and made my lunch for me. Together we ran out to the car and headed out to the farm. When we arrived, I headed towards the greenhouse to begin my daily dose of indoor transplanting of seedlings.
All was well in the greenhouse. It was a quiet and peaceful day. A few hours had passed, as the day became humid. That's when I heard those dreadful words come out of my coworker's mouth, "Field Work." Everyone began moving out of the greenhouse and to the field. I was reasonably happy to get out of that hot greenhouse, but little did I know I would be begging to go back in. As we went out into the field, we had to follow these machines around the field, utilize new tools. All while following new rules to keep the plants and ourselves safe and alive.
There are three different types of jobs that one can do while using the transplanting machine. It takes one person to drive the tractor, four to sit on the transplanter and put plants into the ground, and then there was me. My job was to walk behind the machine and make sure the plants were tucked into the dirt and planted correctly. We drove the transplanting machine out into the field and started.
The plants were doing fine as I just walked behind and checked on them, and all was going well until I bent over to fix the first unplanted plant. And that's when it began. My jeans had been just a bit too big, and as I bent over, they began to fall. Realizing this was an issue, I began lunging to fix the plants instead, hoping that would keep them from falling. But apparently, the angle I lunged at was unacceptable, because the wind started to blow my oversized t-shirt over my head, exposing my back to everyone near. Struggling to pull it back down, my bra-straps began to fall down my shoulders. As I was desperately trying to keep up with the machine, I realized that my socks had been rolling down my ankles. My rain boots were also a bit big, scraping on the back of my heel, tugging my socks off my feet. I stood back up and began playing footsie with myself, hoping to make them stay on as my pants began to fall again! It was a vicious, never-ending cycle.
After three hours of hard work and non-stop wardrobe malfunctions, I was finally done. I returned home, showered, changed, and relaxed, all while replaying my traumatic first day in the field in my mind. It didn't stop there because that night, I had nightmares of having more wardrobe malfunctions during work. To put it simply, the lesson was learned. I will never complain about transplanting in the greenhouse AGAIN! And that was only my first day of many in the field. And, life was about to get a lot tougher at the farm, and no one would be able to prepare me for that.
There I was standing in the loading dock, it was 11:00 pm and I was exhausted. I was tired from a long day at market, a long rainy day at market. My exhaustion turned to frustration quickly as I learned that there is absolutely a right and a wrong way to drive a forklift that is carrying a pallet of watermelons. As I turned the corner and headed up the ramp the watermelons tumbled and crashed down, right back at me. I stopped immediately, evaluated my situation, and counted the half cracked watermelons that now littered the loading dock ramp. I readjusted my pallet, and eyes full of tears drove the forklift into the cooler. I found a suitable spot to place the watermelons that had avoided the plummet and headed back out to pick up the ones that hadn't. I discarded some melons that were destroyed beyond eating. It would be a lie if I didn't admit that several handfuls of watermelon also made it to my mouth. What is the harm, right? I had decided that there were about eight melons that were not good enough to sell, but good enough to save. I had officially won the watermelon lottery! I packed those eight melons into my car and in the middle of the night packed a fridge full. Was it optimism? Probably. Did I really think I would be able to eat eight watermelons before they rotted? Most likely yes. Did I eat eight watermelons before they rotted? No. But, I did find out that watermelon slushies are a killer tasty treat.
This memory often flashes back at me. When someone asks for a crazy farm story, or a "plant story" as my professor coined, I often reach for this particular memory. It holds way more meaning to me than it would to most. I do believe Jenny once said "farmers get emotional about different sorts of things." As I semi-embarrass myself retelling the story I also get to reminisce on the feelings and emotions I felt. Someone can only imagine the emotions I felt as I tried to shove eight watermelons into a fridge at 1:00 am knowing that they wouldn't fit. And, more importantly knowing that I had to be up in a couple hours, back at the crime scene I had left on the farm and ready to work. This watermelon fiasco happened during my first season working under Jenny and Aaron at Twin Gardens. Their kindness, and understanding as I retold the story was one of the many reasons why I stayed, and why I continue to stay. They are people who through the last couple months have remained unshaken and stable as we embark on this new journey at the farm. Through the small handful of years that I have known the Kinney family I have been blessed with generosity, understanding, kindness and many, many laughs. I look forward to the new memories that Piscasaw Gardens brings as we grow together on this "new to us" farm.
It was not very long ago that I found myself sitting at an FFA Alumni meeting on a Monday evening after a long day of high-school. Okay, maybe it was long ago, give or take about eight years? Rich Brook had asked me to come and work on his farm that summer when school let out. And, while I had been putting coals onto my agriculture passion fire for awhile, this opportunity lit the final flame. It was my first job, and my first time harvesting vegetable crops. It was hard work, but I fell in love with farming on this very piece of property. I made memories that I will never forget, some of my favorites include racoons running wild and getting ATVs stuck in the muddy field. When I had left several years ago, as the farm faded away from growing vegetables, I continued to foster a love for growing, harvesting, and selling fresh vegetable crops. I always told myself I'll be back to this farm someday with its beautiful barn and breezy winds. So, maybe it was destiny that put me on this path back here. Somehow I was meant to be a part of the transition from Brook Farms and Twin Gardens into Piscasaw Gardens. But, whatever the greater reason is, I am forever grateful. I am grateful to the land and farm for giving me wonderful times, and to the people who amended the soil and gave me opportunities to grow like Rich and Sonja and now Jenny and Aaron.
We look forward to reconnecting with old customers and new customers alike as we grow on the farm. I for one can't wait to be back in a farmers market booth talking to my regular customers about the new recipes they tried this week with our fresh veggies. I am excited to be making bouquets for weddings and walking the fields with brides in the upcoming season. I am forever collecting memories, and laughs along the way and adding them into my own personal "plant story" catalog in the back of my brain. So, If you see me (Sarah) at a market, wandering the fields, writing you a message, an email, or somewhere else, please don't hesitate to stop and say hello, and feel free to ask me about my other "plant stories."
Today I am excited to announce the expansion of Piscasaw Gardens to a new location and a vastly increased product line-up. Our home-grown cut flowers continue to play a prominent role -and still take up a lot of acreage, but we are also growing 25 acres of fruits and vegetables. 15 acres of this is Mirai sweet corn, that amazing corn developed here in Harvard by the sweetcorn gurus at Twin Garden Farms.
Which leads me to the topic of this blog: Heritage. Piscasaw Gardens was born out of heritage and continues because of heritage. 12 years ago my grandmother, Selma Davidson, helped me begin to grow cut flowers. My love of all growing things flourished through her influence in my childhood, and also that of my mother, Janet Davidson and her mother, Mildred Blum. They gently corrected me and encouraged me when, in my youthful enthusiasm, I committed fatal errors such as planting bulbs root-side up. I was also a tag-along to my dad, Walter Davidson, a dairy farmer and field crop producer. I observed scouting and did soil sampling under his direction. Most importantly, my dad taught me that a farmer gets up and out to do the work no matter how wet, cold, windy or hot it is, and no matter how crappy one feels. My family is my first strong stream of farming heritage.
What began as a backyard hobby garden blossomed into a full-time passion. I still had so much to learn though. When the opportunity to become head grower of the garden at Twin Gardens opened up, I applied and they took me on as a mentee “head grower”. During my 9 years in that role, I grew into the position, through the mentorship of Cliff Ingersol. As many of you know, I quickly “infiltrated” their product line-up with cut flowers. We grew over five acres of cut flowers, over 15 acres of fruits and vegetables and Twin Gardens grew 80 acres of their famous corn annually. I am so grateful to Twin Gardens for my time with them. Thankfully, Cliff continues to mentor me in my new Mirai undertaking.
Yesterday we purchased the Brook farm on Lawrence Road in Harvard Illinois. Talk about heritage! Rich and Sonja built that whole farm with their own hands...the beautiful buildings and the land. They amended the soil to the point that in places it flows so softly through my fingers that it brings tears to my eyes. (Farmers get emotional about different sorts of things.) The Brooks grew vegetables and bedding flowers for decades and later moved into popcorn production, both growing and popping. While we have no plans for bedding plants in the foreseeable future, we are taking on the popcorn. My husband, Aaron, will be doing the popcorn, so look for that in our product selection, as well. We are so thankful for Rich and Sonja and we hope to honor their legacy on the farm.
So. Here we are -beginning and continuing all at the same time. We are grateful for all those that contributed to our heritage and we are thankful for you, our customers, and all that make our existence possible. Please come by the farm for a visit, or stop in and see us soon at one of our many farmers’ markets. We will be starting porch pick-up on the farm very soon for cut-flowers. As soon as vegetables come in mid-June, we will open our indoor storefront. We look forward to continuing to share the abundance that comes through our farming heritage, fresh from our fields and straight to your home!