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DeLaney Community Farm 2012 Recap

DeLaney Community Farm 2012 Recap
…Also fondly regarded as “the end of days”

By Faatma Merhmanesh, Operations Coordinator at DUG’s DeLaney Community Farm

If I had written this article in July it would be a much different presentation of farming in hot and dry times. You would probably be reading a deflated, angry, hopeless, tired and distressed version of events. Thankfully, autumn throws us into a state of self reflection where the big picture is revealed. The silver lining makes itself known. The sky is not really falling… it was just the Drought of 2012. The following is the condensed version of our inner dialogue and experience as urban/peri-urban farmers at DeLaney Community Farm during the hottest season in eternity, well at least since the Dust Bowl era, which feels like an eternity to us.

New staff, new season, we are ready for the world. We are ready to grow some food! DeLaney Community farm has a new seasonal staff of farm interns every year.  We are getting to know one another.  We are getting to know the soil and get familiar with the smells, sights and sounds, the pests and predators, trying to wrap our heads around organic production, ecosystems, local food movements, how we fit into it all. There is a healthy level of urgency while preparing soil and planting our first seeds.

It’s the mad dash to get all these plants in the ground, in a thoughtful, efficient, forward thinking, instructional, attractive, water conserving, and highly productive way (no pressure). All this while having meaningful conversations about agrarian theory and practice. We are absolutely, positively sure that we are smart. We are especially sure of our smart-ness while we apply our preemptive organic amending for pest control and get all of our beautiful seeds and transplants into the ground in a timely manner.

Black clouds descend onto the cool weather crops. Upon closer examination the clouds jump, fly away, disperse only to return again as you walk away. Flea Beetles a.k.a. Evil. Neem doesn’t work, diatomaceous earth doesn’t work, the hose on full blast doesn’t work. There are too many of them. We are outnumbered. A mild winter created a monster… a broccoli-devouring monster. They didn’t have their normal cycle of winter dormancy and so instead, spent all that time preparing for mass procreation and brassicaceae domination. We are defeated. No spring/summer broccoli… or cauliflower for that matter. We’re not going to cry…It’s ok. We tell ourselves that fall broccoli tastes so much better and will try again with a strategy to outsmart the pests. By the way, it’s really hot. Has it been this hot before (scratching sweaty head)? The radishes are hot, the arugula is hotter… it is getting hot just remembering.

This season’s staff was the cream of the introspective crop. A gift (curse?) of agrarian philosophers with existential conundrums. Also it’s really flippin’ hot and there have never been so many rabbits on this farm… ever. The rabbits are eating all bean plants to the nubs. The rabbits take one bite of every beet root. We try dusting everything in finely ground hot pepper. The rabbits are eating the carrots. We spray all of the plants with soapy water, hot pepper and garlic. The rabbits are eating the lettuce. We cover the lettuce with two layers of row cover. The rabbits are so fat they can hardly run. They are reproducing like a bad joke and for the first time there are more of them than there are prairie dogs. Oh. My. Goodness. We’re not prepared for natures emotional outbursts, we’re not prepared for our own.

The conversations only gardeners and farmers can have, in the heat, covered in weed debris and soil, and thirsty…

 Farmer #1 approaches fellow farmers to share a concern/discovery

I found a nest of baby rabbits in the beet field.

Farmers #1, #2 and #3 walk toward the rabbit nest to investigate and find the baby bunnies. So small they haven’t opened their eyes yet, little feet wiggling, snuggling close to each other to stay safe and feel safety… which as the farmers approach may be diminishing. The three farmers coo at the babies and then catch themselves… ahem. They straighten themselves up and make an attempt at seriousness. 

 What do we do?

They are babies… we have to save them, protect them because they are cute and snuggly and we absolutely do not behave aggressively toward any creature with fur while they are babies.
(exaggerated slightly for dramatic effect but you understand this is our human dilemma)

 Farmer#3 (a person moved only by logic)
It’s inappropriate to interfere with the natural processes at work here. Leave the rodents alone to live or die as was intended. 

Farmer#1 and #2
(and now reacting to the callus response on Farmer #3) 
We are going to save them! 

Farmers #1 and #2 surround the bunnies with a protective barrier of straw, they are not sure why but this is appealing to their nurturing sensibilities. 

Farmer #3
…and when they are full grown and eating the beets that surround them? 

…We’ll kill them…

Tears and confusion ensue… we don’t actually ever plot to kill the rabbits.

Can anyone say “hot pickled cucumbers!”. We have more cucumbers than we know what to do with. We have hot peppers for the entire city of Aurora and they are HOT. So hot that you must wear gloves while harvesting and be very very mindful not to rub your eyes. The weekly harvest is fattening finally. We are feeling like farmers again, instead of professional weeders. The weeds are really enjoying the heat. It’s flippin hot. The water from the spigots is hot.  All we want is ice. Delicious crushed ice. It’s melted from the drive from the neighborhood grocery to the farm. So we suffice with melted slushy water, which will be hot if you don’t drink it fast. Remember not to touch your delicious cup of slushy water with your hot pepper gloved hand. Shareholders hold pickling classes and we all follow suit with our canning kits pulled from the attics and basements. When there is bounty there is bounty. Maybe because the heat slowed the harvest earlier in the season we all felt the need to preserve so that feeling of abundance could stretch into the winter.

It’s the end already? We have to begin to wrap our heads around the oncoming close of the season. Have we done all we could do? Self-reflection sets in. Having been party to the life cycles we begin writing our lists of pros and cons and journaling. Are we better farmers? So much conversation about nature and man begin. Are all farmers and gardeners also philosophers? Are we better people than we were in April? There is even more dialogue about how we act and react toward eustress, and distress. What makes community in hard times? We celebrate our harvest with the most delicious brunch you’ve ever eaten (at least that’s what it feels like when you grew the food in the hottest summer of all time) prepared by the awe-inspiring chefs from Snooze, an A.M. Eatery at DeLaney with friends and family. We are satiated emotionally and our bellies are full too. 

The last harvest day is heavy and full. All of us making every effort to make today perfect, to present the produce beautifully, to write on the chalkboard in our best penmanship, to take extra care because this is the last time. Until next season…it’s like preparing for hibernation. There was so much food we had to tell shareholders to bring extra bags and boxes. Everyone posted pictures on facebook and we smiled. Our vegetables are sort of famous.

In these last days, we are turning the beds in. Putting the farm to bed. Fall planting garlic for the next world-changing (in our minds) season of growing vegetables with and for our community. We are going inside to ruminate on our processes internal and external. Take a nap and be grateful for the heat while it’s cold outside. I’m going to eat pickled everything and homemade hot sauce on everything all winter while I maneuver through this two-foot stack of books that has been growing all summer, patiently waiting for me.  

One of our team this year said… “Part of being a member of a CSA is reconnecting with the Earth and sharing in her bounty, and part of being a member of a CSA is reconnecting with the Earth and being humbled by her force and devastation. We are only small and human after all and it’s a great reminder that this planet will do what she does to our benefit or detriment which offers a lesson in resilience and gratitude.” Thank you world for letting us grow every season with you.