Saturday, September 22, 2007

Growing Pains

A week ago, I harvested the remains of some beds of potatoes. Under the remnants of spring's heavy mulch, the soil was surprisingly moist considering the lack of rainfall and high temperatures for anumber of weeks. Moist enough, in fact, to plant seeds for fall salad crops (lettuce, carrots, kale, chard, turnips, etc.) with considerable hope (remember, we don't do ANY irrigation at Pinwheel Farm). But likewise, dry enough to be a real pain to dig the potatoes. The fork had to be worked into the soil inch by inch, through slow patient rocking, and then levered, and then beaten into manageable clods. Oh, my aching back!

We've had 3 inches of rain in the last three days. Digging potatoes today was a different matter: easy to put the fork in the ground and turn the earth, more laborious to wipe the mud from the potatoes. Yet by the grace of our incredible soil, it DID wipe off, and it WASN'T too muddy to work up a good enough seed bed to sow beets, cilantro, and dill.

Trade-offs. Part of growing, whether growing vegetables, growing a farm, or growing a community. Digging first, then sowing seeds, then waiting to see what further work is needed.

The visiting Christian brothers, Ezra and David, have been working on resurrecting the hoop-house style barn that has been coverless and derelict for three years now. Each week, they've made some progress at preparing to rebuild: loading scrap metal to haul to the recyclers, piling rotten wood to be burned, tearing off damaged portions of the building. Finally it was time to buy new wood, to finalize the design for the restructuring, and to build the new post and beam framework that will support the arched roof supports and help the roof shed water properly.

In the effort to coax one particular original post back into alignment, it snapped at the base: thoroughly rotten, the only one apparently in that condition. Well, that's a blessing--that all the posts aren't rotten. So they set about to dig up the old post in order to set a new one. And dug, and dug, and dug...

It turns out THAT, of all posts, was the one where we just couldn't seem to get the original hole in the right place. So the hole ended up being a good 18" in diameter for its entire 4' depth. By that point we'd gotten into a good rhythm with mixing our own concrete from sand, gravel, and portland, one garden cart at a time, and we had the materials in abundance, so we just filled the hole with concrete.

David and Ezra can attest to the strength of our conrete mix: it laughed at their attempts to reduce its bulk with pick and sledge. After a day's labor with ropes, chains, 4" x 4" levers, blocks, barrels, and jacks, they managed to hoist it out of the hole. Leaving...a huge hole to refill inch by inch, tamping all the way, only to dig a new post hole. AND a 4' long concrete "log" with corners squared off enough to keep it from being rolled along the ground. We all agreed it would make an interesting bench outside the barn...a reminder of the folly of considering any construction permanent and final. I'm further convinced that all building should be done repair and, ultimately, removal in mind...just as planting should consider the eventual removal of the crop.

Together the 6 of us at the farm (myself, housemate/fellow bus driver Emily, and the four Christian brothers and sisters) work through the growing pains of becoming a community. For me, the resident expert on the operation of this particularly farm and household, the main labor is answering questions. At first, I thought there would be a gradual lessening of questions as people learned their way around, as we got to know one another and the farm.

Now I see that the questions go on endlessly; they only change gradually in nature. They began with "Do we have a _____?" Then "Where do you keep the ____?" Now it's "Who used the ____ last, and where did you put it?" and "Would it be ok if I [cleaned/sharpened/washed] the ____?" They began with asking for instructions to do various tasks, then asking what should be done, now proposing an activity and asking whether I'd like it done, or what the priorities are, or when am I going to buy the materials. I watch, I guide, I suggest, I learn to trust that things will be done well enough by others, soon enough. I am so used to doing everything myself! But I am enjoying the challenge of "letting go and letting God", through the hands of others.

Everyone is eager to learn, quick-thinking, inquisitive. What is this caterpillar? Did you see that spider? Come look at this! Which are the weeds and which are the new seedlings? What wonders there are to discover at the farm, on every branch, under every object, around every corner.

But I begin to long for the day when I truly have the heart to say, "Today I am not answering any questions."

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