Intern’s Insight #4: Winding down

post by: Debbie Fields November 9, 2009

My internship is officially over, sure as the increasingly intense frosts brought the farm’s growing to a slow crawl.  It is amazing how glorious rows of produce can be thriving in August, only to be reduced to brown and wilted stalks a month later.  In October we spent a lot of time tilling in finished beds, spreading cover crop seeds, planting next year’s garlic, pulling out old, dead plants (all those tomatoes!).  When the irrigation ditch shut off in the middle of the month, all the pipes were pulled off the field and laid along the fence; now the mice will have a place to nest for the winter in the long, steel tubes.  Without irrigation there is no more water for the mighty kale plants in the greenhouse tunnels.  Their growth slows almost to a halt.  Freezing nights, windstorms, the return of geese, the first snows…all signs of a changing of seasons.  These events signal a time of rest, of pause in growth, a time to let things be undisturbed.  Several people have asked (somewhat hopefully) at the market and at the farmstand, “do you grow anything during the winter?”  I suppose it could be done; other farmers in Oregon do it.  They pump heated air into sealed greenhouses to keep the plants alive, despite the cold air outside and short days of light.  The drawbacks include using lots of gas and electric power to grow those greens, a high potential for pest and disease infestation, and no rest for the workers.  Financially, perhaps some farms have decided that it makes sense to grow through the winter.  But the economics of it contradict nature: winter is a time for rest.  A time to let freezes kill bacterias and insects.  A time to give the soil a break.  A time to make meals out of the storage produce put aside…potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, winter squash, and any canned and frozen foods you prepared during the summer.  My fiance and I have frozen some kale, peppers, and soups made in summer, and we canned applesauce and tomatoes…all part of an experiment in being more local and self-sufficient, in part inspired by my work at Fields Farm and by Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”  It takes a lot of work!  But it will be worth it when in February we can eat local, organic produce.  It is quite a change of personal paradigm when you try to eat seasonally; you have to accept that certain things are available only at certain times, and you must enjoy them to the fullest at those times!  It is certainly a challenge, and though you may not have canned or frozen anything this year (the above mentioned storage vegetables are still available for sale at the farm!), I challenge YOU to try and eat seasonally and locally through the next year.  I challenge you to ignore that asparagus you see the stores now; it traveled too far and is far from fresh.  Know that in April and May it will be available in the northwest, and its flavor will be all the better from the long wait.  I challenge you to put back those bananas and oranges, and instead turn your eyes to the apples and pears grown in our region.  Enjoy them now while they’re fresh, and can or freeze some for next year when you are craving apples in May and the only ones you can find are from far off Chile.  These are the small steps it takes to be a little bit lighter on the land, but when many people take these small steps, big changes are possible.  See you next year, and enjoy a restful winter.