Make yourself a cocktail and settle in, friends, we have a guest post by Regina Fitzsimmons!
We asked our friend, farm care taker, and favorite writer, Regina, if she would write a little ditty to share with our farm friends, something about her experience these past few weeks on the farm. Between cross-country road travels, family wedding celebrations, and preparing for the fall semester – she did. Regina is a proficient farm dog snuggler, apple and (newly!) lavender aficionado, master potato beetle squisher(even though it’s so gross), mighty delicious cocktail maker, care taker of all things, care maker for all things, ever haloed in tenderness, delight, and wonder, and, amidst so much more, she is certainly one of the world’s most talented and thoughtful word crafters. AND the included photos are ones she took and shared with us (so let’s just add Official And Amazing Farm Photographer to the list too). Regina, thank you, dear friend. Our hearts are full of flamingos. – T&J
Yesterday I packed up my car with a cooler full of kale, a precious carton of rainbow-pastel eggs, a heavenly jar of dried garlic scape powder, and a golden-yellow bottle of homemade limoncello. I just glanced down at my shirt, and noticed little tufts of Radish fur—from my goodbye squeeze yesterday morning. I can hardly believe I get to write these words: For the last month, Cycle Farm was home.
When Trish and Jeremy told me they were whizzing across the Atlantic for a family wedding, during a hustle-bustle harvest month, I was reminded—as I always am with these two—of their unceasing generosity. It is no small thing to pack up a bag, say goodbye to the best dog in the world, and leave a home and livelihood in the hands of somebody else. But Trish and Jeremy did so with ever-present kindness, trust, lightness and humor, enthusiasm, not to mention a kind of superhuman bottomless patience for my litany of questions—including real winners like, “Wait, but how do you pick up a chicken again?” or “Which one of these is the vegetable and which one is the weed?”
This might be stating the obvious, but hot tamale: The difference between working at a farm and running one is as staggering as the difference between a garden snake and a rattler. I’ve worked on a lot of farms over the years, but prior to this summer, my farm days have always looked relatively similar, regardless of locale: my mornings and afternoons were buttressed by some effortful work and a lot of zoning out. I’ve experienced negligible, if not non-existent, foresight or hindsight. I’ve always had a farm boss who’s told me exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do that thing. I’ve rarely registered an entire landscape, I’ve instead zeroed in on one task: planting a row of onions, seeding a tray of lettuce, attempting to harvest a pile of potatoes without stabbing too many of them with my pitchfork.
The farmers that I admire, though, are a direct inverse of my obliviousness. They are always attentive, eternally alert. I suspect there’s no greater land steward than a farmer. I am moved by their ethics, their Herculean strength, their flexibility, dependability, and ever-present observation. The farmers I admire are never not paying attention—they’re cognizant of the quality and moisture of the soil, of the number and variety of the pollinators, of the invasives, the water quality and rainfall, the aridity and humidity, the weather and projected weather and the weather trends from last season, and so on. They’re thinking about saving seed for next year, or the planting schedule in years to follow. They’re aware in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever been aware, of an entire ecosystem at their fingertips. Trish and Jeremy are farmers like that.
While I gallantly attempted to emulate these two, I am still very much the bumbling farmer that I ever was. And I’m not being self-deprecating! Lemme paint y’all a picture: This past month I misidentified lavender *quite literally* more times than I correctly identified it. I excitedly emailed Trish some pictures of onion seed, only to be so gently informed that those were, in fact, not onions at all. I weeded a baby beet bed and probably yanked out upward of 10 mini beet stems in my haphazard process. When a chicken flew directly toward my face I literally barked, “COULD YOU NOT!?” And then I promptly burst out laughing, the noise of which thoroughly startled all the birds who zoomed away from me as fast as their little scaly legs would let them. Suffice it to say, it was a super solid, very brave move, to let me steer this farm ship in their stead.
Thankfully, I didn’t do this alone. For a few days, I was joined by Tom, who tirelessly weeded and planted potatoes that are now leafing out, promising delectable abundance in months to come. For a few solid weeks, I was also joined by Marci, who expertly irrigated all the fields, and trellised cucumbers and tomatoes with astounding attention to detail and care. During some of the hottest days, she and I took shelter indoors and swapped stories that were so funny, my face ached from the laugh-tears. There were also a few days when Radish and I flew solo—a thought that had initially made me nervous, to shoulder so much responsibility, but turned out to be downright peachy. Radish has a warm way of quelling any sort of worry. She and I dipped our toes and paws in Spearfish Creek on the daily, and she seemed to sense anytime I was feeling worried; she’d wriggle under my arms, squeeze tightly into my side, nuzzling in as close as she could so there wasn’t a trace of space between us. Looking back, I’m overcome by the total delight of all this companionship. These farm friends made my days feel so rich, vibrating with energy and color, zest and flavor, humor and comfort.
It feels both moving and a little sorrowful, looking back at Cycle Farm in the rearview. This morning—my first daybreak away from the chickens and good dog—felt a bit strange, a little lifeless. It’s just after six in the morning as I type this, and looking ahead, my day seems blandly devoid of structure. During the weeks spent at Cycle Farm, my days began at first light, when I stumbled out the backdoor to feed the ensemble of symphonic chickens. I thought of Jeremy this morning, now resuming this routine. I glanced at my clock, wondering if he was walking toward the chicken house at that very moment, booting the roosting hens from their little cubbies, greeting them with gentle hellos and breakfast goodies. This past month my days closed at last light, tucking them in—a task now back in the skilled hands of T & J. I am comforted that the farm is back in their far more capable care, but I also miss, in a selfish way, the chance I had to learn with and from this landscape. For the past month, I’ve tried to study this ecosystem, to attempt to look and listen the way T & J look and listen. I wish I could’ve given as much as T & J give on the daily. And yet, I’m also buoyed by the notion that ultimately, I did the best I could. Everything I did, I did to nourish something else. And the farm, in turn, gave so much more—it never stopped gifting. There’s an everlasting indebtedness there, that I neither deserved nor earned. And yet, it was still gifted to me. What I’m feeling now is an undiluted delight in reciprocity. It feels so good to give; it feels so very precious to be taken care of.
There’s something I thought about so often this past month, that I thought I might also share here. I found myself reflecting on my very first visit to Cycle Farm. My friends Avery, Craig, and I zoomed over to Spearfish, to take a peek at T & J’s new home, before it had really revved into gear. Trish and Jeremy had just touched down in Spearfish and already two things were growing: garlic and bulbous radishes. I remember Trish uprooted one of the radishes for me to nibble—my first taste of the bounty to come. I kept rewinding that old memory these past few weeks. Cycle Farm seems unrecognizable, compared to that first glimpse. It’s always been beautiful to me, but it has also transformed into a truly astounding landscape. It is a carbon sequestering machine. It invites a host of birds and butterflies, friendly bugs and wiggling snakes—it is a regenerative biodiverse landscape in its very essence. Also. Guys. Can we just take a second to talk about the POETRY DISPENSER inside the farm stand!? WHAT MAGIC IS THIS!? There’s watercolor and block prints everywhere; the artistry is as skillful as it is gorgeous. Everything is handmade.
Over the years, I have had the fortune to work with and learn from many farmers and land stewards. I also studied agriculture in school, which provided a different, albeit more bookish, agrarian education. All in all, there have been few who’ve taught and inspired me as much as these two. In such a short number of years, they’ve grown something that I struggle to articulate in words—there’s simply so much happening. The restoration, the regeneration, the animal husbandry, the seed saving, the continual pivot away from motorized equipment—everything you see is done by hand. The farm embodies intention, reflection, and thoughtfulness.
Additionally, I’ve had the equally great fortune to work on a few farms that seemed to embody joy, where the work felt vital and important, but also fortified by levity, forgiveness, and good humor. I realized, while writing this post this morning, that I’ve had a smile plastered to my face while doing so. Cycle Farm’s got all the good vibes. As does the community in Spearfish who were so kind, so endlessly welcoming to me, offering help, laughter, and friendship everywhere I turned. It’s possible, I imagine, to feel alone and pretty freaked out, keeping a farm going in a farmers’ stead. But I always felt the inverse. I was continually looked after, supported both by the farm and by this kind and heart-filled community nestled in the Black Hills.
Gosh, saying goodbye is like a sucker punch. I’ve never successfully driven down the whole length of Evans Lane without pulling over to dry my eyes. I also leave Cycle Farm kinder and gentler than when I arrived—my friends bring out the best in all living things. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Cycle Farm has a quiet way of grounding us with humor, of refilling bellies and hearts, of tethering us to kindness, and of restoring hope during times when care and decency feels in short supply. Thinking about it all just makes me sit here and smile. I’m shaking my head, too, having just murmured aloud: How did we all get to be so lucky?