lavender, lacewings, and lucky lollygagging

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? 

a melodious jumble

What we’ve been up to, in brief.

The field is greening up, slower than anticipated with stalls for snowstorms and wet weather. Snow peas, snap peas, and favas look awesome. On the other hand the sweet peas look …pretty peaked. As we rotate beds in the greenhouse, we have been looking at crops in the field, anxious about how we’re going to fill the farm stand for the next couple weeks. Grow, greens, grow.

Jeremy and his father, David, made good use of the snowy weather and put up a couple of doors on our pack shed. The are sliding barn-style doors, the rail and sliding roller thingies are salvaged closet door hardware from the old Mormon church-turned-house in town. So that has us feeling pretty fancy.

Spring bird migration highlights include: a male Blackpoll Warbler, Swainson’s Thrushes, about 25 Lark Sparrows (with their 80’s toy laser gun song), and the first Warbling Vireo we’ve seen on the farm.

We sprayed BD prep 500 and barrel compost earlier this spring and, later, harmonized the ponderosa tree. We’ve been spraying preparations on the farm for seven years now, but the tree harmonizing was new for us. This gave Jeremy an opportunity to try out dowsing rods and the plasticity of my masters degree.

The inordinate Fedco bulb order Jeremy placed last fall has been erupting all over everywhere. Not quite a visual cacophany, but nearly. Along with crocuses and hyacinths, and pert near every other thing, Jeremy insisted on ordering tulips. I protested: tulips are bougie symbols of economic hegemony. Well, he planted them anyway. And then they popped up as bright and elegant, candid blooms of pure joy. Apparently I love tulips. Plus, I just found out that tulips are the eleventh anniversary flower. Jeremy planted these last fall, eleven years after we first met. So sweet.

Last week we had the opportunity to organize a bicycle scavenger hunt for Spearfish Bike to Work Week. The ride theme, the Birds and the Bees, was a tribute to our local avian and invertebrate inspired sights.

Not only do we now finally have a bike rack, we’ve also installed a poetry dispenser at the farm stand! This is something we’ve been thinking about ever since first coming across a poetry dispenser at the public library in Bozeman several years ago. Language and land! Peas and poesy! All the very best things!

It has been a quiet spring this year without lambs blaaaaaahing for milkshakes and chicks in the brooder sunroom.  Radish, the hens, and worms are bearing the brunt of all our affections, but they seem to be handling it well.     

Also, farm share members(!), we’ve been celebrating the season’s greens by eating miso soup, with regularity, and gusto. Just broth and greens (any greens, all the greens: spinach, turnip greens, radish greens, arugula, kale, scallions, green garlic) are super simple and super amazing – or, if we’re feeling fancypants, we’ll add noodles, sauteed shiitakes, sliced spring turnips or radishes, an egg… Such a quick and easy feast and it accommodates seemingly everything and anything from the field/fridge. Check out this link for some great miso-soupy inspiration. If miso is new to you, it’s a fermented bean paste (gf) – we’ve had luck finding this in the fridge section at our awesome local natural food stores. We like the red miso, but whatever makes you happy. If you’re looking for good, sustainably harvested sea weed and want to support a rad seaweed steward, we’d recommend Ironbound Island.

Very merry spring tidings from the farm and your farmers, t&j

Another year of birds on the farm

This time of year has us getting our ducks in a row and planning for the upcoming season. Part of this includes reflecting on last year, what worked well, what absolutely needs changed.  Some of these conversations and decisions are more difficult than others (financial decisions, winnowing Jeremy’s girthy seed order list). Others are entirely delightful. Which brings us to the bird list, a weekly record of bird species identified on the farm that we started as part of our on-farm monitoring. Last year’s bird log and a brief write-up is available here

The graph above shows this past year’s weekly species count along with the numbers from the previous year. The peaks during seasonal migration are clear and trending. A new record high for number of species per week was set in May with 53 species identified on the farm.  The dips to zero in the species count (in Jan and mid-November) correlate with farmer/observer absence from the farm.

A few of our special highlights for the year include getting a chance to see ospreys (possibly the same bird, but on multiple occasions) eating fish on our hop trellis (ha! some farmers pay for fish fertilizer).  In April, we gawked as a goshawk disemboweled and feasted heartily on a Eurasian-collared dove in the front yard. And while we’re on the subject of well fed birds, a summer tanager came by in May and made short order of a good number of our honeybees.  Additional fun visitors to the farm: common redpolls, peregrine falcons, an ovenbird, a blue-gray gnatcatcher and a hummingbird (sp.?) with a rad bright yellow pollen mohawk. One morning in June, we watched as wrens removed fecal sacks from their nest (in a new box we put up this year!) and stuck them to a branch in an adjacent boxelder – lining them up neatly like bright white farolitos. We did not, however, see as many warblers or hummingbirds as last year (2017).

A few additional notes as regards 2018 birds on the farm:

  • Early in the year, we built, painted a few, and hung up 10 new bird houses. For a variety of different species.
  • Nine species nested on the farm. With at least six robin nests. Also nesting were chickadees, house sparrows, starlings, Eurasian-collared doves, house wrens, house finches, blue jays, and blackbirds. Downy Woodpeckers nested, if not on the farm, very close by; baby downies are super cute.
  • We have set up and are populating a farm ebird account – HooRAH for citizen science!
  • With two steady hands and one additional finger to press the photo button, it is possible to get a reasonably good long distance photo using a binoculars and a smartphone camera.
  • This year’s bird log in full is available as a PDF here <- click to open pdf.

Wishing you a joyful and wonder-filled new year!

Positively drenched in enthusiasm,

your farmers,

Trish and Jeremy

 

poetry tour

Greetings farm friends! Mark your calendar! We hope you’ll join us on Sunday, April 8, at 2:00 PM for the debut of our lovingly created, carefully crafted poetry tour of the farm.  In celebration of poetry and in concurrence with National Poetry Month we are introducing our Farm Poetry Tour, a walking tour of the farm accompanied by poems for selected locations.We have assembled this tour as a fun way to share the farm and our farming practices. The farm is a busy spot with lengthy to-do lists, having poetry scattered about encourages reflection and thought. We love to share the farm, to help build connections between people and their food, and to build connections between people.

Art and poetry provide a platform for shared experience, and with shared experiences we have something in common over which we can relate.  In the poetry tour guide, each poem is followed by a few of the many reasons why we are excited about it and have chosen to include it on the tour. We look forward to spending a full year with these poems on the farm and sharing them with you.

Over the holidays we had a chance to visit with good friends who recently opened a fantastic brewery in Northfield, MN. In catching up on news of their new venture, they relayed accounts of all sorts of creative community building activities they have been engaged with via their new local business. They host live music and taco carts(etc), help find foster homes for a local animal shelter’s featured “Brewery Dog of the Month”, they partner with local farms for fine, fresh ingredients (a blueberry wheat, honey basil ale and something amazing with rhubarb and raspberry), AND they have been hosting poetry nights at the brewery, and even present patrons with poems printed out and displayed on the back of the bathroom stalls. Poetry at a brewery!? Brilliant!

This caused us to think: we need poetry on the farm.

So, with a suggestion from Jeremy – a poetry tour of the farm – we immediately set about compiling a selection of poems from our most favorite poets and poets we didn’t recognize. Poems that spoke to us and our community, the farm and the work we do here. We unloaded our book shelves of all poetry books, and anything else that had poems tucked in corners, at the beginning of chapters, almanacs, calendars, and cookbooks too. For three days, the living room floor was covered in a glorious pile of literature. We sat together, quietly reading – interrupting each other suddenly and sporadically to read new-found favorites aloud.  Half-way through the third day of binge poetry reading, we decided we had better wrap up the list, compile the tour and be done with it – or it we’d still be sitting here reading come May.  Pulling these poems together was huge fun. Derek and Laura, thanks for your inspiration.

…and while you are cavorting about reading poetry and getting to know the farm – keep an eye out for the new birdhouses that have sprung up around the farm. Birds have been scouting them out, but we don’t know of any nesting just yet.

Metaphorically Yours, Trish and Jeremy