speeding by

Life on the farm is packed: early morning singing in chapel, caring for our animals, harvest and food preservation, noon chapel service, a community lunchtime meal, afternoon break and more work hours.  Then evening prayers and a light dinner.  The days and weeks just speed by...

But on Sunday afternoon, after our "house meeting" when the Sisters and other residents discuss and make decisions about farming projects, events, and day-to-day schedules, Anne and I stole away for an afternoon walk.  And I think I'll have to make a practice of it, because to stroll through the woods acquaints me with a whole other part of the farm, slows me down, and makes me appreciate this place even more.

The Community's property is about 23 acres, and we cultivate less than one acre (which makes our harvest, and the fact that we sustain ourselves primarily from our own crops, all the more impressive!).  Throughout the property there are about 300 maple trees, which the Sisters tap to make our own maple syrup. 

This photo is of an area that separates the farm and a playing field used by the Melrose School, a dayschool that shares the property. The ground is fairly bare, with few shrubs or mid-sized trees.  From what we've been learning about edible forest gardens, the forest would probably be healthier if it had a wider diversity of species to help protect and nourish the soil. 

A few years ago, one of the Sisters began planting fruit trees in the meadow below our main garden, which abuts this part of the forest.  We currently have at least two varieties of pear trees, apple trees, and a peach tree, as well as hazelnut trees in the nearby vineyard.  We're thinking about how to cultivate this lower meadow with a wide variety of fruit and nut trees and other edible plants.  If we can successfully "build into" this transitional space between the garden and the forest, we will be able to harvest many foods and materials without the intensive labor required by farming.

In this photo, Anne is looking down upon the playing field and the woods beyond.  It's such a serene place.  I can just imagine building a little strawbale house near this field, in the woods on the periphery...and the snowy silence down here in the wintertime.






Walking back up to the farm, up the winding road that takes you to Farrington's Pond and then into Connecticut.  It's a bit of a shock when SUVs come barreling around this corner, rushing on their way, totally out of sync with the pace and peace of this area. Sans traffic, you hear the wind, the leaves falling, the chickens clucking, the sound of shovels hitting soil.  And then a big noisy car or truck will drive by, and you realize that we're living cheek-by-jowl with suburbia.  Or, really, that suburbia is speeding by us, oblivious to the quiet beauty and slower rhythm of this place.

I think that all those lovely manicured lawns that you can see on your way down the hill, when you get into town, would make great vegetable gardens.  Imagine if we were all growing a little bit of food, we could share seeds and tools, and have the pleasure of eating food we've planted and watched mature...imagine if we all were connecting with our neighbors around the activity of growing food.  Rather than spending big bucks on lawn care, and the costly and toxic pesticides that are part of that whole operation, we could use our yards for food.  This idea of "yard sharing" is becoming a reality, organized through new media--check out this site that connects people who have yards with people who want to garden.  

There's something about getting your hands in the dirt, about shuffling in the leaves on the forest path, about imagining new life in a plot of land that gets us to slow down, to see the way the light falls, to be creaturely.  I'm grateful for Sunday afternoons, and how they help catch me from just speeding by...


I am delighted every day, whenever I remember to pause. It's all too easy to get caught up in a task, or start thinking ahead to the next thing that needs to be done, and not even really see what's surrounding me. Sometimes being "in the flow"--when you're totally engaged, learning something new or problem-solving, when the hours just fly by--can be exhilarating in itself. But other times, I can find myself (especially in front of the computer) just jumping from one thing to another and before I know it, the day is over...

On the farm, though, I'm finding it easier to pause, to look around myself, and to breathe deep. I think the rhythms of the day help: morning harvest is usually a quiet time, and the stillness of the garden can make me just stop and take in my surroundings, and smile.

With my harvest basket in hand, I will look up, stretch my back straight, and catch a glimpse of beauty...

Morning glories climbing the fence...


The geometry and grace of a squash blossom, its spiraling shoots and vines, the tiny little hairs covering it....

The amazing colors and shapes of our harvest, spread out on the countertop...

Zucchini, Ichiban and Green Goddess eggplants

Annelino beans (curly green beans)

Anaheim and Cherry Bomb peppers

Sun Gold and Cherry Tomatoes

Yard-long and Indy Gold beans...

Taking time to pause and appreciate is part of the culture of the farm, too.  Living in community, with six other adults who have a range of interests and responsibilities, means that other people are always doing something wonderful when you aren't looking...Walk into the pantry, and find that of the Sisters made a whole batch of Jalapeno Dill Pickles (YUM!)...walk into the yard, and see that someone has been busy planting and mulching, and there's a whole new bed of beets just bursting forth...go into Chapel and there's a beautiful arrangement of flowers gracing the altar...There's berries freezing in the freezer, eggs in the refrigerator, wood chopped and fences repaired, tidy guestrooms prepared for friends and visitors, and, always, delicious clean water brought from the building across the street. 

It's a symphony of sorts, one played in many parts and at different moments, and there can be bumps and scrapes along the way.  But the abundance of gifts that is the manifestation of this symphony is breathtaking: a perfect cherry tomato, in a season when most tomatoes in the northeast were devastated by blight.  A parade of ducklings, marching to their morning bath.  The collective happiness about the homecoming of a cat thought lost.  The enjoyment of shared work, shelling beans and beans and beans.

There's Hidatsa Red, Black Coco, Arikara Yellow, Black Turtle, Hutterite, Edamame, Kidney, Cannelini, Vermont Cranberry, and Scarlet Runner beans, for starters.  These are all "dry beans," and that means we let them ripen and dry on the vine, waiting as long as possible before we harvest them.  With all the rain, we need to be careful about them sprouting, as those can't be stored for the winter.  (The little white bowl in the upper left has some of the sprouted beans we found, in and among the others.)  Much of our work is in preparation for the winter, though the weather makes it hard to believe that it's already the end of August...

And although we are preparing for the months to come, what strikes me again and again is how much this community is living in the present.  Every day we pause, at every meal, to say what we are grateful for.  It's an amazing exercise, to stop and think about what you can give thanks for, and I find it makes me much more aware and appreciative of all that I am experiencing.   

Every day we pause, to stop and stretch and look around, to check in with the cats and the dogs, and the ducks and the chickens, and even the bees, to see how everyone is doing.  And these pauses are nourishing, enlivening, filling.  I hope that everyone can find moments in which to pause, to look around, to breathe. 


a new rhythm

On August 1, I began my new work with Bluestone Farm, a small organic farm in Brewster NY, which is run by the Community of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopalian order of nuns. I've been volunteering here all spring almost every weekend, and finally decided that it was time to dive in, to learn what I could learn, to support their work, and to make a new way for myself. I've been writing updates about the farm and this transition on Facebook and Twitter (and posting photos on Flickr), but now will be writing regular posts to this blog.

There's a long story to tell here, involving my own awakening to sustainability and our shared future on this planet, the sisters' eco-spiritual project and their relation to the larger food and environmental movements, the many people who visit and are touched by the nuns' work, and my reviving spirituality.

But I don't have a coherent narrative yet, so perhaps a blog is the best way to "write down the bones" and see where the writing takes me.

So: to begin. A brief description about the rhythm of the farm, a new rhythm for me. This weekend began as the last eight or so have, with an early morning harvest that we prepped to sell at the local farmers market. The market is small, with five stands: the bakers, the honey guy, the Italian cheese/meat/pasta folks, and another (larger, non-organic) vegetable stand. Click here for pictures of previous weeks.

We like to call our produce "twice eaten" because, as you can see it's a bit holey--it's been munched by bugs, and then it gets munched by us.

We start harvesting at 6:30, after a short chapel service called "Lauds." Then we head out with our scissors and baskets, and harvest lettuces, kale, chard, collards, mustard greens, carrots, beets, herbs...whatever's ready. We also sell duck and chicken eggs, spices, jams and maple syrup. All organically produced, although we're not "certified organic" because of the cost involved.

Market runs from 9-2, then we've got to pack it all away, see what we can cook or store of anything we didn't sell...it's a busy day. We're usually done with that in time for a bit of a rest from 4-5, then chapel again for Vespers, and then a relaxed dinner. But by 9pm I am d-u-n, done. Early to bed is the rhythm here...

The day is packed with farmwork, but satisfying. The best part, for me, is talking with people at the market who are kind of new to vegetables. They know they should be eating more greens, but aren't really sure what everything is and how to prepare it. I try to give everyone simple recipes, involving only a few ingredients...One of the things I hope to do with this blog is set down some of those recipes, along with pictures of yummy dishes we make here.

This Sunday, we harvested oats...something new for all of us. This is the first year the sisters have grown oats, so we all are finding our way around how to harvest and dry them. We had hoped for sun, but it was cloudy and started drizzling about an hour in.

We were able to bring in more than half of the field, load it in the truck, and then bundle it into shocks back in the barn. The barn smells amazing now, as the oats are drying out and getting ready for threshing.











This is a new rhythm for me, to be sure.

Taking a longer view on things, seeing the onions I planted back in April finally getting ready for harvest, planning how to store the harvest for the eventual winter...it's not just getting up with the sun, or walking to the fields instead of the subway station...

I'm getting glimpses of a rhythm that's following and responding to large, powerful forces--the sun, the seasons, the cycle of life. It's a rhythm available to all of us, if we take a minute to comprehend just how small we are in this universe, and if we stop, and look, and appreciate just how beautiful this world is.