May 30, 2008

Week in Review

Variety - it's the word of the week. The kind of work I did this week varied as much as the vegetables we'll be packing for next week's CSA boxes. Preparation is the runner-up for the word of the week as it is the driving force behind our work these past few weeks.

I returned to the farm Monday evening after a long, relaxing weekend back home and at a friend's cabin at Lake Pepin. Eating pizza the first night home was a shock to my system, as I hadn't had meat in a while. I did get a little sick from the rich food back home (on Sunday I had pork TWO TIMES in ONE DAY!), and needless to say - my system is greased up. My family was able to munch on Featherstone asparagus and radishes as Jack lets us bring some home.

On Tuesday Jack had a project for me that involved a little more head labor than back labor. He had me work on the permit application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Featherstone is getting a new packing plant warehouse and machine shop in the middle of what is hoped to soon become the 'home farm.' A lot of Featherstone's plots of land are dispersed through and around Rushford (because of the difficulty of acquiring it.) This creates problems as it increases transportation time and cost, and difficulty with communication. Building this new warehouse is an attempt to centralize the farm - and a very good one at that. I didn't mind doing the application at all, especially since Jack made himself so available for any questions. It gave me a firsthand view of the technicalities that come along with expansion. After work I strolled out to the greenhouses to snap a few shots of the farm.

Wednesday I went to the library to work on the MPCA permit again. (We had unexpected guests in the office that we were in the process of getting rid of, thanks to Evan.) Jack came to the library around noon to get me for lunch at 'The Creamery' with his son, Jasper, and mother who was visiting from Kentucky. She reminds me of Ruth Jackson, the mother of my future roommate. Before we drove back to the farm, we picked up a local to scout-out land for Jack. This brought me to the back of the pick-up, which was quite refreshing after sitting inside all day. The guys were scouting out potential entering/exit sites for the new land. Once one gets off of the main roads in Rushford, there are some extremely beautiful houses and off-roads.

I did some work for the newsletter on Thursday, acquiring some recipes that go along with vegetables in the CSA box, writing a letter introducing myself, and recapping James Beard's advice concerning asparagus. (It's great I can call this 'work!') Jack also got me started on applying for a grant to the United States Department of Agriculture for a geothermal energy system they are going to install on the new warehouse. Also on Thursday, all of the Featherstone employees had the first of a series of meetings concerning labor laws, labor agreements, and work culture. Featherstone is on the cutting-edge of being a certified Local Fair Trade farm. These meetings are a part of that certification. Featherstone has a group of brothers from Mexico that come up every spring and summer to work. This certification ensures that everybody is receiving a living wage and treated equally. From what I have experienced, the brothers (as well as the other workers) are very happy with working for the farm. A Spanish translator from the Agricultural Justice Project came to make sure everything was communicated effectively in Spanish. It was a very useful meeting. The usual Thursday night volleyball at Wiscoy was cancelled due to a downpour of rain. So I cozied up in my cabin with some pumpkin/walnut/date soup, some candles, a Frank Sinatra CD, and James Beard's collection of food writing, "Beard on Food." I also spent a chunk of that night designing the header graphic for this blog, and working on some writing assignments for 'The Mix' and The Mill City Farmers' Market.

My sisters wouldn't believe me if I told them what I did Friday - powerwashed. As their husbands are hog-farmers, they often get recruited to do a portion of the power-washing. We were cleaning out the coolers in preparation for their increased usage in the next few weeks. After lunch with Justin, where we discussed the hilarious dietary habits of the farm-house fraternity at the University, I started laying out newsletter. Evan invited me to my first Winona party tonight, which will me my first social outing here of the summer (second, if you count volleyball with the hippies in Wiscoy.) Friday evening brings me to the Acoustic Cafe in downtown Winona, whose wireless internet connection I'm currently writing this from. I'm falling in love with Winona as there are new things I discover each visit. After getting a Thai Chicken Sandwich from The Winona Sandwich Company, I learned that this cafe stays open until 10! I was getting a little nervous as I had gotten the impression that Winona shuts down at 6pm. (This was a problem as I don't get off of work until 5.) Hopefully this pint-sized mug of coffee will keep me awake enough to go out tonight. In all, I'm still getting my feet planted on the farm and in the area - but I have no doubts that soon I'll be off running.

Here's a simple recap of some things I've learned thus-far:

1) There's much more to farming than being out in the field.
2) Farmers are extremely dependent on many external factors - on the cooperation of machinery, the cooperation of the weather, and the cooperation of workers.
3) Melons are very difficult to grow in southeast Minnesota.
4) Deer don't like cabbage.
5) Biodiversity is key.

Things I've learned, not exclusive to farming:
1) "You're not a true Zephyrite if you aren't comfortable going to the bathroom outside." (Wise words given by my neighbor Kevin after I told him the Common House toilet was plugged.)
2) The Wiscoy Valley has a reputation - enough said.
3) Green lentils make curry dishes look very unappealing. (Another cooking experiment Wednesday evening.)
4) Find your matches to light your candles BEFORE it gets dark.
5) 'Chivlar' means 'to whistle' in Spanish. (Wisdom from Salvador while planting in the greenhouse.)


Ape said...

Hi Melinda,

I'm a FSF member (my second year) and pick up at French Meadow.
I love reading your stories because it brings me home! My parents actually live down the road from the farm in Wiscoy Valley. They live almost to the end close to HWY 76. Jean and Jerry Mueller.

I hope you enjoy your summer in the valley. I often miss the stars and the sound of the tree frogs.

PS those coyote stories are true!

Melinda said...

Hi Ape, thanks for reading! What an amazingly beautiful place you have here. After stepping out the door in the mornings I am still taken aback by the sounds and sights. Do your parents come to volleyball on Thursdays? If so, I may meet them! If you're ever home for a visit this summer, let me know. Also, I'll be back in Minneapolis this fall, it'd be fun to swap some 'Wiscoy stories' over lunch!

Enjoy the harvest.