This past Tuesday morning I went to the State Farmers Market with our Assistant Manager, Justin, to meet some of the farmers we work with. Tuesdays and Wednesdays we pick up produce from Cox Farms, Walker Farms, and Wise Farms at 6:30 AM. The Farmers Market doesn’t open until 9:00, but at 6:30 (or even earlier) there are several farmers in the parking lot in front of the market with boxes and boxes of produce set up to sell to their customers who buy in bulk. These farmers were kind enough to talk to me and answer all of the questions I had about their farms—something I’m sure they were not thrilled about so early in the morning. But there’s something reassuring and grounding about talking with farmers, their rhythm of speech, their subtle jokes, their deep love of what they do. All three of these farms are family farms, they’ve been working the land their whole lives. When I asked the owner of Walker Farms how long he had been farming he quickly responded, “75 years…”and then smiled wryly and said, “and I’m 74, but my mom was farming before me and I was there.” It’s in their blood, the soil they were born upon and have lived in their whole lives. As I walked around to talk to the different farmers they seemed a little confused about why I was there but quickly warmed up, offered me scuppernogs to try, and called me back over to ask more questions.
As we transition into fall these farms will shift into their fall and winter crops or into just caring for their livestock. Wise Farms continues to grow through the winter and is currently in a slower point of their season (believe it or not) as they wait for their seedlings to grow and their work to pick up again. Toward the end of October and beginning of November their greens will finally be getting big and ready to be harvested. The end of summer means the end of tomatoes, okra, summer squash, eggplants, and peppers; but it also means the beginning of beets, greens, carrots, winter squash, and other root vegetables. We’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of being able to buy produce at any time of the year from whatever zone we desire and have lost the knowledge of living by the seasons. Farmers have not, their lives are defined by the ebb and flow of mother nature: the energy of high summer, the rest and rejuvenation of winter, and the exciting transitions of fall and spring. A lot of wisdom can be gained from paying attention to the seasons and listening to the ways each one is beckoning us to live.
I think the first step to understanding and noticing the seasons (because they affect us whether we pay attention or not) is by being aware of what is in season. In Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir-of-sorts, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she recounts a year of eating food either grown by her family or grown in their geographic area. At the beginning of the book she discusses her family’s decision to move from Tucson, AZ, a land of stolen water and very little natural vegetation, to West Virginia, a land abundant in both. Living in a place so disconnected from agriculture it became glaringly obvious to Kingsolver how separated our culture is as a whole. In a desire to seek lost knowledge and to learn how to provide for themselves under the laws of mother nature, they take on the task of learning what it truly means to eat locally. One of the first issues that Kingsolver tackles is the lack of understanding we have of what vegetables grow in which seasons. This is such simple knowledge that we are no longer taught and our easy access to food from all over the world has hurt our ability to understand nature’s rhythms. Kingsolver came up with what she calls the “vegetannual”, a visual representation of seasonality.
“To recover an intuitive sense of what will be in season throughout the year, picture a season of foods unfolding as if from one single plant. Take a minute to study this creation—an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season a cornucopia of all the different vegetable products we can harvest. We’ll call it a vegetannual. Picture its life passing before your eyes like a time-lapse film: first, in the cool early spring, shoots poke up out of the ground. Small leaves appear, then bigger leaves. As the plant grows up into the sunshine and the days grow longer, flower buds will appear, followed by small green fruits. Under midsummer’s warm sun, the fruits grow larger, riper, and more colorful. As days shorten into the autumn, these mature into hard-shelled fruits with appreciable seeds inside. Finally, as the days grow cool, the vegetannual may hoard the sugars its leaves have made, pulling them down into a storage until of some kind: a tuber, bulb, or root” p 64.
The season is changing and I don’t know about you, but fall is my favorite of all. Let’s celebrate the transformation by taking time to notice nature’s abundance as the leaves fall and the nights get cooler.