Winds of Autumn
Even in a person
most times indifferent
to things around him
they waken feelings
the first winds of autumn
On this cool and blustery day, the turn of the season is plain all around the farm. The sun is bright, and after a few days of misty rain, the trees and pastures are practically iridescent in the late September wind. The soil of veggie beds is the deepest, darkest, bottomless brown, and the hardy kale and chard is standing up at attention so tall it seems ready to launch like a model rocket. These are such sweet days on the farm, after the heat and humidity of the summer has passed, and we get a short return to vibrancy and vigor before it all closes down for the winter. The pastures love the weather, and it’s put on a little final flush of growth to end the season. The cows and sheep love the weather, and as the flies are blown away on the fall wind, they are truly comfortable again, resting in the pastures and chewing their cud. The fall crops love the weather, and with a little more rain over the past few days, they are ending the season in great shape.
Work continues inside and around the Maggie’s farmhouse, getting it ready for the coming class of Learn to Farm students. The dry-wall work is done, and the painter is in there now making the whole place sparkle with a fresh coat of paint. The LTF staff is meeting regularly to prepare the schedule, field trips, classes and all the other myriad little parts of the daily swirl of activity that make up the Learn to Farm Program. We are anticipating a class of fifteen students this year, up from ten last year, so the schedule has to be reworked a bit to keep everyone moving through every part of the farm. Every year we make little changes and adaptations to the schedule, both in the short term as well as long term, trying to reflect the experience of the year just ended, the feedback of students and teachers, and the challenging realities of the production cycle. In general, we have been moving incrementally toward larger blocks of time over the long term to allow students to dig deeper into each area of the farm over the course of a couple of weeks, rather than moving daily or weekly. Our hope is that extended time in an area will generate deeper mastery, understanding and a richer feeling of responsibility for each component of the farm.
The work of the fall season is primarily wrapping up the schemes of the summer, and getting everything ready for the coming winter. Some components of the farm are purely seasonal, and are eliminated before the cold weather really sets in. Broiler chickens, turkeys and pigs are all gone by the end of fall. Other than garlic planted in the fall, and cover crops in the veggie beds, veggie fieldwork wraps up for the most part with the coming frost. Some endeavors span the year, and the fall is one of those seasons consumed with the transition between warm and cold weather arrangements. Animals need shelter, water systems need to simplified and even heated, feeding switches from pastures to stored feeds, and everything draws in a bit closer to the barns. These shoulder seasons, when our work is divided between the conclusion of one phase and the preparation of the next, encapsulate so much of the feel of the work of farming. Looking back over the production season from here gives us some our most valuable lessons for next year, and at the same time, we are all irrationally hopeful that we can set up the perfect winter systems that will make everything go effortlessly over the months to come. Like us, farmers all over the world are trying to learn from each season’s end, and are absurdly optimistic about next year. A lot of farming can be captured in the image of the farmer, working diligently to develop a system that might work, and then watching as the natural world has its way with that system.