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Farm To Farm

The pastures in our part of the Valley are swarming with opportunistic robins as the soils are saturated and earthworms are strung out like junkies on the surface. “Looks like the robins just migrated into the area,” I said to a local resident who got one of my bitch's pups and was watching her fight with her siblings as we stood under the barn roof listening to the rain. Her brothers were hostile and treated her like a traitor, and it sounded like they were going to shred each other. “There's a thousand robins out in our pastures, all of a sudden.”

“I don't know,” my neighbor said, pulling a jar of milk from the refrigerator. “When my persimmons were ripe a couple months ago the robins were all over them.”

“Oh. I guess they're just swarming the pastures because of the earthworms.”

The Canadian geese, though, are certainly moving into the area. They were honking as we watched the rain fall. “When it rains, it pours,” they say. In the previous three years of drought, it seemed that every big rain that had all the meteorologists horny as sailors in port would fizzle. A predicted major rain event turned out to be The Day Of The Drizzle. This last week, every little cloud passing over the Valley dumped on us. They were saying the rain would taper off Thursday, that a ridge was building into Saturday, that Sunday would be sunny with another storm coming Monday.

So I made plans with my second ex to have the six year-old at the farm Saturday for a little one-on-one time, planning to salvage the rest of the carrot crop from the swamp. Part of the reason I grew carrots and beets is that my hired help usually consists of kids under 10. Pulling carrots is a job that you can hardly screw up. Of all the jobs I can think of on the farm, digging carrots has to be the simplest. Any kid old enough to crawl can probably figure it out. The only person I ever met who had a hard time harvesting carrots was one of the key people involved in bringing my ex and I to the Boont Berry Farm back in the spring of 2002.

Carolyn was a professor's wife from Berkeley. I think her husband was in the Physics department. Somehow or another she was connected with the people at Boont Berry, looking for young farmers. They'd advertised on bulletin boards in food co-ops, and in the interview I think she'd been impressed that my ex and I had read some stuff by Wendell Berry. She was into Literature, maybe. Our first summer of growing vegetables at Boont Berry, we'd be harvesting on Friday afternoons for the Saturday market in Ukiah, and Carolyn would show up. “Pulling carrots is such an earthy experience,” she said. “It puts us in touch with Gaia.”

We didn't disagree with her. Pulling carrots is certainly an earthy activity. But then she had to lie down on the green carpet of carrot tops and feel ecstatic and moan. I've never had to work around anyone like that. I mean I've never had to work AROUND anyone. I've never seen anybody lay down on the job unless they were puking from a whiskey hangover. It didn't really bother me, though. I wasn't worried that she was going to continue laying down on the vegetable plants indefinitely, so I put up with it for 15 minutes or so and harvested carrots from another part of the row. She eventually quit and never did it again — at least not in our crops. I don't think she's been back to Anderson Valley since about 2003.

The kids are usually into harvesting carrots, or at least I can do it without screwing up while they run around the field wiping the mud off the roots with their shirts and snacking on them, or throwing split carrots for the puppies to fetch. My idea was to pull the carrots out of the ground and pile them in the field where the rain would wash them and they wouldn't rot. I was glad to see earthworms clinging to the roots, that even though the robins were getting fat on the ones on top of the ground there were still plenty underneath. Maybe a certain percentage voluntarily committed suicide.

Unfortunately, we didn't get all the carrots harvested. The rain kept falling, even sleet, driving us back to the barn in a hurry. The sun was shining all the while. We searched the blue sky for clouds and could not locate any over Anderson Valley.

The carrots need to be yanked as soon as possible. They're basically up for grabs at this point. I should have released them to the public weeks ago, but for some reason I thought the part of the field that I hadn't harvested yet was a higher grade and wouldn't get flooded.

Maybe later in the week the folks from the Emerald Earth community up on Peachland will help dig the rest of the carrots before they rot. My apprentice, Diana Winter, has been staying up there since last Tuesday. I guess the glamour of Northern California wore off, or something, and the rains started falling, and supposedly I got a little grumpy last week with the bad case of poison oak. Fortunately there was an empty cabin up at the natural building community, and they have pleasant accommodations. Maybe I jumped the gun a little by having Diana come out here in December. But things will probably work out better this way in the long run. ¥¥


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