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Monday, May 24, 2010 – there I was on the ferry to Bainbridge after a weekend in Michigan… Thinking, thinking, thinking. People keep asking me, and I keep asking myself, what are you going to do after this summer, Becky? Certainly that decision doesn’t have to be made for a few months yet. But right now my life is only planned out through October. This weekend trip back home for my cousin Sharon’s wedding was also partly, almost subconsciously, a recon mission to check into my personal feelings toward potentially moving back to Michigan.

It was a good visit. A highlight was sitting with my parents at Palio, their regular Friday night dinner spot in Ann Arbor. They have gotten to know the owners and dad frequently orders good bottles of wine, so we were treated like VIPs, got seated immediately and got a little special attention. It was great to enjoy a delicious dinner and a special not-on-the-winelist bottle of wine in this atmosphere where my parents seemed totally at home.
I moved away from home when I started college and haven’t yet lived close to my parents or sister as an adult, so it’s easy to feel disconnected from their day-to-day. It makes me happy to come back and see that they have a rich life (I don’t mean monetarily) with good friends and favorite activities and dinner spots in their community. Over dinner we spent time re-hashing great meals we’d shared in the past. “Remember those scallops we had in Friday Harbor after that disastrous kayaking trip?” And “How about that ravioli near the Trevi fountain in Rome” when the family came to visit me during my foreign study? “Remember those melted Oreo cookies on the beach in Florida?” My dad calls these “peak experiences,” and they don’t all have to do with food, although it seems like with us, most do! Fantastic little moments that you savor at the time and then remember for years afterward and can never quite recreate even if you try.

My mom and I also went to the Ann Arbor farmers market on Saturday morning before the wedding ceremony, and I loved it! What a great market – Huge number of vendors and great variety of products to buy. We got some lamb burgers for Sunday dinner, among other things. We chatted with a young vendor about the unusual vegetables his farm had for sale. Probably a farm apprentice, his t-shirt read, “get fresh with a family farmer!” Just as I am happy that my parents are regulars at their restaurant and have a good community of friends, I love that they also go shopping at the farmers market most Saturdays. This is not something we did when I was growing up, as much I’m sure because my sister and I probably would not have been interested in it as because it was easier and quicker for mom to get everything she needed at Meijers. But she and Dad go now, because… it is a fun experience! and the food tastes good and there are interesting things for sale (my mom introduced me to sunflower sprouts– delicious!) and they have gotten to know some of the local vendors they are supporting. We bought eggs from a teenage Amish girl from the Amish community in Homer, MI. I wonder now if she had gotten there in a horse and buggy but I didn’t ask at the time 🙂 I am loving the farmers markets here (Ballard, U-District and Bainbridge) for all these reasons and it’s cool to see Mom having the same experience at the awesome market in AA. I know my love of gardening and appreciation of fresh quality vegetables came from helping Mom with her big veggie garden when I was a kid, so it’s natural that we would both enjoy visiting our local markets at opposite ends of the country. It makes me wonder though: if I were living there now, would we be sharing these weekly experiences instead?

Going home always makes me feel nostalgic about the place and desirous of a stronger connection with the family I now only get to see a couple times a year. As I will be pretty much completely unattached come November, there will be nothing stopping me from moving back to MI or anywhere else for that matter.

But then I flew back into SeaTac and got on the ferry. Getting hit by the salty, exciting sea smell of the Sound and seeing the gorgeous snowy Olympic mountains in the background reminded me how much I also love, love, love it here! The northwest is feeling a lot more like home than Ann Arbor at this point. At times I am anxious to find a place to put down roots and establish myself in a community like the amazing one I am getting to see among the farmers on Bainbridge. Could I find a home like that here? Could I rediscover it in the state I moved away from? Or maybe I’ll continue to move around and enjoy the excitement of discovering new places and meeting new people? Anyway… things to think about!

Compost 101

We are eating some fantastic vegetables lately! Eat a bunch of Brian’s carrots and you will never again be able to snack on a grocery store carrot and be satisfied. They are like two completely different vegetables. One is sweet and tasty and tender; the other is chemically-tasting roughage in comparison. Why such a big difference?

One of the main reasons is the quality of the soil they were grown in! Commercial crops are produced on a large scale by using pesticides and herbicides to kill pests and weeds. But when these chemicals are applied, they also kill off all the good stuff in the soil. Chemical fertilizers are then added which can boost nitrogen levels and make the plants grown vigorously but this doesn’t restore life to the soil. At that point the vegetables are being grown in dirt — the kind you sweep off your kitchen floor — instead of rich, living soil with all the minor nutrients required to make a fully flavorful vegetable.

Alternatively, in organic farming, we weed by hand instead of using herbicides. And we rely heavily on compost to boost levels of beneficial soil microbes. Compost is amazing! It can be created from a variety of materials. The point is to provide the perfect environment for soil microbes to live and break down the materials into humus.

The two base ingredients are “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings or food waste), and “browns” (carbon-rich materials such as dry leaves or wood shavings). Here on the farm we have been spending a good amount of time building Betsey’s compost pile, a delicious layer cake of horse manure (“green”) and straw (“brown”). The other critical components are proper moisture and airflow to provide the aerobic bacteria a happy little home. You’ll know they are working away in your pile by checking the temperature. It gets super hot in there! After a year or so, as long as the balance is right and the pile is turned over a couple times, you will have compost.

When we grow crops in our soil, we suck nutrients out of the land. Therefore we need to add organic matter back in if we expect to continue producing good food from that space. Luckily we can create compost from various waste produts. Instead of disposing of food scraps, manure, etc, we can enlist our microbe friends to compost them into beautiful rich humus we can use to add more nutrition and flavor to our food.

Today, the other apprentices and I picked the first sugar snap peas of the season and snacked on a few while we weighed them out into half-pint containers to put out for our CSA members at our farmstand. This is real food, straight from the ground to the plate, and you can taste the difference!

New pics and farm visits

I’ve been told that I need to update the blog more frequently, so here I am writing a quick post on my lunch break. Today we are prepping vegetables for the farmers market. Erin and I are working on onions, carrots and beets. Turns out that carrots are extremely annoying to prep because of all the rinsing that needs to happen to get all the dirt off, and then the wet greens getting tangled as you try to bunch them. Who knew? They do look quite lovely once you finally get them organized into their bunches, though.

This update is mostly to say that I have some new pictures on flickr and in the comments there I wrote a but about what’s been going on this past week. Such as planting strawberries with a cool machine and visits from friends. Had a great time with Sara and Erin M and Jonathan when they came out to the island last Sunday! Looking forward to more farm visits as the season progresses.

Check out the pictures here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/warnerbecky/

Love!

B