One trillion things I love about Alice VanderHaak.

In reference to:


Alice and I have a pretty standard history: we met at a dance.  I was at the Saturday night mixer of last November’s Tilth Producers conference when I noticed a vivacious young blonde shaking it next to me. I have since learned that she “doesn’t dance” so it must have been fate that she was there at all. I asked her name and soon we were chatting all about our farms. She was funny and smart. I got her number.

We saw each other a few times over the winter and by the time April rolled around we were moving in together. This Easter weekend as I write, I am up in Lynden with Alice meeting her entire extended family. We will be returning home with an adopted rabbit to co-parent.

We get along great. Alice is a lover of life, brimming with enthusiasm and forthrightness; she knows what it means to taste every breath. She adds a welcome element of goofiness to my sedate and serious life 🙂 She is adaptable, thoughtful, open and honest. She wants more than anything to be the best farmer she can be, she believes in herself and is working hard to make it happen. I trust her judgement and respect her decisions, which is a tough thing for me in relationships sometimes. She makes me belly-laugh on a regular basis!

Things I love about Alice: the way she is a badass farmer who can do just about anything but is also deathly afraid of chickens.  The way she can never decide what to wear but always looks awesome. The ubiquitous wood earrings. Her dog training skills: her dog is the only dog I have ever loved. Or even liked.  Her neverending enthusiasm. The cartoon voices. The way she describes us as “like an old married couple but one who laughs all the time”.  Have I affirmed you enough yet Al? 😉

It’s kind of a little too bad that Alice is not a tall and handsome, 30-to-35 year old, male gendered person who likes to ride bikes and swing dance. Wah-waahh, to use an Aliceism. I suppose it’s better that there is no romantic aspect to mar our perfect relationship. For the moment, until the end of August when she moves away, we are life-partners, farming together and supporting each other in our little hurt-home. I couldn’t be happier!


Hey what’s up, I live in a yurt

Hey so guess what… it turns out, I really love peeing outside!  I usually visit the potty first thing in the morning and last thing at night, as I’m sure many people do.  Living in the yurt with no bathroom inside, my roomie Alice and I have to walk outside anyway to get to our composting toilet.  But we’ve pretty much adopted the policy of using that guy only for #2 and just taking a pee in the grass/bushes like our canine roommate Russell does.  When I am just rolling out of bed and/or when it’s dark and sprinkling in the evening, this does not sound like the most fun thing and I often feel a lazy wish creep into my mind that there was a bathroom in the house.  But then once I throw on my boots and get out there, the cool air feels good entering my lungs, my eyes refocus on the mountains at the horizon, and my brain pauses for a second in its usual spin cycle.  Zen meditation while popping a squat.  I think I may continue peeing outside even after I move out of the yurt!  My coworkers at my next office job better watch out 😉

Hauling firewood

The yurt has been an adventure in many ways.  We have been learning patience and to appreciate the small things.  Our original wood supply was soaked to the core and we struggled with sizzling “fires” that produced very little actual heat.  We acquired dry wood and then had to tractor it out to the house.  But now being able to sleep in warmth under just one comforter warrants Alice and I having a little dance party in celebration!  Our refrigerator broke so we’ve been living out of a cooler.  There is running water but not hot water yet, so a warm face wash involves heating water on the stove.  We can’t drive out to the yurt yet in anything besides the farm Jeep (and even that is a bit of a gnarly ride), and the walk in to the barn takes about 15 minutes, so you don’t want to forget anything critical when you come in for work in the mornings.  All that said, I am truly not complaining!  I’ve loved the feeling of badassness at having to work to make our lives comfortable.  And now it’s all coming together and the place feels like home.  Next week Alice and I are going to build a bunk so that we can stack our beds and make room for me to set up my drum set!

Guests over for a yurt dinner! The first of many I hope!

Work itself has been going great these first two weeks.  I love it love it love it.  They’ve been taking it “easy” on us with a start time of 9:00 am! And we generally get done right at 5!  Clearly this is because the ground is so wet it’s impossible to do much besides work in the greenhouse… it won’t last forever so we appreciate it while it’s here.  Some tasks so far have been: transferring hundreds of tomato starts into larger pots, pressure-washing and packing up a few hundred pounds of parsnips for restaurant sales, assisting with greenhouse construction (loved it!), and transplanting a few thousand row-feet of cabbage and lettuces into the field with the Oaxacan crew (damn they’re fast!).  Early-season stuff.  Learning the ropes.

Potted up tomatoes for sale. Sturdy little guys!

Although on the whole I’m thrilled to be back in the farming mode, still there’s been a real mix of feelings in me these past two weeks.  Excitement to be getting dirty again and working outdoors and working & strengthening my body / soreness and tiredness from overworking my body.  Happiness to be in a new place and expanding my connections with new people / sadness and deeply missing my Bainbridge crew from last year as well as my Seattle friends.   Intimidation at learning new living skills / sense of accomplishment when successfully completing new-to-me tasks.

The main thing, over and above these others, is the way I’m having to work to keep the bigger picture in my focus.  I love growing vegetables and get a visceral sense of fulfillment at watching the plants spring into existence, working to help them grow, and knowing how to harvest and serve them.  But on the scale of production that this farm does, there are an awful lot of mundane, repetetive, less pleasant tasks that have to be done to make it happen.  I am just one small cog in the machine at this farm.  While I certainly don’t feel like “just cheap labor,” I am also not going to be making many important decisions but rather doing the legwork as instructed by my mentors once they make the decisions.  I can do my best to fully understand why they make decisions the way they do and use my smarts to take on more responsibilities where I can.  I will take pride in our products as I will have worked to help create them.  But I’m definitely noticing my yearning to make the jump into doing it on my own.  What could I make happen purely by my own decisions instead of acting out someone else’s?  How much I would want to throw myself into my own operation!  How much joy I would feel at selling beautiful veggies that were 100% mine!

So what gets me excited right now is thinking about doing it on my own.  I planted seeds for my own garden last night after work – mainly herbs and some quinoa.  I’m running an experiment to see if I successfully saved arugula, cilantro, and dill seed from my own plants last year.  I planted the seeds I saved next to commercial seeds of the same variety to compare germination and growth.  Fun fun!  Building greenhouse doors on Friday made me think, I could do this on my own.   I’m watching various Oxbow procedures closely and comparing them with what we did on Bainbridge, with an eye to how I would do the same on my own farm.  I’m hopeful that this year will solidify my knowledge and instincts about vegetable growing and give me a jumping-off point to starting my own business or somehow making my own way forward.

Making new doors for a hoophouse.

Here we go again!

Now I *am* a draft animal! Hauling stuff through the floodwaters out to the yurt.

First day of work at Oxbow today.  My lower back is sore, my hands smell like onions, and I’m a happy camper.

It’s been an adventure of a weekend!  I was supposed to move out to the yurt on Friday but on Tuesday the crew notified me that a flood warning had been broadcast for the river for Thursday night!  Perfect timing!  They let me borrow the farm van to pack up my life into temporarily.  On Friday, the dresser, clothes, books, my drum kit, my houseplants, etc, got packed up so that a new person could move into my room in the Wallingford house.  I spent the night in Seattle, feeling a bit displaced.  Then Alice called to let me know that the flood had receded enough on Saturday that we could walk out to the yurt although not drive there.  So off I went in the van on Saturday afternoon.   Alice helped me drag a couple essentials out across the fields (see above), we stoked the fire and cooked dinner in OUR yurt and settled down to our first night together 🙂  Sunday I went grocery shopping and explored my new vicinity a bit.  See more pics on my Flickr.   And then today was my first day of work!  It was pouring so we spent it in the greenhouse trimming onions, thinning lettuce starts, and potting out tomatoes into 4-inch pots.  It was fantastic to be back into the farming groove.

Happy in the greenhouse

Last year was about learning how to be a farmer….  Maybe this year is going to also be about learning how to be a teacher.  This is something that has never been my forte – I feel like I have a hard time really putting myself into another person’s shoes and understanding how they see a situation differently from me.  I’ve had some amazing teachers in the past who seem to kind of be inside my head and knowing how I’m feeling.   (Julie Arkison, my longtime riding instructor, is who I’m thinking of here… she’s an absolute wizard at teaching both humans and horses.)  I don’t think I’ve ever done that for another person; it seems like it must require one to completely stop thinking about oneself and think totally from the student’s perspective.  So far I’ve always been too self-absorbed to do that 🙂  I’m looking forward to getting better at it.  Today I worked in the greenhouse with Jessica, our 3rd intern in addition to myself and Alice.  We will be getting a 4th intern, Sonja, in May.  (4 girls again this year! Crazy!)  Jessica is brand new to farming, so after our boss Luke set us up with each task and left us alone to do it, I was in the position of answering questions and explaining things and suggesting efficiencies and watching to see that she was doing things properly.  Of course I only have slightly more experience under my belt and it has been at a different farm, so I don’t want to assume that I know how to do things properly necessarily, and I don’t want to be too bossy.   It’s always tough for me to correct people even when I see them doing something I know is wrong because I feel like I don’t want them to be mad at me.  I have to remember that guidance is not the same as criticism, and when you’re new at something you want instruction — confirmation when you’re doing things right as well as correction when you make mistakes which you’re bound to do.  I have to remember back to how I felt when I was first learning all these farm tasks last year.  Luckily it is in my recent past so hopefully I can draw on those experiences and be a good helper & teacher.

That’s about all I’ve got to talk about for now… the guys told me that tomorrow they can hook a trailer up to the Kubota tractor and get all the rest of my stuff out to the yurt that way, so I’m excited about that.  It will definitely be my coolest moving story ever – on a tractor out to a yurt?  Come on!