Oxbow May update – farm life in general.

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#1 Bunny Snugglepants eats her greens

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Hangin out in the shop, building our loft bed

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Alice getting ready to sell our wares at the Ballard market on Mothers Day

Farm update! Spring is happening! Lots of planting and a little harvesting. This is the time of year when we do all different types of field prep like pea trellising, tomato staking, and lots and lots of weeding so that the little plants will be happy and grow for us as best they can.  I and the other new interns are learning the farm systems, ins and outs and how to run our booth at farmers market. So glad to be back in the business of selling food!!

We’ve started moving a lot of the veggie starts out of the greenhouse and transplanting them into the field.  I’ve been seeing and feeling in my body the difference in size and scale of this farm vs last year.  Oxbow is still a small farm in the grand scheme of things, but definitely a step up from Bainbridge in size and degree of mechanization.  In the last 2 weeks we planted out oh, you know, just about a couple of acres of onions and shallots and leeks… Alice had sowed the seeds for these back in January!  Three 8-hour days in a row of planting onions is a lot of bending over!  We transplanted out cabbage and broccoli and lettuce and chard. Just as one example: we put in 10 beds of broccoli: two 250-foot rows per bed at 18 inch spacing equals out to over 3300 plants if my math is correct. And that’s just the early spring broccoli… there are a couple more successions seeded in the greenhouse already!  It is a great feeling to work as a coordinated team of 5 or 6 people, plucking the plants out of their plastic trays and nestling them into the soft soil with speed and efficiency, leaving behind straight lines of upreaching green shoots ready to photosynthesize and grow.

Ohhh… BIG NEWS: I have learned to drive stick. Kind of. At least I can get the yellow truck from the barn to field D successfully which involves 1st, 2nd, R, and not getting stuck in the mud. It makes me feel SO proud of myself every time I do it without stalling at the start. Yay accomplishment 🙂

On the home front, we finished our loft bed so I sleep up near the ceiling instead of on the futon now. It’s definitely hotter up here! The bed building was a team effort between me and alice and Mike who works in the shop at the farm and my friend Remington who came to visit.  Having an overnight guest was the incentive we needed to finish the project!  I’ll post some interior yurt pics soon; it is looking pretty put-together in here and I got my drums set up too!

On the bunny front, there are no babies yet. Did I mention that we got two mama rabbits on Easter?  Snuggles is due around May 15. Margot is kind of a mystery as we weren’t for sure if she was preggers or not when she arrived, and if so when her due date would be.  Thus far the little ladies have been nothing but sweet and easy to care for. They like to eat our vegetable scraps and gnaw on blackberry brambles.

I’m spending a lot of my spare brain cycles thinking about what I want to do next year (or at least, next, if not next year) as far as farming goes. I have a pretty fully-formed idea taking shape in my head. It may or may not have a couple of critical flaws 🙂  But my farm name popped into my head during a bike ride a couple weeks ago (as all good ideas tend to do) and the domain name is available… sooo, we’re off to a great start toward my theoretical future farm!

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The 2011 farm

Wow… so February is slipping by & I’ve been so busy posting about bikes (and riding bikes), I haven’t even officially shared the bigger news:  I have a farm home for the 2011 season!  I decided to do a second season of apprenticeship at a different farm.  So, at the beginning of April I’ll be moving to Oxbow Farm.  Here is an aerial shot of part of the farm:

Oxbow from the air

So what’s the deal with this place?  How did I end up here?  Well, 2010 was my experimental year to give farming a try and see what I thought.  My frame of reference at the beginning of 2010 was: I knew that I liked gardening, I liked eating good food, and I was beginning to care more and more about where food came from and the farming practices used to grow it.  I felt a need to find out more about exactly what it took to run a small-scale organic vegetable farm.  I wanted to get to know people who were actually making a living doing what I thought I might want to do, observe them, learn from them and do the work alongside them.  That’s what the Bainbridge apprenticeship season was all about.  Brian and Betsey were the people I wanted to learn from, and I was ready to jump in and give it a try.  I was excited to be doing something totally new, and simultaneously a bit nervous about the possibility that I would hate it or be overwhelmed by it or not fit in.

But guess what?  You know what, if you’ve been reading my blog.  I loved it.  The results of my experiment were that I loved farming and the passion that I started feeling for it has changed me into a new and more interesting person.  It’s true.  As the 2010 season neared its end, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to keep at it.  I felt that I both enjoyed it enough and was good enough at it that I wanted to keep learning and pursuing this as a lifestyle/career.   I decided that a second year of apprenticeship was in order.  In year one, everything was new.  In year two, I will know the basics and I can focus on more of the important small details.  It kind of feels like college – like I’m in farming grad school or something.

Instead of returning to the Bainbridge farms for another season, I felt like I could learn more by taking a position at a different farm in the Puget Sound area.  I love the Bainbridge folks and will miss them a lot.  But it also felt right to branch out and meet a new farm.  I was looking for something just slightly larger-scale, growing a wide variety of veggies, with a traditional CSA program, farmers market and restaurant sales.  I was lucky to find just the place in Oxbow Farm.

Oxbow is located in the Snoqualmie Valley between the towns of Carnation and Duvall — east of Seattle by about 40 minutes.  The place is 20 acres of gorgeous panorama – walking along the river next to the farm’s fields and looking out over the long valley with the mountains in the distance makes me catch my breath.  The farmers in charge are named Luke Woodward and Adam McCurdy.  Luke has been farm manager for something like 12 years; Adam joined him as co-manager 4 years ago.   This is what they look like:

Oxbow Farm managers

I didn’t take that picture, but it correctly represents Luke and Adam’s enthusiasm!!  I’m excited to work with them.  The farm will have either 3 or 4 apprentices this year, with one being me!!  Another one is a delightful young lady named Alice, who was actually the reason I found out about Oxbow.  I met Alice at a conference and we hit it off big time.  She apprenticed at Oxbow last season and liked it enough to come back for a second year – which of course speaks volumes about the farm and managers. I followed up with her after the conference and went out for a visit to meet the farmers.  We corresponded a bit and I sent them some references, and they told me they want me to work there.  And I want to work there.  Everybody wins!

At Oxbow we will sell at 4 different farmers’ markets, two of which are in the city of Seattle.  That will be a lot of fun. I’m also looking forward to a bit of an adventure as far as my living situation goes: Alice and I will be living together in a 30-foot-diameter yurt on the property. We get to be very self-sufficient, chopping wood for our woodstove and hauling water to fill our water tank!  Sounds fun right now but I imagine it will sound like work pretty darn soon 🙂

An Oxbow, I learned, is a U-shaped lake that results when a river meanders and curves and eventually cuts itself off so that a lake is left behind.  There is one of these lakes on the property… see the pic above!   The farm actually sits inside a big bend in the Snoqualmie River, so there is river on three sides.   It’s very lovely and I am excited to be so near a body of water.   Looking out to see water or mountains always does something to me as I’m sure it does to all humans — it reminds us of the largeness and wonderfulness of the world.  I guess the correct word is “awe.”  It’s a feeling that used to overwhelm me a little.  When I would get to thinking about the bigger picture I started feeling small and insignificant and unsure of where I could fit into the universe.  My reaction has recently changed, however, so that now I somehow feel more alive and eager and excited when I contemplate the wider world.  It feels like a reminder of how great it is to be here – it gets me out of my little box of self-absorption that I usually walk around in.  It wakes me up to think about appreciating life and the opportunity to be in this world, explore it, taste it as much as possible.  I actually know exactly when this perception shift happened.  In August 2009 when I was in the middle of my “quarter-life crisis,” I took a backpacking trip to the WA coast.  The first couple nights I spent with some friends camping in a woodsy campsite.  The last night, my friends left and I remained there alone.  I moved my tent out to the beach, where I could see no other humans.  I had a long expanse of rocks, sand, gray churning waves, and windy misty skies all to myself.  I had literally moved out of an enclosed space into a place where I was addressing the infinite.  It would be hard not to have a life-changing moment in such a situation; that’s what I had gone there looking for and I found it.  As I walked along the shore by myself I started feeling empowered, optimistic, and *part* of this big world instead of an outside observer.  I came back from the trip eager to get out there and do something meaningful.  Within the next couple of months I found my way to the farm apprenticeship opportunity.

Took a tangent there.  The point is, I’m happy that I’ll have both water and mountains to look at from my front door at the farm this year.

At the moment I’m feeling stretched in between not two but *three* different worlds.  I want to hold on to my ties to the Bainbridge friends & community that I connected with so strongly last year, so I’ve been visiting the island when I can (I’m actually here right  now, housesitting and riding some horsies – yay!)  Secondly, I’m living in Seattle currently and keeping busy with city concerns (work, riding bikes, drum lessons, eating out, drinking, partying… yeesh ;-)).  Thirdly, I’m eager to jump into the Oxbow scene; there’s work to be done already and I’ve been trying to head out that direction occasionally too, to start getting comfortable with the place and people.  So, I’ve been feeling a tad bit scattered.  I want to get my singularity of focus back that I feel has slipped away during my city season.  It may be a hectic March with moving again… I feel like I *just* moved!!  And I’ll be sad to leave Seattle in just a little over a month.  But I’ll be really, really happy to settle in on the new farm and see what 2011 has in store.