May 8th, 2019
This afternoon, under a blue spring sky, I find myself elbow deep in a cluster of rhubarb stems. I grasp each stem close to the dirt, and a steady but firm tug separates stem and leaf from the root. We repeat this over and over until Joy and I have bundled 60 colorful bunches. I love this rhubarb patch. It has existed in its current location for around 5 years, but for me the individual plants go back even further. When I was a kid, rhubarb in the spring was something to celebrate with a heaping scoop of freshly made rhubarb sauce slowly melting vanilla ice cream, combined with a couple dabs of maple syrup. This treat could get me to do any chore on the farm, sweep the barn, sure, milk the first ten cows, you bet. Sour and sweet always wins me over. The rhubarb patch we pick now is the same patch from my childhood. The same plants have been dug up and relocated, divided then divided again, until two rows extend 1000 feet into the distance. The abundance of the rhubarb plant is truly stunning. I think about the history in this small patch at least once each season, usually during the first or second harvest. I mostly think about one of my favorite people, grandmother Elva. She would frequently come pick our patch. My brother, sister and I would inevitability find ourselves joining her, whether out of obligation, curiosity, or pure fascination. It was a yearly ritual I personally enjoyed. I loved hearing what she had to say. It was endlessly fascinating. Born in 1914, she lived a life that modern humans can scarcely understand. She would teach us about rhubarb and all the different ways she would use it in her cooking over the next year. She would preserve it in jams, sauces, and juices. There was always some kind of rhubarb influenced spread on her table for special occasions. These days Joy and I are picking the patch, and I can tell you there is always something new to observe. This year it is the smell that catches my attention, the sweet fragrance of rhubarb. It isn’t something I have ever noticed before, but it’s in the air today, soft and sweet. Spring has sprung.
Will This Cold Ever End?
May 1st, 2019
I wake up at the crack of dawn and stare out our bedroom window at the cold gray sky. A gentle mist coats the world outside in a blanket of wetness and I know how this day is going to shake out. Cold hands, wet feet, stiff back. For the last couple of days we have been battling the elements. This spring of ours has come in fits and spurts. Just when we thought it might be changing, we were slapped with another day of snow. It didn’t last, but it made it’s mark by delaying yet another planting. As Joy and I look back at our carefully laid out garden plan, a pattern begins to emerge, one of constant delays. It started right at the beginning of the season with plantings in our greenhouses delayed due to frozen soil. Usually the soil in our greenhouse is ready to rock by mid February, but not this year. Then in March, our first planting of cucumbers succumbed to a stretch of cold weather even with it’s greenhouse protection. The same might have happened to our tomatoes if we hadn’t looked ahead at the forecast because this last weekend we saw overnight temperatures in the low twenties. Thankfully Joy, with the help of my friend Mic and my mother, got all of our crops covered so we only lost a little section of early basil. Such is life as a gardener in Wisconsin. We roll with it, knowing almost certainly our day in the warm sun will come. Our lost crops will get replanted along with all the other crops until finally we are caught up. It’s a never ending dance growing food in this beautiful state and really sometimes I think I’ve been doing this work so long I have to continue to remind myself it is only the beginning of May. Soon enough, asparagus will be popping and the tangy taste of Rhubarb will grace our tables, then strawberries, tomatoes and all the rest of the bounty. For now we count our blessings for the tasty greens and aromatic ramps, and the crunchy radish which bursts with a mild spring flavor. As I shake off the last of the daily chills and sip a frosty brew, I dream of warmer days and all that is to come.
Welcome Back To Fresh Food
April 24th, 2019
Over the last week, as the days have warmed and our plants have put on some real growth, we have begun to reap the rewards of a return to fresh food. One evening a couple of days ago, I was putting in a little office time while Joy was preparing a meal. Believe it or not, it was the aroma of the salad which hit my nostrils and awoke my appetite. It was almost as if I could smell Spring and the vibrance of life. The arugula led the way with it’s pungent aroma, with tatsoi, baby salad greens, and some garlic chives playing important support rolls. And oh my goodness the flavor! Upon eating my first mouthful, I was immediately transported back to my first little garden I planted out in the mountains of Colorado. My Colorado garden was my first foray into what would become my career. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the freshness of the food triggered in me an insatiable need to always be around food, not just any food, but the food I dug right out of the ground from seeds I had planted. In growing the little kitchen garden, I sowed the seeds of life which would bring me back to the farm I grew up on. It triggered memories in me of all the farm fresh food I ate as a child. The joy one gets from walking out one’s door and plucking dinner right from your own back yard. While at the time it wasn’t as clear what my life path was going to be, it was clear to me I needed to do this work. It certainly wasn’t clear to me that I would have this opportunity to do work I love and share it with a community of people who love food and farming , which is you! This work can beat you down at times , at times it can be frustrating but in the end there is nothing I would rather do more. There is no place I’d rather be more than in one of my gardens, hands in the cool earth. There is no work I would rather do than the good work of feeding my fellow humans. So here we go, week one of this twenty eight week journey. Through the wind, the rain, the heat, the cold we will show you what Wisconsin can grow.
April Snows Bring What?
April 12th, 2019
As I sit in my office typing, the world outside rages. A heavy, wet blanket of snow and ice coats everything. Once again we find ourselves thrown into a wintery wonderland, except it isn’t so wonderful. It’s down right brutal! It is especially difficult to deal with when we are faced with a constant, energy sucking wind. For the last three days, we have had constant 20 plus mile an hour gusts rocking our house, beating on our greenhouses, and snapping heavy tree branches. I honestly have never felt our farmhouse move like it did yesterday when the wind was at full strength. It’s hard to even convince myself to get out of bed. “What for?” the little voice in my head asks. I’m not one for dwelling on the stuff that bums me out though, so I drag myself out of bed. Once I have a cup of coffee in me, I find the motivation I need to make it through the day deep down inside me. The silver lining to this kind of weather is it forces me to spend time in the office. This is a good thing because it is so easy for me to shuck those responsibilities in exchange for more time outside. When the sun is shining and the weather is sweet like it was at the beginning of the week, I can’t wait to get outside. Well honestly most days I can’t wait, but in the spring it is especially difficult to stay indoors. This is one of the main reasons I think farming aligns with me so well. I have a hard time sitting down and staying inside. When the wind is whipping, you can throw the insatiable need to get out into mother nature right out the window. I’m like a whole different person. Honestly, I’d rather just go down into my dingy basement where I can’t see or sometimes even hear the nasty weather. Otherwise, I escape to the office, which is where I find myself for the third straight day. As I said earlier though, this can be a good thing. My unruly desk is now tidy and the backlog of data entry, paperwork filing and bill paying is behind me. I can, for a few days at least, know with full confidence that I have taken care of business. Once the wind dies down this evening, Joy and I will once again venture out, assess the damage and move on with the season. At least this year we didn’t spend a day outside trying to set up miniature hoops over plants we put in one of our outdoor gardens while a similar storm raged around us. Now that was an act of futility. One year older and perhaps a bit smarter………maybe.
March 2019 Newsletter
March 28th, 2019
The month of March may be my favorite month. Our sunlight is returning and sprinkled in with the cold days are a few warm ones, a reminder we are not far from green grass and spring flowers. March is the month when our greenhouse production returns in earnest, when on a sunny day we can enter one of our houses and be engulfed in warm fragrant air, heavy with the sent of vibrant healthy earth. Our greenhouses are very much alive in March, all the little plants we stuck in the ground on a cold February day are finally taking off,. They are establishing a tiny foothold, staking their claim to a little patch of ground and stretching their chloroform rich limbs upward towards the ever strengthening sun. On these sunny warm mornings in March, I am extra anxious to get outside. With coffee cup in hand, Joy and I make our morning rounds. To the greenhouse to uncover plants and turn off heaters, then to the chicken coop to check on our birds. Our chickens take on new life as well, their feathers begin to renew and take on a healthy sheen. Egg production, which has lagged during the winter months, begins to increase as well. After our morning rounds, we retreat back to the office. This time of year is also about making lists and checking off projects. List making has taken on new importance this year as Joy joins the farm in a more full time capacity. I have always been more inclined to work on whatever project seems the most important at the time. Admittedly though, this isn’t the best way to go about things. So now we make lists, and honestly it is satisfying to check off the projects as they are completed. Each day is a new day and with the new day comes a new list. March is also the month we make maple syrup. There is nothing more satisfying then sitting in the quiet of the woods, the only sounds are the occasional hoot of a distant Owl and the hissing of a gently boiling sap pan. Boiling maple syrup is an escape, a chance to hide in the forest far from the homestead. It is a time to practice the age old tradition of extracting a small amount of the maple trees’ liquid goodness and converting it into what has become our main source of sweetness. We will use this syrup in all things sweet in the farmhouse kitchen. Though we don’t have a big sweet tooth in this family, it is a staple in our morning coffee and a welcome addition as a topping on ice cream. Yeah! March!
February 2019 Newsletter
February 23rd, 2019
Boy time sure does fly! We are already closing in on the end of February, mere days away from our first greenhouse planting. Joy and I have been working diligently throughout the winter to prep for this new season. With each season, comes renewed energy and a renewed passion to do better than the last year. For us, 2019 is about a deeper openness and connection with our community. Throughout these cold dark days, we have sat in front of the computer with bleary eyes, putting together our new website, which will be a vast improvement over our last site. It will be much more active as well, with almost daily posts to our “Dear Farm Journal” blog or Newsletters. We will also be posting short video clips to help paint a picture of Keewaydin Farms, your CSA farm!
Not only is time flying, but in the last few weeks, the snowflakes have been flying as well. Today we sit in the office rebuking the need or perhaps even desire to venture outside. It’s nasty out, windy, snow whipped, and blindingly bright. So inside we shall stay. Honestly, I enjoy days like this. I like the slower pace of these days. I pour an extra cup of coffee and lounge in the office with Joy in the desk next to me and Gizmo sprawled out on his little pad. The usual anxiousness I feel to get outdoors fades away as I realize there is no need. There is no need to struggle through an outdoor project. There is no need to freeze off a finger or two. There are plenty of indoor projects which routinely get kicked down the road, waiting for just such a day…because kicking indoor projects down the road is what I do. For instance, today we have been working on alphabetizing our customer list. For some reason, in the distant past of my business career, I thought it would be a good idea to enter customers onto said list ,first name first instead of the most obviously correct way which would be last name first. Why? I don’t know! I did it years ago and never changed it. Oh I did start entering in names the right way the next year but never went back and corrected this organizational nightmare. Until of course, the Queen or Organization, Joy Nicole Miller came along. With mostly kindness and not more than a handful of sideways glances she has gone about fixing this mess. We make baby steps toward a smoother operation. This is who we are, work smarter not harder….I need to get outside!
January 2019 Newsletter
Well hello! It has been awhile since I have sat down at my desk to pen a quick newsletter, not that I haven’t been writing. Joy and I have been keeping a farm journal, her idea, and so between the two of us, we have a running written dialog capturing our daily life. I’ve enjoyed ascending the stairs to our second floor office with a cup of coffee in hand to jot down a few quick thoughts. It really has been a nice way to start the day.
I just wanted to say thank you to all who responded to our end of the year survey. You shared so much great information with us and made some really great suggestions, as always. What I heard from everyone who responded was overall deep satisfaction with our CSA program. Most enjoyed the ease of pick ups and were satisfied with our communication over the course of the year. Of course, we do still have work to do. As in other years, several people asked if we could send out an email at the beginning of the week listing what would be arriving in their box to help with the weekly shopping. In the past, I have attempted to do this but usually run out of energy for it mid season. However, this is just an excuse. I see the importance of it and pledge to make it happen. Another point brought up by people was the lack of diversity of items during our winter share. I totally agree with this and admit I could have done a better job of planning. It also didn’t help to have those massive rains during August which delayed some of the plantings for the crops we harvest for our winter share. It’s so interesting how events several months in the past play out in our gardens. Mostly though, I need to address the planning and implementing of gardens and greenhouses. Thank goodness I have Joy in my life because she is going to keep this ship floating straight and true with her organizational talents. Speaking of organizing, our gardening year has gotten off to an early and productive start. Joy has spent a couple days in Greenhouse 1 weeding an cleaning out beds in preparation for the rapidly approaching season. In addition, we have resurrected an old Woodmizer sawmill, more to come on this adventure. We continue to organize around the farm like never before. I can’t even begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get organized. Man have we found some real treasures as well! Yeah for organization!