June 21st, 2011

Come Hail and High water

These past few weeks, as temperatures swayed madly back and forth, any syncopation between plant and planet seemed momentarily lost. The mercury rocketed to record heights, then fell just as hard. Ninety-six degrees segued into frigid slurries of rain and surreal ice storms.

Hens panted in the heat, their beaks slung open like secateurs; bees splashed themselves across hives in cooling desperation; greens secretly conspired to bolt.

Cooling showers have given the greens something to croon about.  They’re just singing’ in the rain.

June is when the cool, light whistle of Spring is vanquished by the onset of Summer. You know it at night, when the ring-toned persistence of tree frogs give way to the rasp of katydids and crickets.  Or when the grass sharpens against soft soles and bluestone burns.

Weather is a subject of constant, fretful speculation on the farm. But the violent weather events across the country this season have kept things in perspective; after all, we haven’t been subsumed by rising Hudson River floodwaters, siphoned helplessly up into the clouds by tornados, or rendered to cinder and ash by wildfires…yet.

The only time we used to see our neighbors was after a storm-spawned power outage.  We’d  forfeit life’s comforts like the rest, but because we also have wood stoves at the Farm for heat and a hand-pumped well for water, we can get along like nineteenth century homesteaders when the lights go out.

Our immediate neighbor used to come by if the outage lasted more than a few days.  “My wife wants to flush” he would wearily mumble, as he manually filled up a bucket at the well pump.  We once had a neighborhood pot-luck supper during a long black-out, where we all tried to cook on the wood stove in the barn before resorting to crackers and cheese by torchlight.

Perspective seems to be the inherent measure of success in anything: how you perceive the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” shapes the world you live in. Farming prescribes that your view is long, and that your measure of success is tempered by allowing forces beyond your control to play out. So we take, and talk about, the wiles of Weather, with all of its exasperating uncertainty.

Despite all the fuss over weather, roses paid no mind and busted out in glorious bloom this Spring.

The only constant seems to be the CSA members showing up at the farm on Saturday mornings for their shares, grateful for some predictably good greens.  While we’ve built a working farm, we’ve also built new community. Transpose the acronym CSA, and you get ASC: Agriculture Supporting Community, one of the less hyped  virtues of joining a local farm.  As neighbors come together around a common cause or interest, communities form.

A new study out of SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, or CRREO,  on the future of agriculture in New York State, has found that small farms and CSAs, besides strengthening the state’s agricultural, environmental and economic viability, help to build stronger communities. According to the study, people involved in CSAs often participate more in their community, volunteer more, and are more politically active.

So when a CSA member ambles down the road to the farm, comes by for a carton of eggs, or just wants to see what’s growin’ on at Stonegate, those are the seeds of community. It’s too easy in an age of instant, downloadable everything, to live isolated in a neighborhood of strangers.  The climate may have destabilized, but strong, dynamic communities are its counterpoint.  -Mb

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