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November 6th, 2013

Oblivion

“He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.”

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Now that a few frosts have left Stonegate “stripped of its finery”–its green, biomolecular skin turned to mush–the farm has begun a swift and certain journey towards oblivion.

SGF Nov. 13-6993

Anise Hyssop, along with other herbs and flowers, have been transformed into delicious organic teas and spices.

The lurking cold has crept into beds of greens, transforming tender leaves and stalks into slack ribbons of decay. Once-vibrant rows of cut flowers that persisted all season have been hung up and dried; Jezebels of seductive color forced to put on their veils.

SGF Nov. 13-6865The stable has been hung high with drying flowers.

It’s reassuring to see that the bees, despite their wildness, have done some good cognitive mapping of the property and beyond, know where the food and shelter is, and are now huddled in the walled domestic darkness of the hive, forming a winter clusters around their queens.

The chickens are spending more time cooped up, heading out occasionally to peck at fallen fruit and frozen bugs. On cold days–besides the wood smoke curling into the sky, or clouds of brittle leaves scattering about–they’re the only thing moving.

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Chickens, drumstick-deep in warm straw, are beginning to prep for winter.

November is post-mortem time. Time to sort through the pathology of what did or didn’t work, what grew well, what failed to deliver.  Seed packets are always as full of promise as they are seeds.

Flower and vegetable annuals live out a lifetime in a few months–birth, growth, decline, death. A nicely-framed physiological snapshot compared to us.

SGF Nov. 13-6909Celosia spicata ‘Flamingo Feather’ makes for beautiful dried bouquets.

Plants may not have consciousness as we know it, but they can tell us something deep about living; free from the existential burden of defining themselves, they just are.

We, on the other hand, are obsessed with self-definition–more than ever in a social-media world, where fretting about on-line likes, tweets and posts are a form of virtual existence and affirmation, and seem to give distorted meaning to it all (he says, writing a blog)

SGF Nov. 13-6955Hot peppers are being dried for their flaky seeds.

Just being used to be enough, to “tramp a perpetual journey,” as Whitman said. But sit in an airport, a bar or a café, or even walk down the street these days and you’ll see that everyone is somewhere else, no one is present.

Wherever we go, it seems, there we aren’t.

One thing farming asks of you, besides considerable patience and humility, is to be present, to be empirically engaged in the world around you. There’s no other way to do it. For me, this little farm keeps it real.  – Mb

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September 24th, 2013

Farming Under the Influence

September, elliptical month, month of transitions, and the farm is truly, madly beautiful at the moment: late fruit hanging ripe and slack, sun jetting through the thinning trees, the primal clarity of the light.

SEPT BLOG -8223Mornings in the flower farm are an experience to be savored, particularly in September, with its long, low shadows and luxuriant growth.

The whole place seems high on itself, and at levels way beyond the legal limit. It doesn’t help that I photograph food and gardens for a living (and what is a farm if not a food garden?), so I’m tuned in to all this beauty at insanely high decibels.

Once the visual dopamine pulses, it takes me and wastes me and I’m left to photograph and farm under the influence (an agricultural misdemeanor in most states).

They don’t call us Stoned Gate Farm for nothing.

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A late-season harvest of greens with scarlet nasturtium blossoms.

If I’m not careful, my license to farm might be revoked, or worse, be sent to Ag rehab, where compulsive locavores, foodies and organic micro farmers sit in sad, slump-shouldered circles and come clean about their obsessions.

It’s an occupational hazard to fall hard for farming. Once it’s got a hold of you, it’s like a badger, and won’t let go until it crushes bone, or spirit, or energy. If you’re lucky (and luck is as much a part of farming as planning and planting), you get to the end of the season, as we have, and are truly thankful for your magical and productive piece of earth.

This late season buzz is the farm’s way of deeply imprinting–before the big chill of Winter–how important it will be to start all over again next Spring. Like any organism, its MO is just to keep on keepin’ on.

SEPT BLOG -9039A harvest of fuzzy, misshapen quince from the orchard will be transformed into tart preserves.  Lucky us.

My MO is to keep this small farm going strong, in all of its permutations. Besides the book I’m writing and shooting about Stonegate for Rodale (Growing Beautiful Food, 2015), I photographed the farm for Better Homes & Gardens last week: a lot of visual scrutiny and creative madness, but all for the best. If the broader aim of a small, local CSA farm is not just membership, but education and inspiration, about turning people on to eating locally and well, then being a media farmer is a plus.

SEPT BLOG -1992Jewel-like eggplant is almost too pretty to eat.

Ironically, when I lose a CSA member because they’ve decided to grow their own, I feel as though I’ve done my job.

We’ll continue to serve it up this Fall for those who signed up for a late season share, and we plan to bring it on again next year with our 2014 CSA, unless, of course, we lose you to your own back yard. –Mb

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