Farm To Farm

by Spec MacQuayde, January 6, 2010

The promises of rain have been mostly hopeful as forecasters see abundant moisture in the El Niño conditions of the Pacific headed our way, but fizzling at the first contact with land. Evidently the snow covering most of the Great Plains is creating this vast trough, they call it, with low pressure there, causing a ridge of high pressure over California. This ridge is valiantly fending off our El Nino moisture, pushing a lot of it north.

The warm weather over the weekend had my woofer, Diana Winter, all excited to get the greenhouse ready for planting stuff like broccoli and cabbage. Coming from Detroit, we get a few warm days the first week in January and she thinks it's time to drop it into high gear. We could be planting radishes and peas out in the garden, she says, if only I'd move the chicken trailer out to pasture.

“The rains, the winter, have barely started,” I tell her. “Hopefully.”

Diana has hooked up with some of the key people involved with the local foods movement. Some of those folks are fairly radical, bluntly noting that the economy is about as stable as a horse on a tightrope. You can see the effect this kind of thinking has on her. When I see the energetic gleam in her eyes I have to reach for a can of beer. I know how she feels. She can't believe the piles of apples and walnuts going to waste in this valley. “There's so much potential here. I just don't get why more of the pot growers don't use their land to produce food for people.”

“Some do,” I told her. “But they're the exception. I know ten people who want to grow food but every summer about the middle of August they say, Oh fuck it, and let all the vegetables bake like pizza in a brick oven. All the available water goes to the high-value buds. We've had three dry years in a row.”

“But, like, if you had some kind of incentive program. A collective where people all chip in to encourage growers to plant food along with pot…”

Meanwhile I was fumbling around, trying to roll a joint. I was starting to think that somehow it had been a work of genius to have the woofer come out in the middle of the winter when there was nothing to do. That way she could spend a couple months decompressing, getting acclimated before we started in with the spring planting. She'd be chomping at the bit by the first weeks of March, when we would still have about as many months of frost danger ahead of us as they do in Detroit. By then she might have grown accustomed to the slow pace of farm life around here.

A lot of people think that farmers work really hard, and it is true that jobs like stacking hay will tend to make you sweat. However, it is not the hard work that usually sends the woofers flying away like migratory birds before the crops are even planted. It is the monotonous stuff like planting and weeding, the generally slow pace that drives most people crazy at first. They hear the frogs chirping from the swamps, the roosters crowing, the cows calling over the fence to their calves, and they go nuts. It's all too slow.

So when I heard that Diana had played volleyball at a Lutheran school in Detroit up through the 8th grade, I connected her with the folks who get together at the Anderson Valley High gym somewhere around 4:30 on Sunday evenings. They've been playing volleyball for decades, back to the days when it was outdoors and mostly hippies who played the feral sort of game you might expect to find in the inner city, complete with the fights, the 40-ounce bottles busted over skulls. They've mellowed over the years, they say, and pretty much welcome anyone willing to play.

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