Friday, March 28, 2014

April is almost here again

It's the end of March, and you know what that means.

Last night, the winds were fierce. In fact, they literally blew the door off the newly built greenhouse and tore down the super-mini-greenhouse (it was empty) we purchased for the very early season crops (to give the snow a chance to melt and the ground to unfreeze before building). It was crazy. That greenhouse door, after separating itself from the main structure, was caught haphazardly by a randomly placed full propane tank, plastic torn in a small jagged cut only. One hinge still hung from the door jamb; the other two were torn off and went with the door. One tray of newly started eggplant seeds was tossed to the floor of the greenhouse. All in all, it could've been worse. Fuck the mini-greenhouse. I'm pretty thankful for how it all worked out.

It has been the craziest winter of my life, if you don't count my birth year--which I can't remember anyway, so let's not count it. Snow upon snow, upon cold, upon cold. And it doesn't want to let go. We've got new land again this year, and had to build a new greenhouse (obviously) and some seedlings got started late due to all the craziness. But aside from the door being torn off, things are off to a good start. Hoping warmth and dryness start to dominate so we can direct-seed some crops in the near future.

This year feels crucial. Sort of a crossroads. The farm is progressing toward success, but my personal life feels more and more chaotic. Entirely my fault. I'm not seizing the day these days.

I still really miss traveling. And though year after year I experience a rougher life in terms of my living conditions, I yearn for the even rougher life of the backcountry, for one. I'm living like a pauper, but in a bullshit sort of way, attached to the dominant American cultural landscape while trying to foster a business that relies almost exclusively on the successful folks in that culture. I think selling vegetables to rich and middle-class suburban and urban dwellers is not where I want to be. It's great being your own boss and making a living from your own labor, but I'm not sure I like capitalism at all. In fact, I think I hate it more than ever. I'm not very fond of my customers as a group. There, I said it. It feels good.

I try to make a living off the land. That's really all I want to do. Maybe read some good books. Write a thing here and there. Play some music. We decided to move our farm to the suburbs of Chicago for a better business opportunity, and it has all come true: it is a better opportunity. Our CSA is going to sell out this year. We will make more money than our first two years combined. It's everything we wanted as a farm business in year three.

But I think income is overrated for me. And I always have daydreams about finding some land and doing it off the grid, minimalisticly--not in an intentionally ecological sort of way (though that will be a side effect), but in a regular, traditionally human sort of way. Raising plants, saving seed, slaughtering animals, building shit from leftover scraps from another project, bartering, partnering with neighbors, and making just enough money to pay my taxes or rent and whatever bills are required of me: these need to be the real goals.

There was a time when I was 19 and had all sort of altruistic feelings about changing the world. And then I found my way to a different thought process, where I just wanted to connect with the land that I loved so much and find likeminded folks who didn't mind working like the humans they are and spending the rest of their time just being human, not consumers. And sometime after that I convinced myself that I had to find a way to make a living. But I think I left the good path somewhere between here and there.

I don't want to make a living. I just want to live like a human. It feels weird saying that as an American and thinking about people on the other side of the world who daily deal with terrible diseases and constant threats of violence. I feel like an asshole saying that my culture is shit and I don't want all the protections that it brings. But I don't. I don't want to be hunted either, but what can I say: there's something in the middle, and humans suck at moderation. America has a rich history, but we took an unfortunate turn.

I sit here in the middle of suburbia and it all feels the same. I removed myself from this place nearly 14 years ago, and now I'm back. It's a land of convenience. It's where my friends and family are. But I don't think it's for me. Maybe it's another stepping stone.

The greenhouse sits at 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Doors are on securely. Propane heater is running. Maybe in a couple years I'll put gutters on the greenhouse. And rainwater will collect in black barrels, which will radiate heat at night. And maybe that greenhouse will be dug six feet into the earth, and no fossil fuels will be necessary to grow food in it year round. Compost piles might provide extra heat.

These are the basic steps. We'll save seeds and plant them. Things will grow and reach for something.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Have I resorted to the yearly update?

It sure seems that I've failed to keep up my end of the bargain with posting here. It's a sad day in the joeosphere with this yearly posting thing. I am vast. I am composed of deceased stars. Or some shit like that.

Anyway. Some things you should know about me before you decide to rededicate yourself to this enterprise of keeping up with my universe of barely blogging.

One: I now like whiskey. Scotch. Bourbon. Rye. The diehards already know about my fondness for white lightning. As long as it ain't Seagrams.. I also don't like my whiskey distilled in old radiators. One day I will distill my own. And maybe I will sell it. And maybe I will get arrested--for that and for selling the hemp I will grow. One has to make a living--since I certainly am not quite doing it now.

Two: I live in freaking Indiana. You can shoot me now if you like. But I'm just barely over the border. The farmland I'm renting with my dedicated and morally upright partners in crime is pretty awesome and is near two declared nature preserves (one in Illinois and one in Indiana). But there are a lot of deer. And I'm afraid that I might have to declare Jihad on all the hoofed beasts in this area. Wish me luck in my battle.

Three: I like farming a lot. And I hate having jobs off my farm. I am going to solve this disconnect really soon, just you wait.

Four: I need a new vehicle. Soon. I will make a potion. And with said potion (which will undoubtedly contain some sort of animal horn) I will acquire a magic vehicle. Preferably with four wheel drive and lots of space.

Five: I enjoy watching basketball. Sometimes it's the best thing to do with two hours, because, really, it doesn't matter. Go Bulls.

Six: I've spent the winter working with all kinds of animals on a well-known Chicago-area  farm, and I've learned a ton about animal husbandry. I've also relearned a bunch of stuff about heavy farm machinery, which is always handy. Plus, I've come to find out that many of the youths in America--even those that work for barely any pay on farms in Nowhereville, IL just to learn--are doomed.

Seven: I don't get to travel enough anymore.

Eight: I miss mountains and rivers.

Nine: I really would like not to switch abodes anymore.

Ten: Life be crazy, yo.

Eleven: See ya round. Drop a line if you are out there, friend or stranger. Visit the farm if you are near. Links for the farm will be posted in the sidebar.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Update time?

Yep, I think it is. Funny thing is, it's only been a year since I posted. I could have sworn it was two. So, I guess I'm doing better than I thought.

Anyway, a lot has been going on these past couple years. And for some reason I just haven't been inspired to post. I love writing because it's a creative outlet and I like sharing my little corner of this existence with random people and loved ones, but sometimes the motivation is just not there. Which is fine. These things happen, and I'm not gonna fight it. Same thing has been happening with reading lately. I am typically a voracious reader, but for the past year or so, I just can't get through a book. Maybe my brain is dying.

Honestly though, I went through a rough patch and came out of it fine--and certainly changed. Last spring felt like a rebirth of sorts.

Since my last post, I've mostly been working at a farm a little west of Chicago. It's a farm only in the sense that a small part of what they do is grow some of the vegetables they sell, and people actually buy those veggies--so starved are folks in suburbia for fresh, local food that they'll buy anything marketed as local and green again and again. We'll just leave it there.

But the year was not a loss in any sense. I continued to learn what not to do, mostly, and I met a bunch of great people. My co-workers at the farm were so great, in fact, that two of them have become my business partners and we have started a farm together. And the rest are future partners, or lifelong friends at the least.

Our farm is about 50 miles south of Chicago. We're doing a CSA and growing crops for seed. At the same time I'll be the assistant manager at the previous farm I apprenticed at, Peasant's Plot. So, I'm going to be one busy bastard here shortly. It's already been busy coming up with the farm plan, acquiring the tools we need, and starting all these seeds. But April is going to be a whole different story, what with having to move and find a new vehicle on top of the season really beginning in earnest.

So, I don't know how much you'll be hearing from me on here, but I wanted to get an update in. The farm will have a blog, and maybe I'll provide the link for that. But I'd like to try posting a little more frequently here, if possible.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gratuitous daffodil shot

Another sign of Spring in some places. This was taken in the wilds of Connecticut last year.

Garlic should be worshipped by some cult

One of the signs of Spring.

This photo is from last year. In the background you can see, from right to left, the old corn crib we used as a packing shed, the 77 RV I lived in for several months, and the machine shed that featured, among other things, a fairly large half-pipe that attracted skaters from all over.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's a blessing and a curse

The season is coming. Almost seventy here the other day. It's like waking up.

I sit here, earbuds in, succumbing to the music. Which is about as good as it gets to me. There is nothing better than good music. And really, there's no explanation for it. It might as well be some bleeps and boops, strums, pounds, knocks. Which is what it is. But for the life of us, we have no real explanation for why music brings us pure joy. I'm as close to a rational dickhead as you can get, but I still accept things on faith. Music for one. It's a spiritual (fuckin' a, you read that right) experience for me, and I don't need an arguable reason. Same with being outdoors, exploring, immersing myself in whatever it is. I don't really care what "whatever" is; I think that's when I'm at my best. The rest--self-identifying as rational, trying too hard to feel the unexplainable, rebelling in some small way--is all bullshit. I could probably be a really good Buddhist or Taoist if things were different. Good thing or bad? Who knows.

I really wasn't meant for this time and place, I tell myself. But, being honest, maybe I wasn't meant for any of the times and places. I like to think I could be John Muir swaying in the treetops. Or Aldo Leopold observing the land. Or Montaigne questioning everything. Or Kurt Cobain killing myself.

Don't fret over the last, I have enough self-esteem and appreciation for being alive. But I can relate to the feeling. I always could. I like extreme feelings, though/because I can't express them properly in my everyday life.

So, tomorrow I plan on going to some karaoke in the city, where, no doubt, the music will be middling to terrible, but the beer will be cheap. And friends will be there--along with other people I don't know much or at all.

And we'll have fun.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bees leaving the hive

Just a couple pics from last season. It kind of freaked me out a little, even though I know better on a rational level.

They swarmed, found a spot to hang out for a moment, sent out some scouts, and a few minutes later the whole pile took off in a giant cloud toward the creek. Pretty amazing to see up close.

You thought I was gone!

Ha! And so did I. For a little bit.

But. I'm back. For maybe a little bit. Or a while. Who knows. But I'll try.

Quick summary for any stragglers: farmed again, just south of Chicago, with great folks (updated links coming soon). Lived in an RV with no water, no stove, and some electricity. Learned more about building, composting, manure management. Cut and planted and dug sooooo many potatoes, but I still love them. Summer squash can kiss my ass. I'm a new fan of the wheel hoe. Bees are fuckin crazy (when they swarm like three times in a single season, and they're right by the packing shed, right?). The Earthway "precision" seeder can still kiss my ass (but I can empathize with it a little more). I like soil blocks for seed starting. Kale might be my favorite crop to grow for sale (but come on America, when will you learn to love the kale?). Maybe this coming summer won't be as hot. This past fall and winter were something I might need about 12 beers and a half a pack of cigarettes to write about. Maybe I'll just skip the blog and go right to the novel for that one.

So guess what? I'm farming again this year. In the outskirts of the western Chicago suburbs. My long journey away from the suburban wasteland has brought me full circle. I still don't know how I feel about this situation, but I'm trying to embrace it. This is life. Or a life.

More later. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Growing again

So, we got a van. A crappy one. For cheap. I think it leaks three different fluids, but it managed to get us across the country. And it still runs. While the gas mileage sucks compared to my dearly departed Kia--and it is much less reliable--the bright side is that it holds lots of stuff, or people, or maybe both. So far so good. But I'm trying to top off the transmission fluid, and it's proving to be a project. Even the simplest things... right?

Yep, the simplest things have been problematic lately. I won't bore you with the details. But simple is definitely not to be confused with living simply. The past few months have been anything but an act of simplicity for us. We've been living way beyond our means and desires lately, and it has taken its toll in many ways. At least for me. I think living in such a way makes all the simple things much more of a project than they need to be; or maybe it leaves me lacking the patience to deal with the simplest of things.

But whatever mumbojumbo I'm talking about in the previous paragraph can just float away and be gone as far as I'm concerned. We're settling in at the new place, already constructing a couple hoophouses and learning some new ways of growing (like bottom-watering your soil block seedlings started under cheap-ass fluorescent lights).

More details about new farm experiences and re-immersion to come. For the moment, we're working hard, getting situated in our small, primitive RV, and readjusting to the flatlands. The farm we're staying at is a narrow, 500 ft-wide strip of vegetable-growing diversity in the middle of king corn and it's scantily clad consort, queen soybean. Today, the land is wide open for miles, save the occasional farmhouse, the seemingly rarer tree, and millions of acres of corn and soybean stubble. Many of our neighbors under the considerable power of the AMDs and Monsantos of the world busily blast their near bare soil with tons of deeply extracted anhydrous ammonia. Soon, we'll be surrounded by vast forests of magically grown commodity crops. It'll certainly be a different sight.

In the meantime, we've got potatoes and spinach to plant.

(Internet access is rare, so updates may be spotty for awhile)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to the Midwest

So, we're going to be rambling our way back to good ol' Illinois (which is where we're originally from, for any new readers out there), where we'll be apprenticing for another season on a diversified small farm. We decided that family and long-time friends were important to have near us (relatively) as we anticipate finding some land to settle down on for the long term. It'll be hard to give up my dream of living in the beautiful mountains of the Southeast. I mean, I really felt at home there, but some things are more important than other things. And at least I got a chance to be there for a time.

But first, I've gotta find a new car. My long-lived and trusty '98 Sephia was destroyed in an accident. Got a couple weeks to find a replacement and then head halfway across the country and move in to a new living space (which is going to be: a motor home of some small size, on a farm about an hour south of Chicago). We'll see how the cats like their new digs. Or, how we will, for that matter.

We can't wait to get dirty again.