winter growing

Finding some greenery, and how it taught me to stop throwing shovels

Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver, poet

I've lived in New England my whole life and I've always had a fondness for winter. It's taught me patience and to be a bit more reflective and introspective. As a food grower, the winter also forces me to appreciate the spring and upcoming growing season much more. But, last week, the snow broke me. I was over the cold, the ice, the uncomfortable, multi-layers of clothing. I threw a shovel like a javelin and may have used a few choice words. I officially joined the other obnoxious, melodramatic East Coasters who talk about the weather as if the apocalypse was approaching.

Welcome back, spinach. I've missed you.  (A.Gross, Feburary 2014)

Welcome back, spinach. I've missed you. (A.Gross, Feburary 2014)

Fortunately, my winter-related freak-out seems to be short-lived because I saw some greenery. I harvested sweet spinach in a warm, unheated greenhouse for the first time in weeks. My body craved the greens; the act of harvesting, eating and interacting with the spinach immediately lifted my spirits. I also sowed the first seeds and handled the first seedings of the 2014 season. It feels a bit odd to be planting seeds in early February, especially with 10" of snow just beyond the greenhouse walls. But, the infusion of vitamin D and new life was the perfect recipe to break the mid-winter melancholy.

As I was transplanting rosemary seedlings, I thought of Mary Oliver's passage (that I posted above) because it was a task that made me incredibly mindful of my existence and surroundings. Not to get all hippie-dippy, but I was aware that all this green life growing in the middle of a white and grey winter was either now providing or would eventually provide us with sustenance in the coming months. 

Rosemary seedlings find a new home into bigger cells.  (A.Gross, Feburary 2014)

Rosemary seedlings find a new home into bigger cells. (A.Gross, Feburary 2014)

This interaction with the seedlings was also bittersweet. This is my last winter and farming season working for a commercial farm (until, hopefully, I have my own operation!). Fortunately, I'll still be working with seeds and food in my upcoming job, but on a very different scale and different purpose. (More details soon!) Embracing the act of food cultivation and reflecting on the knowledge that I've acquired is overwhelming. I'm so thankful for my farming mentors, the places that are the farms and the life cycles of the diverse ecosystems. But, I'm also incredibly excited to use these skills to help others have access to good, healthful food. 

It's easy to be frustrated, stressed or angry, but I think it's just as easy - and far more rewarding and fulfilling - to be happy. Clinical depression certainly exists and I'm not naive enough to think that working with plants is the only cure for mental health issues. BUT for those of us with a tinge of the winter blues, in a trying circumstance, or in need of clarity, seek out signs of life and green. It helps. 

Chive seeds, ready to be planted into drill trays...and dirty farmer hands.  (A.Gross, Feburary 2014)

Chive seeds, ready to be planted into drill trays...and dirty farmer hands. (A.Gross, Feburary 2014)

Winter, roots & the absence of greens: A lesson in patience

Winter, roots & the absence of greens: A lesson in patience

The moral of this winter: A commitment to locally grown food requires patience and understanding for both plants and the humans who grow them. Farmers: You're not doing anything wrong - it's just cold, so chill out. (That was a winter pun. Sorry. Ignore it.)

Winter work

Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.
— Sinclair Lewis

When people find out that I work on a farm during the winter in Connecticut, I do get a few odd looks and the usual set of questions like "There's stuff growing now?" "What do you do?" "Aren't you cold?" Farmers in New England no longer have the luxury of simply retiring for the colder months, and, as a farmworker, I don't really have the option or financial luxury of taking the winter "off." Demand for local food during the late fall to early spring is increasing among consumers, and many farmers are adapting - some begrudgingly - to fulfill this need.

If you watched the video, you should realize that there's nothing romantic or glamorous about winter growing. I've worked a few winter farm seasons now, and I'm still trying to make up my mind if I want to do season extension on my future farm...or if I should just pack up and move somewhere tropical. Some part of your body will always be cold, your nose runs, everything seems much heavier to lift and you seem to be even more beholden to the elements (i.e., loss of light, freezing temperatures that affect water use, the impending doom of snow, etc.) than usual. But, there is something sort of grounding (others may say "soul crushing") about experiencing a farm during these bleaker and starkly beautiful months of the year. Here's a glimpse into what's been going on in my world of early winter season farm work, including indoor farmers' markets, skinning greenhouses and harvesting roots and greens before the really cold temperatures set in.