Week 32: Final Reflections

This is the end of one journey but the beginning of another.  My time here at the farm has felt brief but as I consider my final reflections the experience seems profound.

The nature of Pepperfield effortlessly introduced me to a new collection of connections.  As a result, I met local producers, food and hospitality providers, community leaders and countless others.  Each one, touching on my journey and – knowingly or unknowingly – leaving a lasting impression; each new connection fostering the growth and development that I sought for so long.  Decorah was, and still is, a receptive, welcoming community that took me into the fold without hesitation. This last 32 weeks threw me into the active social scene in Decorah. I attended more parties and social gatherings than ever before.  Likewise, the people of Decorah have created something special: a progressive, loving community aware of each other and their surroundings. Similarly, it was this same community that acted as the conduit for so many unique culinary adventures.  But it wasn’t just food centered experiences that occupied my time.

During my time here I encountered work (and play) so fantastic that it’s hard to recall all of it.  But I do remember how fast it all started. Within months of arriving I had already secured a few jobs around town.  And soon after, even more. I saw the whole gamut from weddings to parties – and trust me everything possible in between.  Meanwhile at the farm, I was busy working away. Nearly 150 varieties were represented in our grow out this year and I had a hand in each one.  Farming isn’t an easy job and by the end of this season I had amassed some pretty impressive figures. In a two acre garden I managed to haul over 8300 pounds of manure, transplant 2577 times, plant over 4139 seeds and mulch 2863 square feet of ground.  This was exclusively the work I completed; these values would be much higher if tallied for the entire farm. My point is, I was quite busy. Simultaneously, I was still able to enjoy the nature around me. I took on foreign tasks like foraging for mushrooms, slaughtering a chicken and eviscerating animals to be used for eating.  The combination of experiences were truly rewarding as a person but also as a chef. (I can’t nearly cover everything from this season, but you can check out the happenings of all 32 weeks here!) Moving forward I will cherish these experiences but also everything that I learned in the process.

At its roots, coming to Pepperfield was always about learning.  From the beginning, my purpose was to learn how to grow food from the ground up.  Likewise, I hoped to take some time to myself and readjust my mindset. As I look back at what I learned at Pepperfield, it’s hard to imagine that I managed to learn all that I did.  Each day brought lectures from botany to esoteric philosophies challenging me on all fronts to observe, learn and retain. As a result I made one of the most profound discoveries of my life: food is a means of connection.  Not only does it unify us as people, but it brings us closer – physically, mentally and spiritually – in one way or another, no matter how abstract. And, as I explored these possibilities of food, I began to feel awake, alive and almost transcended.  

What started as a quest to slow down evolved into something even greater; changes to my body, mind and spirit, began to materialize.  Then, I began to achieve a more relaxed lifestyle. The tension, built from so many years of pain, anger and frustration began to melt into a serenity within that I can only describe as internal compassion.  I became aware of my choices and their consequences; I found peace with my mistakes and shortcomings. Similarly, I began the process of forgiveness with myself and began to reach out to share this with others in my life.  I felt an immense amount of liberation as I began to identify the origins of my problems and charted a new course to resolve them. I may be leaving Pepperfield, but I hope to continue feeling as creative, relaxed and motivated as I had previously.

Don’t forget, we’re on the road for the next week touring various BBQ shops across the nation.  More info on that tomorrow from the road. Stay posted, stay hungry (but not for to long)!

Week 31: The Penultimate week at Pepperfield

If you missed out on our recent update about some of our future developments, we encourage you to check it out here.  As I began to realize that this was my penultimate week at the farm, the whole experience I shared with the people and nature seems almost surreal.

Monday started with an early trip to the hospital garden.  I worked on cleaning up some of the beds while David harvested kale.  When we returned we took a quick break for lunch and then I worked on making some squash fettuccine.  It was nearly three pounds of pasta and took me the rest of the evening.  David and I worked on leftovers for dinner before calling it a night.  The next day I made a tomato sauce.  As it simmered away on the wood stove, I worked down in the garden pulling gourd vines off the fence.  Afterwards, I transitioned to the main squash patch and worked on pulling vines off the fences.  Then I switched to cutting down the old Jerusalem artichokes.  I took a quick intermission for lunch and then headed to town for my shift at work.  Things were dismally slow.

 

Wednesday morning I continued down in the squash patch.  I finished the last of the fence cleaning and then moved onto raking up the debris and weeds leftover from the growing season.  This ate up the rest of my morning.  I took a quick break for lunch before getting ready for town and my final shift at the job.  Unfortunately it wasn’t very memorable as we closed nearly an hour early after only serving 15 tables in six hours.  The next day I finished the clean up in the squash patch.  Then David and I went to the hospital so I could have a meeting with the nutrition director about an upcoming knife skills class.  It went pretty swiftly so I went out to the garden to help David tidy up a few things before we left to go back to the farm.  David and I finished the last round of leftovers and finished our day with a session in the sauna.

Friday was pretty laid-back.  I went to town midday to bring my car to the shop.  Meanwhile, I presented a 45 minute lecture and demonstration for the Winneshiek Medical Center kitchen team about knife skills.  Afterwards, I made use of my time at the hospital to work on cleaning up a few more beds.  I got back to the farm sometime in the early evening and decided to go to town to get some food.  I made a quick stop at the Armory and grabbed some tacos before heading back for an early night of sleep.  The next day I started my morning by stacking the final load of wood in to the wood shed.  Shortly after, I ran over to the neighbors with David to pick up some chairs they had borrowed.  David went to town for the evening and I stayed behind at the farm.  I did some work on a few projects before calling it another early night.

Sunday morning started late.  Mid-morning I made lamb braise and let it simmer away on the wood stove.  I spent time reading and relaxing while it bubbled.  Later in the afternoon David and I went to concert feature macabre music.  After we went to Carina’s to catch up and have a glass of wine.  As our conversations streched into the evening, we were invited to stay for dinner.  Carina put together a great meal of roasted chicken, sweet and sour cabbage and roasted vegetables.  This meal and time with both Carina and Micah was refreshing and fun.  It was a great ending for the week.

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Week 30: My Thoughts About Fall and More

Some people love fall; I do not.  The changes of the seasons might bring cheer to some but for me it’s rather undesirable.

leaves in the fall

 

Monday I put on my lumberjack gear to continue cutting wood.  As I worked away stacking and hauling wood for next year I began to reflect.  Observing my surroundings, I found it hard to see the beauty in fall, the changing leaves or bare trees.  Everything around me was dead or getting ready for winter.  No more lush trees, no more bountiful gardens, just dead plants and leaves everywhere.  Maybe I’m just the odd one out, missing the beauty of the nature around me.  I  believe I’m just not fascinated by the transition of nature into dormancy.  We worked until lunch on firewood and then took a break.  Afterwards, we continued working for a few hours.  When we finished, David and I got changed and went out to see the final performance of The Clean House, presented by the Commonweal in Lanesboro.

The next day David and I picked up where we had left off.  As we hacked away at the wood pile my mind began to wander.  Not only has this fall season been nature’s physical transition for the next season, it also has been a great time of reflection for me.  Even more so than spring and summer, I have been able to spend time reflecting on thoughts and ideas as I do – almost – mundane tasks around Pepperfield.  I understand they need to get done as part of the fall operations of the farm, but I came here to learn about food growth and processing, not Firewood Acquisition 101.  (I guess the sentiment I’m trying to express is disappointment or frustration.)  Not only has fall been the time for clean-up and changes, it also has acted as my jarring snap back to the reality of my life and the choices I make.  Unlike the plants, I’m just getting started.  Woodcutting took up most of our morning and afternoon.  After a quick lunch break, I left the house for a busy night of work.

making pasta in fall

Wednesday – that’s right, you guessed it – brought more woodcutting.  As I stacked, I began to think back to the beginning of my journey.  I have made so much personal growth and have this urge to continue.  Pepperfield has acted as a great catalyst for these changes.  Meanwhile it has provided an equally fantastic conduit for this growth.  But now, as my goals have shifted, so have my needs.  At the end of the day, I don’t mind cutting firewood or working on garden clean-up.  But I’m struggling to meet my goals and objectives as I sacrifice my time and energy here.  I am excited and anxious to get a jump on some of my upcoming projects.  Unfortunately, limited internet and cell service, busy days and early nights, among other things, make this nearly impossible at the farm.

Thursday was the last day of woodcutting.  Thankfully David and I had developed a decent rhythm so we only spent our morning on this project.  Things slowed down for the day and I did some computer work until I left for town.  The night at work was insane.  The next day I started my morning with clean-up around the house.  I threw a pot of goat stew on the stove to reduce while I puttered around.  Meanwhile, I finished the house chores by sweeping the floors and cleaning the stove top.  I left for work a few hours later for another busy night in town.

Saturday started to look a little more exciting.  After breakfast, I set my whetstone to soak for sharpening.  Then, I made a lemon poppy seed cake to use up some extra products we had around the house.  As it cooked and filled the house with a great lemon aroma, I worked on sharpening the kitchen knives.  I had forgotten how relaxing it was to just sharpen knives.  I made my transition to work mode as the afternoon progressed.  Then, I left for town to work with Ruth and Trout River Catering.  Ruth was catering a Luther College reunion and wanted me to help plate.  After a solid shift, I grabbed a beer and then called it a night.

Sunday I slept in until 10.  Afterwards, I got up and started my day.  David didn’t have anything pressing so I got to spend my morning working on some personal projects.  It was during this time that I really began to think about plans for Pans & Perspective.  I’m sure you’ve noticed (don’t think I haven’t) that the frequency of posts has begun to decline.  I don’t like to make excuses but I feel over-committed at this point.  Between my work here and in town, I have found increasing less time to work on creating quality content.  This is not permanent.  My time at Pepperfield is nearly complete; I’ll be bringing you an explosion of new content once I get settled back in Florida.

Thank you all for following my journey this year.  Personally, I am thrilled to be able to document my time and share a glimpse of it with all of you!  Don’t forget, next Wednesday will be our October AMA session; you can learn more about it here.

Week 29: Fall Clean-Up and Firewood

his last week has been full of outside work.  We have been stockpiling firewood in preparation for winter.

stacked firewood

The week started slow with some outside clean-up.  I spent my Monday working in the back pulling out dead plants and taking down fences.  I started by pulling out melons and eggplants.  Then I turned my attention to sunflowers and tobacco plants, both taller than me.  I tidied up the rest of the area by pulling the calendulas and weeds and then headed inside for dinner.  The next day I worked in the hoop house while David got organized for the day.  I cut two, five gallon buckets of squash for the baby goats before hopping the truck with David.  We went down the drive way and worked on cutting downed trees for firewood. After a few solid hours of work, I took off to town for an evening at the job.  Things we’re dismally slow.

Wednesday brought more wood cutting.  Much like yesterday, David and I worked until lunch gathering downed trees.  After lunch we headed over to Highlandville to help a friend of David’s dig potatoes.  She was thrilled and cooked us dinner.  We spent a great evening with her catching up and hearing about her life.  The following day I worked on getting some meals ready for the rest of the week.  I prepared a goat and vegetable soup and set it on the stove to simmer away.  Meanwhile I worked on a tomato sauce and some miso and cabbage.  I pulled my stuff off the stove for a little and went with David to pick up some chicken feed at a neighbors farm.  After that, I got myself ready for the evening and went to town for a steady night of service.

calamondins ripening as we cut firewood

Friday I started my morning with some more cooking by preparing a vegetable soup with the last of the peppers.  While that cooked, I worked on cleaning up the kitchen and around the house.  David and I ate an early lunch and then moved outside to work on splitting some of the wood we had gathered.  I took off a few hours later for a very busy night.  The day after I started my morning with some clean-up in the main garden.  I pulled the last of the amaranth and then moved onto cutting down the Jerusalem artichoke.  I continued to work in the garden finishing a few more projects before heading to a busy night of work.

David and I dedicated Sunday exclusively to firewood.  I worked on stacking and hauling wood to various areas while David ran the splitter.  We spent nearly our whole morning and afternoon cracking wood before heading to a neighbors farm to drop off our baby goats.  Afterward, we got a quick tour of his property and then headed back to our farm to finish some more wood.  Later, we enjoyed a warm fire as the evening dissolved.

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Week 28: And Just Like That, Snow…

We are now experiencing true autumn weather.  Our week ended with a small flurry of snow giving a beautiful appearance to the grounds of Pepperfield.

David and I began our Monday as usual.  After a quick visit to the hospital garden we spent some time in town running some errands.  Afterwards, we returned to the farm and worked on cleaning the last of the green amaranth.  Then I worked on getting a few items ready for dinner.  Korbin dropped in for the evening and we spent time enjoying good food and each others company as we caught up.  She brought a great gift of black trumpet mushrooms making the meal even more special.  The next day I started my morning by organizing squash.  We have an excessive amount, so I spent my time moving them to their final winter resting spots.  David and I spent the rest of the morning picking volunteer squash from around the farm.  Once we got done with that, we moved onto harvesting celeriac for winter storage.  I worked on cutting off the tops, while David cleaned up the roots.  This took a good portion of our morning and we took a quick lunch break just after.  I left for work a few hours later and spent a slow night in town.

Wednesday I worked on getting some meals ready for the week and an upcoming dinner.  I started my day by setting up a lamb braise on the wood stove.  While it simmered away, I focused on preparing some items for dinner.  I started by roasting red and white peppers for a roasted pepper topping.  After that I moved onto making a pear pickle.  Around mid-day, David discovered a massive hen of the wood mushroom growing up near the cabin so I took a quick break to help him harvest it.  Our dinner guests arrived shortly after and I worked on a few finishing touches.  The dinner involved five courses and started with a late garden salad.  Then I presented corn and zucchini pancakes with roasted peppers, pear pickle, squash butter and caramelized zucchini.  The next course was a Seminole squash risotto which was followed by braised beef over fettuccine.  Dessert was raspberry sorbet with some almond cookies and acted as a great closer for a fun meal.  The following day I worked on preparing the hen of the woods mushroom for drying.  This took about an hour and once I finished that I helped David dig up cabbage roots for next years seed crop.  Afterwards, I took off for work a few hours later for a decent night.

Friday, I focused on garden clean-up.  I started by helping David dig and clean amaryllis bulbs.  After that I pulled tobacco, pepper and rue plants that were done for the season.  I managed to get a fence rolled up before I left for town too.  We got slammed at the job with a huge push near the end after the football game got out.  The day after, I worked on some more clean-up, this time inside.  I focused on tidying up the kitchen and fridge before working on cutting up squash for the goats.  Then I setup some braised cabbage and left for the evening.  Work was quite busy again with a huge night of business.

It seems that my Sundays are restful.  After sleeping in, I stumbled out of bed.  I helped David make a pie for a party we were going to and then whipped up a quick ice cream to go with it.  David and I spent the day mostly in relaxation before heading to his daughter’s for the evening.  There was lots of pie – sweet and savory – and great company, crafting a great ending to a busy week.

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QotW 13

Squash Wisdom

Rays of low November sun glint through greenhouse glass. The air outside is crisp and smells of Earth going to sleep. Leaves blanket the ground in beautiful bronzes, ambers and rusts. In the warmth of the greenhouse, I methodically schoop the hull-less seeds from the squash named “Buschol Kurbis, Curcubita pepo. My skin is layered with that of the squash’s. There is a reverance in my heart, I think about this squash’s season growing out of the field on the ridgetop, across form the tree where the eagles perch.

How many sunrises and sunsets, how many moons did she greet? How many drops of rain did she drink, of dew did she hold? How many bluebirds sang to each other as they flew over? How many turkeys did she see strut by, tail feathers fanned? How many other flowers were born within the same garden, belonging to all the other crops? How many wild seeds feel to the ground in the woods around her this season?

My coworkers have gone to lunch. Here in the solititude of my thoughts I breathe in slowly taking in the sounds of the old ceremony songs playing from the speaker. Soon I come to realize the throughts passing through my mind are born not from me, but from the squash.

She says “You and I are subject to the same laws of Creation. In many ways, we are the same.”

“You, the midwives who helped me usher my embryo into the next phase of childhood in the spring, you are carried in different vessels than I, yes. Yet we are related. Life is a mysterious and complex and there is also a simplicity to being alive. Listen to the energy of life around you.”

“When I reached adolescence, you planted my feet in the Earth. With each passing day of sweet summer, I came into adulthood. All of my kin and I were planted next to each other in a row and bloomed together. Our bodies are dual, both male and female. My thin male blossoms laden with pollen burst forth from stamens as my turgid female flowers bearing reciptive stigmas unfurled. The dual life generating essences united to create. Together we created the children you uncover from the valley of my body.”

“All of this was orchestrated within the web of life. Insects helped manifest my next generation. We traded in service to one another – nectar for pollen transfer. My fruit you hold in your hand began as one of my female flowers who because fertilized in some manner. Perhaps it was a bee, perhaps my brother wind carried the fertile pollen to my stigma. There is all manner that life comes into the world.”

“Some of my flowers were not fertile at the right time to be pollinated. Some of them did not get fertilized. Still, I became what I already was. Because of that the next generation is here, the seeds in your hand.”

“Surrender and become what you already are. Do not panic about your course, just stay on it. You will always have what you need: It’s all charted in the stars for you. Do not worry my relative, you and I are alive in this good life together.”

My heart feelsas if a new cavern was carved in it, a new cavity to hold love and wonder for our world. So much wisdom, holding so much complexity and simplicity all in one, was shared. It makes me wonder something about the knowing that this precious plant exchanged with my own heart. How much is the world around us teaching, all the time? What multitudes of knowlege can we learn from our plant relatives? How many knowings rise in our heart that we dismiss or ignore? I vow, not only to do my part in protecting the plants and the Earth, but to humble myself to be a student of them, always.
Korbin Lyn Paul, Seed Savers Exchange 2018

Week 23: Autumn is Coming

This week marked the transition of the seasons here at Pepperfield. We have now moved from huge harvests into huge cleanup and the temperature has been cooling off too.

Monday, I shucked corn to be used for seed saving as well as winter food supply. Later on, I left to go pick up my mother and uncle and we went – with David and Ellis – to the Khulman’s place for a fantastic lunch. Then, I drove my mother and uncle up to Minneapolis so we would be close for their early morning flights. My mom and I spent the night just outside the city and ate dinner at Benihana, a great little ending to our short – but sweet – time together. I woke up early the next morning for breakfast and to see my mom off. After, I hopped in the car and made the trek back to Decorah. For parts of my journey the rain was so bad I had to pull over. It was almost as if water was being dumped out of the sky. When I returned to the farm I saw the damage of the storm that I had driven through. Although it was sunny, mud had accumulated in various spots. Many broken limbs and even whole trees had deposited themselves in the waterways. After some assessment, I transitioned to cleaning a few sets of beans before moving on to some garden clean up. Shortly after, I spent the rest of the early afternoon picking up debris. I finished my chores by cutting some squash for the baby goats – some of my finest regulars here at the farm – before helping prepare a dinner of leftovers from the bounty of the Palestinian dinner.

Wednesday started with some light prep for an upcoming event. I cleaned and sliced onions for a lamb dish. Then I took a quick break to run into town and meet with a local caterer. Ruth, with Trout River Catering, was lending me equipment for this party. Once we determined what I needed, I loaded up the car and made a few trips to haul all of the equipment to venue of the event. Afterwards, I ran a few small errands and did some shopping for the dinner. When I returned to the farm, I began pulling the old corn roots; the same job I had been given in the spring. This was what began my mental shift of the seasons. The fall clean up was here and it was time to get ready. I spent a couple of hours on the corn roots managing to pull out nearly 5 rows. The day after I continued pulling corn roots for the better part of the morning. Around noon I called it quits and then went to town to tie up some loose ends for Dennis before heading to work. The night was slow aside from a short rush around 7pm.

Friday, David and I spent the morning gathering hay for the goat barn. After a few trips to a neighboring farm we loaded up the bales into the loft for winter storage. I then moved to the kitchen preparing a lemon vinaigrette and washing and cutting nearly 50 pounds of potatoes for the Symra dinner. I took off to town early again to finish my last round of errands and shopping before heading into work. We were pleasantly busy with a steady flow making the night fly by. I got home before midnight and went straight to bed preparing for the day ahead. Saturday I was up at the crack of dawn and headed over to Dennis’ to begin prep for the Symra dinner. I started by getting my items organized and sliced scallions, red onions and cut salad greens. After that I began plating the Rakfisk, a fermented fish dish served with creme fraiche, pickled beets, green and red onion and parsley. With the help of a server we made quick work of this. I switched gears and began mixing and plating the first course, a sorrel salad with lemon vinaigrette. Our timing was impeccable and as the last salad was set, the guests began to roll in. I floated around helping where I could before staging cheese plates and receiving the lamb in troughs from a local meat processor. He rolled up in the nick of time and after the servers cleared the plates they moved right onto the third course of Särä – smoked lamb, potatoes and onions in birch troughs. The crowd was thrilled as these gorgeous trays hit the tables and as the pace slowed I began to get the next course ready. The cheese plates consisted of four cheeses – tilsit, esrom, beemster and a Wisconsin Bleu – and radishes. At this point we were nearly done and the servers and I shared a quick toast of the traditional drink, akavit. Dessert followed swiftly after the cheese, a small almond cookie called kransekage (or kransekake depending on your nationality). The guests started to leave after this and we rushed out with the final course of brandy and cigars. The afternoon slowly wound down and over the next few hours we cleaned, ate and shared a few drinks. I stayed behind to help do some extra cleanup with our front of the house captain and we shared a relaxed evening with Dennis recapping the day.

Sunday was much calmer. I slept in before running into town to pick up an ingredient for a recipe test of corn ice cream. I also returned the majority of the borrowed equipment to Ruth before heading back to the farm. My regulars have been ravenous so I cut more squash for the goats. Then, I spent the rest of my afternoon cleaning up and making the corn ice cream – a test for our upcoming Central American dinner – before taking a nap. Gloria, the chef of this dinner, came by and we did some planning of the event over a dinner of pizza and salad from Ellis. The evening was calm and cool and as the (almost) fall breeze crept through the valley. I retired to bed early and reflected on how fast the time has gone by.

Check back later this week for new recipes, posts and updates about P&P!

Learning What it Really Takes to Make Food: Substitutions and Compromise

Hundreds of years ago the colonizers spread across America and put down roots, both literally and figuratively. Agriculture was their life: crucial to their survival but also demanding nothing short of total participation.

I have been contemplating this topic for nearly a week. It manifested during the days following this post. I began to realize the amount of work – labor, effort and sheer strength – required to produce an acre of food; it was astounding. Fertilizing with compost, tilling, weed management and pest control had the potential to impose upon each second of a farmer’s life. In colonial times, I’m certain it did. Even with families of six to eight children the work was perpetually incomplete. Over time, the advent of agricultural technology helped eliminate the need for so many physical bodies by replacing them with mechanical ones instead. My purpose of coming to Pepperfield was to learn where food came from, but after this last week it has evolved slightly. My understanding of food is one of a conventional sense where, even organic, products are mass-produced with massive tractors and combines. Each task completed in mere seconds by robotic behemoths rather than the the hands of a person. My real purpose had more depth than that; sure I came to see where food comes from, but the honest truth is that how we grow food at Pepperfield is not really the way. We have simplified processes and sacrificed time to create something that transcends conventional agriculture. But we too make sacrifices and compromises, although very different.

Farming in the time of the settlers involved many more hands. Each tasked with completing a fragment of the puzzle to create a larger, beautiful picture. Horse and plows tore through the Earth to loosen the soil before manure – collected from the farm itself – was placed on the land by hand. It was then turned into the soil with a spading fork by a person. Rows were furrowed and trenches were dug with hand tools, not machinery, before seeds were sown piece by piece with delicate care. The ground was moved over the seeds to give them a new home and a potential for life. Water used for irrigation was pumped from wells by cranks that required a human’s touch. Once everything was in place the same eyes and hands watched and waited vigilantly to combat both weeds and pests. No Round-Up, no electric fencing, just dedication and a desire to survive.

At Pepperfield we form a team, albeit smaller than our pioneering counterparts, to reach the same goals. Our horse – aptly named Troybuilt – is a bright red roto-tiller that turns the task of preparing ground from a day’s work to a few short hours. Our three goats and dozen chickens produce our manure for compost and fertilization but we still haul in more from a neighboring farm. Again our red horse turns this “black gold” back into the Earth where it sits as a vein of nitrogen and other essential nutrients. With shocking authenticity to the settlers, we still furrow our rows with hoes and dig seed trenches by hand. We walk the rows hand sowing seeds with the same delicate care that these heirlooms received so many years ago. The trenches are filled and seeds are covered in the same manner before being watered. This time though, our electric pump draws the water from the well through hundreds of feet of hoses strung across the garden. Electric fences are set, organic pesticides of various powdered plant matter are dusted on crops and we too watch almost as diligently as our colonial counterparts for the first sign of life, weeds or seedlings; each strip is carefully purged of weeds as they surface by hand or hoe.

The modern systems eliminate the need for many children or a team of farmers. Tractors pulling massive disks can loosen acres of soil in mere minutes. Petro-fertilizers are spread far over the required amounts as yield insurance; a faster, simpler and cheaper process that allows the step turning fertilizer into the Earth to be skipped entirely. Seeding apparatuses are dragged behind the same tractors planting hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds in a single pass, no furrowing required. Irrigation is made simpler by rolling sprinklers that create a cascade of water down onto these seeds. As they spring to life, petro-chemicals are sprayed – although not always if the GMO seeds have genes that repel potential pests – and weeding is managed much to the same effect.

Over the last 8 weeks, I have grown, just like the plants, at Pepperfield. My understanding of agricultural systems increases each day and I am beginning to identify the various input substitutions that are made on many different levels. Each day brings new surprises and thoughts to contemplate. The environment promotes this physical and mental expansion and offers living examples of natural processes. At Pepperfield we practice food production as close to its original roots as possible, still considering needs to maintain an efficient but low impact system. I believe that it is one of the reasons I enjoy Pepperfield so much. It isn’t preaching or practicing unrealistic methods to achieve a goal. But rather managing tools and techniques to create a wholesome product. These practices promote a key element for a prosperous future, in farming or life: Learn the complexity of a system and manage and manipulate it with compromises and sacrifice to reach a personally satisfying result.

Check out what you may have missed this week here!

Picassos, Pottery and Profoundly Productive People

If you had been with me a week ago as we pulled into the circular driveway to the home of the Schwartz’s, you might have been as incredulous as me. A gorgeous brick building loomed over, casting a shadow across the entire driveway. As we exited the vehicle and proceeded up the stone path, a cool midday breeze poured over the hill and brushed against our faces. The birds were alive and the warm sun felt fantastic. We let ourselves into a small foyer at the front of the building where we were greeted by Gerry, a kind elderly woman. She welcomed us into the kitchen to a full spread of salad fixings. The kitchen was alive with aromas; roasted meat wafted into my nostrils, the oven sizzled away and a dark stock simmered gently on the stove.

Three other guests sat at a corner table and introduced themselves as Maggie and Sophie, both sisters and Dalton. Maggie, was a short girl with dreadlocks, braids and beads woven into her hair. Dalton, her significant other had similar hair to match. Sophie was more reserved with a happy demeanor and hair that ran down over her shoulders. We made casual conversation introducing ourselves, and in David’s case, caught up for lost time. I began browsing some of the art on the walls: each piece unique, culminating into an eclectic collection that was only a facadesp for the rest of the house. Shortly after the Sophie’s and Maggie’s father, Lain appeared and gave us a quick introduction to some of the astounding pieces hung about the walls. Gerry gave the announcement that lunch was ready and we were instructed to get Dean from his studio. David, Birte and I clambored down the stairs into the basement lead by Sophie to collect her grandfather. Still matching the theme of the house, the entire stairway was full of various hanging paintings, sketches and other mediums. We pulled open the studio door and there sat a tiny old man with large rimmed spectacles. He was meticulously lining up a picture in a frame – to undoubtedly hang on the wall too. Dean interrupted his work to show us some of the other pieces he had been working on as well. With some convincing we managed to get him moving upstairs for the impending feast. As we walked out of the basement, the house loomed with fantastic aromas. Rounding the corner into the kitchen they came together into a marvelous symphony of smells. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, half roasted squashes, peas and now along with the salad, various cheese, crackers and three different selections of bread. Lunch – they call it – happens this way each sunday at the Schultz house. This “go big or go home” mentality should have prepared me for what was to some.

We sat down to a perfect relaxed lunch, plates overflowing, with all sorts of accoutrements. We enjoyed pleasant conversation as the young folk went around the table telling each other a little about ourselves and what we are currently up to. Interestingly enough, each of us was on some sort of sabbatical or break to help realign our thinking. In classic grandmotherly style Gerry insisted we go for seconds, which Birte and I more than willingly did. We ended the meal with a spread of fresh baked desserts of brownies and an assortment of cookies.

Our plan following this repast was to attend the Decorah Symphony Orchestra. We had plenty of time before our show and David requested that we get a proper house tour, remember, “go big or go home.” We started in the dining room since we were all present. Dean commenced by saying, “if you have any questions about anything, I’ll lie about them.” I knew this was going to be wild. In the dining room we were surrounded by a myriad of items. Original porcelain made from molds of master potter, Marguerite Wildenhain; a slab of hieroglyphics 4000 years old, which only three people can read and translate; original Picasso painted pottery and a smattering of arrowheads littered the shelves; pottery thrown, of all shapes and sizes, by famous artists and family members were intricately laid out intermingled with paintings from same miscellany of artists, some friends and some millionaires.

We dove into a tour of the first floor. Each room we entered, totalling five, had various mediums of framed art matching the characteristics of the dining room. We then took a hike upstairs and were shown an even more extensive collection. Each room laid out intricately, walls laden with sketches and paintings paired with sculptures and pottery on beautifully constructed pedestals. Dean led the tour from room to room where the themes of each become more specific.

The proceeding rooms were stocked with various artifacts from around the world. An entire room dedicated to German artists and the Bauhaus and another loaded with artifacts from a four year archeological dig by Dean in Panama. The Africa room had ebony statues, intricate stone carvings, and yards of stone carved bead necklaces. An Asian theme dominated another with a collection of paintings and pottery, some pieces worth over a quarter of a million dollars. Hallways and some of the rooms themselves were decorated with extensive libraries of reference material relating to each respective room. As we toured each, Dean handed us pieces and artifacts, some over thousands of years old, to hold and inspect – it almost felt wrong.

We concluded our tour prematurely because we were running behind to the show. Dean has stories about about each individual item – and he shared many of them – but if I included them all in this post, its length would surpass even the miles of beads in their collection. As we descended the flight of stairs into the dining room we were greeted by one last surprise. Laid out on the same table we ate, were over 50 thrown miniature pots crafted by Lain and his daughters. We were instructed by the family to inspect them and select our favorite to take home. I was just as incredulous departing as I was on arrival.

Many are familiar with “Mid-Western hospitality”, the kind where strangers open their home and offer the guests nearly anything they want. For the Schwartz’s this was a understatement. The care I was given, along with David and Birte was some of the finest I have ever experienced. I felt honored to participate in a fantastic meal, magnificent tour of a living, tangible museum and receiving a gift made truly from the heart. It is quite characteristic of the people of Decorah to display this genuine hospitality but nevertheless it was still greatly appreciated and quite remarkable.

The pot I chose!

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