The Rhythm of Fall

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By Paul Muller of Full Belly Farm, courtesy of  Capay Valley Farm Shop

The farm is sliding into the rhythm of a welcome fall. Last week’s rain was a signal to slow down, breathe deeply, and remember crisp, clean October color. Damp air permeated even the driest of spaces and the moisture washed everything clean. The rains created the watery baptism of a fall beginning. We find ourselves quite ready for the time of shorter days and cooler nights.

The long, hot, sweaty 14-hour summer days have yielded to shorter, compressed work days, now 7:30 to 4:30, when we start in the dewey morning bundled up and finish bundled indoors making soup, reading, or playing a game of cribbage. With the cool, the wood stove’s first fire of the season is the kindling of memory and warmth of many past fall evenings. I have a farmer friend who long ago espoused pulling the plug on all tractor lights because the tempo of summer work hours only changes with darkness and a light switch that doesn’t function”¦ or one would work all night.

There is still a lot to do: The walnut trees need to be shaken, nuts raked together, picked up and dried; winter squash needs to be cut, cured and brought into the barn for storage and sale; vegetables need to be picked and packed; tomato stakes need to be pulled, as the miles of tomato plants are cut from their support and fall to the ground where they are chopped up and incorporated into the soil. We have fields of drip tape to unearth and roll up for use next season. All of the fall ground work requires hours of discing, fertility management, and planting fall cover crops. We even begin to prepare next year’s fields for the tomatoes that will be planted in the spring. We are now in the fall pulse, and it is throbbing more slowly with the coming short cool days and longer nights.

The Hoes Down, for those of you who made the trek to the farm, was a rich celebration of dance, great food, clod kicking, hay fort exploration, running through tall fields of grass, sleeping under the stars, wading in the creek, or witnessing a circus! You will have to see if the flavor of clowning, or death defying slack-rope-walking, or acrobatic high-wire undertaken in your farm fields comes through in this winter’s broccoli. The vibration of a thousand exuberant dancers with pounding feet in the center of the farm made our earthworms wiggle, twist, and shake their slinky booties beneath our toes. I am sure they felt it, making them know that the world above was in a celebratory way. Our dancing and shaking must have felt so good! Maybe they twisted up from down deep in the middle of the night to bump into the bottom of a sleeping pad, where the regular breathing of a person fast asleep in our orchard allowed them to bring some of that exhale down into the subsoil to be stored away and remembered when they need a little winter boost. Hoes Down is a time for sweet, deep associations taking this place and merging you and your children with the life below and above. It was a treat to have so many of our farm supporters here to celebrate with us.

Hoes Down marks another of the Fall’s transition points. After we cleaned up and put the wheels back on the farm to be up and running again on Monday morning, one of the year’s best scenes took place. We have some wonderful farmers in training (interns) here at the farm these days. On Tuesday, because of the rain, they came into the farm kitchen to can fruit and tomato sauce, make jelly and preserves, experiment with wine making, and generally turn ”˜seconds’ into a whole array of ”˜summer in a jar.’ Along with my kids– Amon, and wife Jenna, Hallie, and Rye–, our six interns were stewing and brewing. With music playing, the steam rose from kettles of carefully watched bubbling sauces and there was a scene of collaborative, bustling productivity. Beautiful jars of bright red tomato sauces were canned. The last of the figs were made into jam. Asian pears were pressed for experimental pear wine. The wild grapes were crushed along with some farm muscats and are now fermenting happily in a couple of 5-gallon buckets. There was knowledge being gained through experience and some leaps into the unknown.

Sharing the effort, they learned the simple skills of putting food by safely, they all charged each other with the enthusiasm, creativity and energy of taking seconds and making firsts, and they made memory of productivity a shared event where, for months the effort will be recalled with each piece of toast spread with fig jam, or with the raviolis served in a summer tomato sauce. In a time where the pressure, complexity and pace of life can be relentless, there can be balances struck with productive activities that feed the soul, or slow the pace, or bring people together to stew up memories. At one point I stepped into the kitchen, checked the pots and felt something timeless and beautiful. It was another aspect of bringing in the harvest for storage, accomplished this time by excited, creative youth who were exploring functional art/craft. It was enough to make me tiptoe out of the kitchen. It was their Mona Lisa”¦ Some simple human discoveries are only actively engaged remembering in the space where trying is allowed. We all can’t wait for the pear wine to be done.

 

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