OH! You’re One of Those Farmers!

 

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Harriet greeting the morning, “I’m a farmer!”

So, there I was standing in line at the local Tractor Supply store, my cart loaded down with a 50 pound bag of Layer Pellets, a 50 pound bag of Scratch Grains, a small bottle of liquid wormer for the farm cats, and a diet cherry cola.

“Are you a farmer?”

I turned around and there sat a bright-eyed, smiling little girl in the basket of a shopping cart. Her mom was impatiently paging through last months issue of Capper’s magazine. “Don’t bother the lady, Cindy Lou.”

“Well, yes I am,” I told Cindy Lou and winked at her as I turned back into the line.

“Do you grow lots of corn like my pop-pop?” Cindy Lou asked.

I turned again and smiled at this darling girl. “No. I grow vegetables and herbs for the farmer’s market and my family, and I have a small flock of laying hens.”

I heard Cindy Lou’s mom snort from behind her magazine as she mumbled “oh, one of those farmers.”

“Next please,” the cashier said. I really wanted to ask Cindy Lou’s mom what she meant, but it was my turn to check out. I pushed my cart up to the register and moved the heavy bags around so the cashier could scan them. By the time I was finished paying for my items, Cindy Lou and her mom had already moved to a different register and I needed to get out of the way for the next customer.

By the time I got back to the farm, I had worked myself into a dither. What did Cindy Lou’s mom possibly mean with her snorting comment? Did I own or lease 250-300+ acres of land and plant it in agri-corn and soybean subsidized by government programs and supplemented by herbicides and pesticides? No. My tiny farm sits on 4+ acres right smack dab in the middle of those vast corn fields and I grow vegetables and herbs. I prefer not to use chemicals but rely on permaculture techniques, crop rotation, and just plain weeding and observation. Did that make me one of those farmers?

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One of many raised vegetable beds.

I continued to consider my position as a farmer. What are the requirements and standards? Did I have to be raised on a generational farm to call myself a farmer? If so, I was again out of luck. I grew up in a small mill town on the banks of the Columbia river in Washington state. I grew a scrappy little herb garden in my mom’s old iris bed. I did want to grow up to be a farmer, though.

 

SONY DSC              The Columbia River gorge as seen from the Vista House near Corbett, OR.

How did I decide to call myself a farmer?

Well, I roll myself out of bed each morning at the (ass) crack of dawn with several of my chores staring me in the face. Mosey, the St. Bernard licks my hand while the two Chihuahuas, Winter and Autumn dance around my feet, eagerly waiting to be fed. The cats need to be let outside as they chase each other from one end of the house to the other, and I must put a pot of coffee on the stove. Strong (fair-trade) coffee just makes sense on the farm. For me, it’s a necessity, not just a fancy.

The mornings are cold now and I have to make sure the chicken’s water isn’t frozen. I grab a couple scoops of layer pellets and grain scratch to toss in their bowl, and I gabble and cluck at the chickens as I clean their nest box and check for eggs.

During the summer time, I try to get my garden and outdoor chores completed early  in the morning while the temperatures are moderate. Now that Winter is knocking at my door, I still try to get as much done in the morning as I can so I can get back into my toasty kitchen and determine what needs to be done for the rest of the day.

As one of those farmers, I have learned how to tolerate dirt under my nails, random chicken feathers stuck in my hair, and ‘farm fresh’ as my new favorite fragrance. Work gloves are my go-to accessory and muck boots and garden clogs now sit  forefront in my closet while the designer heels and loafers are piled way in the back gathering dust. Heavy duty Carhartt pants and t-shirts or flannel shirts round out the ensemble topped with a baseball cap; my hair pulled in a long pony-tail sticking out the back.

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Dusk on the farm.

More importantly, being one of those farmers isn’t about what I can take from the land, but what I can give back. How can I make this tiny piece of earth a better place than it was before I began calling it my farm?

I have chosen not to use herbicides or pesticides on the land, but choose to restore the earth with compost and manure, cover-crops, and vermiculture (earth worms). I plant only heirloom and traditional (open-pollinated seeds) so I can both save the seeds for next year’s gardens and be assured that I am not eating genetically modified organisms. I consider rebuilding the soil on the farm just as important as feeding my family and my animals.

I grow a variety of different types of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers in my gardens as I follow a permaculture system of maintaining diversity and building miniature eco-systems in each bed. This means I try to create habitats for the birds, beneficial bugs, and butterflies to help me sustain a healthy, co-operative farm. With permaculture I tend to plant my seedlings closer together so that as they grow they create a canopy that will reduce evaporation and block the weeds. (Generally.) I rotate my crops from season to season to maintain healthy soil and hopefully fool the invasive insects into thinking dinner is no longer available here. Plus, I grow many different types of crops in the same place. For instance, I have learned that I can grow sweet corn with pole beans and squash in the same bed. As the corn grows taller, the pole beans grow along the corn stock and the squash with its broad leaves ramble around the base of the plants which again hinder weed growth and reduces water evaporation. This technique is often called planting ‘the three sisters’ and is credited to our Native American elders.

As I focus on what I can do to create a healthier farm, I attempt to maintain mindful consumption and conservation. Waste is such a huge issue for me and I find myself not only recycling every little thing that I can, but trying to figure out other uses for items that would ordinarily be tossed in land-fills. Admittedly, this is not always possible to do, but I limit my purchases of items that I realize will end up being tossed and try to use things to their maximum output. If I must throw it away, I want it to be as small, used up, and compact as it can be.

As I work towards a simpler lifestyle, I have found so much stuff that no longer benefits me. As I decide what needs to go I always try to ask around to see if somebody else could use it. If not, I pass it on to Goodwill or one of the many ministries at the local church.  When contemplating a purchase, I spend time determining if this is an absolute necessity or just a passing whim. I have come to realize that each purchase I make has an impact on the planet. Will my money benefit or diminish resources on this tiny piece of earth I leave for the next generation?

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Wildflowers growing in our barn lot.

I have found that this farm has helped me to reconnect with the land. It has challenged me to learn new skills and to create a more socially responsible lifestyle. Whimsical Moon Farm has pushed me to be more creative and passionate about what I value and how I display those values to my family, friends, and community. I am absolutely doing what I love while I live in alignment with nature and the seasons. If this makes me one of those farmers, than I embrace that calling wholeheartedly.

 

Please feel free to check out our new Whimsical Moon Farm website featuring hand-crafted herbal soaps and products crafted right here on this farm.

Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallow’een Whimsy!

Pirates in East Cornfield, a pumpkin witch at Metamora, IN, and a toasty All Hallows’ Evening bon fire.

Hallow’een has always been one of my favorite seasonal celebrations. It marks the very end of the harvest for us here on the farm and it provides me an excuse to be creatively ghoulish. I have as much fun carving Jack O’ Lanterns and decorating the yard as my daughter Kayla.

As we light our bon fire and get ready to barbecue some weinies and burgers, we can feel a definite closure to the summer season as we pull our jackets tighter and warm our hands around the fire. We know that Winter will be knocking on our door soon, along with snow and freezing temperatures. But right now, we enjoy the riotous golden colors, the crisp fresh air, and spicy pumpkin cheesecake with tart apple cider. Oh yes!

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 Our little farmhouse in all its Autumn glory.

It seems like the maple trees turned orange and yellow overnight and we find ourselves shuffling as we walk outside, kicking up crisp leaves and giggling like the ‘mature’ adults that we are. Most of the major preparations for the Winter have been completed and I for one look forward to the quieter, calmer season of introspection.

My daughter Kayla reminds me (often) that her favorite celebration is only 53 shopping days away. But I feel confident that she will stay busy as she prepares for the holidays. She enjoys the process of creating gifts and special seasonal cards for her family. Her special needs require that we begin early, so that each card and gift has been crafted just the way she likes. Hallow’een is our special reminder that it is time to get creating.

This is Kayla patiently waiting to roast her hot dog, our old maple tree showing off its colors, and a passel of lazy farm cats.

One of the biggest enjoyments for me living on this farm is actually experiencing the seasons both in work and play. My daily life is intertwined with the changing seasons as everything ebbs and flows, withers and then blossoms again, resting and preparing for the next season of growth.

Whimsical Moon Farm has moved into its season of cozy retreat.

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Captain Jack wishes you an abundant All Hallows’ Evening!

Walking the Path of Herbal Lore

Raised bed of Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower), Salvia (sage), Echinacea with a butterfly, apothecary counter, and raised bed of herbs and vegetables. 

                                 Featuring Echinacea (purple coneflower)

“True health comes from loving relationships, good food, time spent in nature, daily hugs, inner peace, meaningful work, and breathing thankfully of the richness of this life.”  Nancy Phillips, Herbalist.

It is time to do my early morning chores, so I bundle up in my thick sweater, fuzzy socks, and warm hat to ward off the chilly air of Autumn. As I toss the chickens their favorite scratch and apple slices, I find myself turning over in my head the contents of my herbal medicine cabinet. This is the time of year I need to make sure I am stocked up on all my favorite teas, tinctures, and salves. The one herb I turn to over and over again is always Echinacea. Whether in a tea, tincture, or even a throat spray, Echinacea angustifolia is the foundation of my herbal remedies and I want to make sure I am prepared for cold and flu season.

I have grown Echinacea for many years as I have found it to be a lovely perennial that is not fussy to grow. It can get to be three to four feet high and loves the full sun and warm weather.  Purple coneflower, as it is commonly known, blooms beautiful cone-shaped flowers and is well-loved by bees, butterflies, and many wild birds that enjoy their seeds in the fall.

Many herbalists and natural medicine practitioners believe Echinacea to be an important immune-enhancing herb with very few known side-effects. It helps protect cells against the many viruses and bacteria we are often exposed to, plus it has antifungal and antibacterial properties. This makes it an important remedy for many of our common infections and illnesses.

It is particularly useful against bronchial and respiratory infections, sore throat, and the common cold. I use it anytime my immune system needs a boost or I have been exposed to somebody sniffling and sneezing. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, tincture, or capsules and should be used at the first sign of a cold or flu.

 

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This is my herbal apprentice, Winter the farm Chihuahua

As a cottage herbalist, I usually practice with simple formulas rather than mixing several herbs together, so I take Echinacea either as a tea, a tincture, or in capsules. I prefer tinctures as it tends to be more potent when I begin to feel crummy, but it isn’t the most palatable going down. I often mix it with orange juice for that extra push of vitamin C, but it can still be gag-worthy until you get accustomed to it.

You can purchase the teas already made (just follow directions on the carton) as they are usually considerably tastier, especially with a dribble of honey in your cup, or you can make your own tea by placing 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs into a clean quart jar and pouring boiling water over them, filling the jar. Let this steep a good 30-45 minutes, strain it well, and drink about a quarter of a cup every half hour for a total of 4 cups a day.

As I prefer the tincture, I usually try to get a batch started towards the end of summer so it will be ready for flu season. To create your own, you will need fresh or dried Echinacea root, a pint of 80 proof or stronger vodka or brandy, and a clean glass jar. Place these roots in the jar and pour enough alcohol over them to completely cover by a good 2 or 3 inches. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot and allow to soak (macerate) for 4 to 6 weeks. Try to shake the tincture regularly. Once a day is fine, but don’t worry if you forget a day or two. Strain the herbs well and store in clean, dark bottles. Your tincture will last for two, even three years.  You should take 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of tincture every hour up to 6 teaspoons daily.

You can also purchase already made Echinacea tincture and tincture blends at most drugstores and many grocery stores.

I do keep Echinacea capsules on hand, but I usually purchase them from the drugstore as I have found I usually make a huge mess when I encapsulate my own pills. You can take 1-2 capsules every two hours up to 8 pills daily.

A wonderfully soothing sore throat spray I have discovered is to mix together one-quarter cup of your prepared tincture, one eighth cup of vegetable glycerin or honey, one eighth cup of fresh water, and 1-2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Mix that all together and place in a spritzer bottle. Spray directly into the back of your throat as needed, about every half hour or so.

 

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Porch Herb Garden

I believe we need to restore a healing tradition in our country that allows us to understand beneficial herbs and nourishment to our bodies and our souls. We need to learn how to rely on the wisdom of our bodies and community with each other for basic healthy living.

If we trust our bodies ability to heal and function in a balanced way, we will be able to make informed and wise decisions about our health and well-being.

Herbalism is about our connection with plants and how they can be used to nourish and heal each of us. As I walk this herbal path, I continue to learn how to listen to the plants and how to listen and trust my self.

Please note: This information is meant only to increase your knowledge about herbs and how they can be used in your own healing path. I am not a licensed medical doctor not do I ever intend to be one.  Always seek the advice of your doctor or health care professional for your individual conditions. 

Thank you to Rosemary Gladstar and Nancy Phillips for their inspiration and guidance along my herbal journey.

 

This little farm or…How can I save the world?

 

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Earth image from Nasa.gov.

“Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely. And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.” –Stephen Cope, from The Great Work of Your Life.

I recently read this quote in one of my favorite yoga magazines, and I was like….WHOA! Pulled me up and shot me down. Listen: you have received a small plot of land with vast possibilities…whatcha gonna do with this?

My first response was: Hell if I know. Give me a clue.

I am an herbalist. Practically from birth. So, I’m gonna grow me some herbs. And maybe a few vegetables. I landed on this little farm through default. My room-mate grew up here, in East Cornfield, Indiana. We came home to help her dad die. We knew when we sold our home in Virginia we were coming ‘back to the farm’ to assist in a most important mission to let her dad go ‘home.’ Once I got here, I knew I had a purpose.

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The last good-bye

As I make my way here on the farm, I consider all of my  dreams and expectations. I believe all of us, individually and as a society, are affected by the Earth’s welfare. And we do have the power to make changes, even little tiny ones, that can impact it. We pulled up to this farm on a whim and a dream. And I realized, I could make a tiny impact. I can grow an herb farm. AND, I can save the world, one little mindful step at a time.

Each of us, individually, are affected by the Earths’s welfare, and we do have the power to make changes, even little ones, that can impact it. This is my plan to change my world!

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Sunset on our farm

Listen up:

  1. Recycle your sh*t. All of it. I live out here in the middle of a cornfield and we recycle every little thing. We have a row of bins lined up just outside our kitchen door and we toss plastic, glass, and cardboard and we haul all of it to the recycle center in town. Unless we can reuse some of it…we recycle it. I know that most cities and many towns have a recycle center or pick-up service, so there is no excuse. Recycle your sh*t!
  2. Let’s talk about food. Grow your own, buy local, eat simply. What? It’s simple. Actually, just simplify. If you have room for a garden, grow some vegetables. If you have a balcony or porch, grow a few potted herbs, tomatoes, even peppers. Not interested in growing your own, check out your local farmer’s market, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or neighbor community garden plot. Many neighborhoods have community gardens…get involved.
  3. Begin eating with the seasons. Lettuce, peas,  and spinach in the early spring, zucchini, corn, tomatoes mid summer, and squash, pumpkins, and my favorite apples in the fall. And maybe consider reducing meat consumption. Yes, it seems we have deemed ourselves carnivores, but we can reduce our meat consumption by a meal or two. I am not gonna go into the cost of growing that perfect T-bone, but letting go of our ‘meat and potatoes’ diet can actually make a difference toward our impact on our health and the environment. Specifically water consumption and methane production. What is that? Big huge cow farts and poop. It is just fine to replace all that beef  with responsibly harvested fish/seafood, organic chicken, or ‘shut your mouth’ TOFU. (I have tasty recipes, give me a hollah if interested.)
  4. Let’s talk about energy. And gasoline. Can we get by with one vehicle in a family? Maybe walk or bicycle to work? Share a ride. And turn off lights in the house. Turn down the thermostat. Toss the TV. ( I know, sacrilege.) I am fighting tooth and nail on this with my room-mate, so I get it. Even though all we have is local broadcast, she insists on watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Can you feel my pain?!?)
  5. How about we all just spend some time with nature? Get your ass outside. Go play! Seriously. Take a hike, sit next to a river, hug a frickin’ tree (okay, yes, I do commune with trees), ride your bike, swim in the river, listen to the ocean lapping against the shore, spend some time outside!
  6. Okay! This is a big one for many people. How about just simplifying? Give away all that stuff you don’t use any longer. I’m pretty certain all of your unused ‘stuff’ will be happily adopted by somebody else that needs it.And if we are simplifying…how about living in smaller homes? Less stuff, less space to heat or cool, less furnishings, just less! Unload what you don’t NEED and give it to somebody that will appreciate it.

Yes! I am a Mother Earth hugging, Lola Granola, Birkenstock wearing, unapologetic passionate creative and I believe we can change the world. One tiny corner at a time. We need to consider our environmental stewardship, our thoughtful consumption (I hope), our involvement with our community, (neighbors and our world), and our responsibility as fiscal earth dwellers. Consider your impact each day, and let it inform your actions in this world.

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Suburban garden

This is my ‘take over the world’ manifesto. It is simple and direct. This is how I intend on occupying my tiny corner of the world and growing my farm and my cottage business.

These Here Parts: Ol’ Nessie

The Pond and Ol’ Nessie

Nestled within a thicket of hardwood trees in the middle of the farm is the Old Pond, the nature-claimed remnant of a small gravel pit which was filled and stocked over a generation ago. If you move slowly, crouch down, and stay silent, you might see red-eared sliders sunning on a downed trunk, blue-gills or sunfish splashing out of the water after skimmers, or a great blue heron preening in the afternoon light. Crickets and cicadas chirp and buzz, and wood ducks quack softly on the banks of the nearby creek.

Even though the mosquitos are harassing you and whining in your ear, you stay still, because you see bubbles break the lichen-covered surface of the pond. Two eyes and a nose push up from the water, set on a triangular face no bigger than four inches across. It stays there for a couple of minutes before disappearing. Then you see the bow-wave rippling across the pond and the depression behind it as the water rushes close over a long, curved carapace.

The small face appears again, this time near the shore. The creature hauls itself up the gentle incline one halting inch at a time. The face becomes a stony olive head at least seven inches wide, with a horned beak and bulging jaw muscles. The carapace is so overgrown with moss, you can’t see the three rows of spiked plates arising from its back. The feet and legs bear heavy olive scales and move in measured, deliberate steps that indicate the burden of the massive body.

This is Ol’ Nessie, your alligator snapping turtle friend. Nessie’s gender cannot be ascertained from a distance. Its shell is approximately three feet long, and its mouth is wide enough to accommodate your entire hand, so you’ve learned to live with the gender mystery. Nessie has been in this pond for all of your life, and likely a generation before. Members of her species may live up to 200 years, although nobody really knows for sure. No matter if she’s 120 or 180, you get the feeling that you’re looking at living history. This reptile has managed to survive through at least one and possibly two world wars, years of industrial-age pollution, predation and hunting, and all manner of weather extremes, to peer at you from the edge of the pond. Its motion, and its stillness, give you the impression of stepping back into the Mesozoic Era.

Ol’ Nessie hears a twig snap as you lean to see over the undergrowth. It turns its hulking body around and slips back into the water, leaving a swirl of lichens in its wake. You’ll return again to visit soon.

-Writing and photography contributed by Melinda Hall

 

The High Season of Summer

 

It is the high season of summer here on the farm. Sweat trickles down my back as I walk out to the garden, the air heavy and damp. I notice another green tomato on our ‘mortgage lifter’ heirloom tomato plant and glance at the early morning tilt of the sun shining on the meadow flowers in the nearby field.

The chickens have dug themselves shallow nests in the straw next to the chunk of ice I tossed into their coop earlier, spreading their wings across the cool earth, not very interested in the lettuce and spinach I harvested special for them. It’s too hot to eat at the moment.

My farm Chihuahua, Winter, enjoys the sunshine on her back as she pleasantly stretches and tilts her head to the warmth, her eyes closed. The cicadas are churling their raspy  song, circling in the hardwood trees all around her.  Catbirds call back and forth as the farm cats lie sprawled all across the side porch, ignoring them.

We notice a bright yellow plane barnstorming the neighboring farmers fields, spraying the crops with fertilizer one hot evening, amazed at the finesse of his flying as he banks tightly to circle around and drops lower and lower over the crops. High summer flying.

The corn has reached heights well over eight to nine feet and the soybeans are lush and bushy, at least 3 feet tall. Each morning as the warm sun rises, a thin layer of fog stretches across the fields as the accumulated night moisture evaporates from the leaves, giving everything an eerie, spacey feel. Strains of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” whisper through my mind and I look twice as a slight breeze brushes the corn, rustling the leaves.

This is the time of year I try to get all of my work done early before the heat leeches my energy. Chores, gardening, cooking, and repairs around the farm receive top morning priority allowing me to relax inside during the hottest part of the day. Piles of my favorite magazines are finally weeded through and I find time to crack open that summer novel recommended to me a few months ago. I drink gallons of refreshing sun tea with peppermint and point the fan towards my desk to stay cool.

The days seem long and hot, but I know they are slowly getting shorter as the sun moves towards the fall equinox. Soon enough, the days will get cooler and the first signs of autumn will color the maple trees. For now, I will savor the coolness of home-churned ice cream and the opportunities to catch up on my writing projects and my reading.

Here’s hoping you are staying comfie and cool and having a Whimsical Moon high summer season.

The Pulse of our Farm

 

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  –Rachel Carson

I recently realized that we have been living and working on our farm for just over a year now. Fourteen months, thereabouts. And as I look back on this past year, I find that I have learned how to accept and work with the rhythm of the seasons and this land.

I have learned how to watch the clouds move across the vast sky, how to feel the differences in the wind, and how to smell the air for moisture or electricity.  Yes, you can smell a thunderstorm as it marches its way across the fields, with low rumbles and crackles of lightning. Our chickens know even before I do that a storm is coming as they make their way to the coop attic, they cluck softly and move closer together.

I have learned how to watch the methodical movements of tractors and plows as the farmers begin preparing the fields for corn and soybean in early spring. I wait and watch for the first bursts of grass-like shoots as the corn pokes through the dirt in their gently curving rows and often check their height as the corn grows quickly in the hot sun. When I notice the first combine (reaper/thresher) tediously make its way down our narrow country road, I know that summer is coming to an end and it is time to harvest.

It won’t be long before the air takes on a crispness like that first taste of fresh-pressed apple cider and the sun light mellows and softens. Pumpkins, nuts, and pears replace the berries, greens, and zucchini at the farmer’s market and I find myself wearing socks and sweaters again. (Barefoot or clogs is my normal footwear during the summer.) The frantic buzz of summer on the farm slows and outside chores reflect the quiet of the gardens and the calm preparations for winter.

The first few snowflakes trigger excitement and childlike glee (yes, I admit to crazy giggling when it first snows) as we scurry around the farm tightening doors and latches, turning over the last of the dried vegetable stalks, and covering the compost pile. We check the seals on the windows of this old farmhouse and make sure the propane tank is full for what I now know will be a long winter season. My pile of books next to my favorite reading chair grows almost as tall as my favorite lavender bush and I check my supply of herbal teas and soup stock. Time to hunker down for the season and nest.

Even though it is now a warm, muggy evening in July, I reflect on the cycles of this farm and find myself feeling a sense of gratitude and comfort in fitting in with the natural rhythm here. I watch Sweetums, one of our farm cats, stalking a lightning bug and savor the creamy, tartly sweet black raspberry ice-cream we churned from berries Mindy picked around the edge of our property. Mosey, our St. Bernard proudly guards his newly found tree limb he has been dragging around the yard, and I prop my garden feet on a stool as I relax and savor the calm.

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of the human being.”  –Masanabu Fukuoka