AgriCulture: Inflection Point

Newbanner 2 596x151
WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:Happy Flag Day. Green shiso leaves are now coming in. Use for tea, for exotic Japanese dishes, or just to garnish you sashimi plate with the real, not the plastic, leaf.
Making farming sexy – Victoria and Troy, Photo by Mark Scherzer
Inflection Point Hi all, Mark here.Like everyone else on earth, I am living at the inflection point between the past and the future. Perhaps unlike most others, I think quite a bit about being at that juncture.I suppose the reasons for my focus are obvious. I’m still adjusting to widowhood, which entails coming to terms with losing the most anchoring, stabilizing element in my life and figuring out if it is ok to be happy forging a new life and relationships. And I’m confronting the incineration of our barn, which I’ve always considered the fulcrum of life on the farm. Trying with Troy and Victoria to figure the path forward, a process made far easier by all of your expressions of sympathy, help, and advice, involves figuring out what to try to preserve from the past and what should change .I find that the time when my mind most fixes on the relationship between past and the future is when I’m out working in the perennial gardens. Tending a garden has a superficial resemblance to cleaning a house, because much of what one does is clean up and restore the order the place is designed to have — or, in some aesthetics, maintain the charming disorderliness. But a garden is also an evolving entity. Unlike the table and chairs in your dining room, the different elements in your garden are constantly changing shape and size. A plant that coexisted perfectly comfortably with its neighbor last year may crowd the neighbor out this year. As trees grow up they may cast too much shade on sun loving plants that once thrived in their vicinity. You need to constantly decide whether things should be divided or moved. These are decisions that were always Peter’s domain, as he could masterfully visualize how contrasting shapes, colors and sizes could work together. I am intimidated by the choices I face.As I work in the garden, I am constantly wondering what Peter would have decided, and whether he’d approve of my decisions. I teeter between trying to follow what I think Peter would have done, and striking out on my own in ways I know he’d disapprove of. A most basic example: prolific shiso plants, in their both red and green varieties, are constantly popping up everywhere. Peter would always weed them out, restricting them to a few decorative locations. I, viewing the shiso leaves as a cash crop, and finding them particularly beautiful in large masses, am letting them run somewhat rampant.On the whole, however, the evolution that happens on its own in the garden’dictates at least as much of the change as my choices do. The chestnut tree we transplanted as a sapling opposite the chicken coop 15 years ago, and which produced a bumper crop of nuts last fall, inexplicably died this spring. Its removal will entirely change the look of that portion of the garden, bringing light where there was dense shade, and require shifts in what is planted there. I might want things to look exactly as Peter arranged them, but even herculean efforts on my part cannot really make that possible.The recognition that Peter may have bequeathed us an overall structure, but that the garden cannot remain frozen in his vision, has been invaluable in helping me accept a similar realization as to all the other elements of my life – the house, the apartment in New York, my social life, and of course most especially the farm. The latter task has been made infinitely easier by the active engagement of Victoria and Troy, who are not so mired as I am in what once was.I recently sent them a New York Times article about the movement among young educated millennials in Ghana, and apparently elsewhere in Africa, to take up agriculture. “Millennials ‘Make Farming Sexy’ in Africa, Where Tilling the Soil Once Meant Shame.” Once reviled as work beneath the educated classes, farming has been embraced by these young people as an occupation of potential prosperity, not just poverty. They are using their education to produce food in a more environmentally responsible and healthful way. Troy’s response was “So it’s not just us, then.” And he was right, as he and Victoria bring that same sort of attitude to Turkana Farms, and to the task of rebuilding the barn.Our barn was built for apple packing. It was awkwardly set up for storing hay, and because of how its major doors were oriented access was made difficult in winter by snow drifts. We made it work, but Victoria and Troy are busy thinking about new elements to address these issues in the design of the replacement barn. My indefatigably optimistic friend Eric, in a message of encouragement after the fire, noted that they might “be devastated as they have put so much love and energy into this new life of theirs. But they’re young and resilient. This is a huge f*ing challenge, but one that can bring some elements of good as well, in creating a barn facility that could possibly enhance productivity. Nothing can replace the past but everything, done with love, can offer a wonderful future.”Sure, it feels like the world as we know it is disintegrating. It is hard to be optimistic when we are living under a corrupt and venal government insensitive to the common good. But I nonetheless feel, somehow, that if we can learn to embrace changing things there is still reason for hope.
FARM PICKUPS:Email us your order at, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: