Farm Journal: no matter how hard we try to mess it up

Fall colors at Cayuga Pure Organics. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Fall colors at Cayuga Pure Organics. Photo: Anne Riordan.

This is part of a series of Farm Journals, farmers writing regularly about life on the farm, week to week, through the season. Anne Riordan is field manager at Cayuga Pure Organics outside of Ithaca. Read all her journal entries here.


Indian Summer is coming to an end.  Not that it’s been terribly beneficial in our neck of the woods; the days are beautiful and much more pleasant to work in, no doubt, but it does seem that everything really stopped growing long ago.  My beans – the ones which aren’t ready – have only marginally gained more color. The corn seems to be in a constant state of almost-ready.  On a positive note, I am almost ready to bang out 80 acres of seeded rye before the end of the week and that makes me feel pretty good.
Different grains Anne grows at CPO. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Different grains Anne grows at CPO. Photo: Anne Riordan.

I did have a wonderful time in London (and I still cannot believe my little brother is married!). While i was there, I noticed that the tractors take up the ENTIRE little country road, and they drive twice as fast. This, combined with the driving-on-the-left-side-of-the-road thing, makes for a hairy journey. Or several, in our case.   William picked to have his wedding at a giant organic farm (that made up for his poor choice of month – right in the heart of harvest season) called Daylesford.  It was fantastic!  Pigs, chickens, cows, turkeys (I think that’s what they were), sheep, vegetables, and grains…. And thus, beef, sausage, eggs, cheeses, yogurts, breads… you name it.  Except I didn’t see any dry beans on the list! Which made me very proud.  I didn’t do too much research into the growing season of England, however, so maybe dry beans just don’t do it there.

I went into the last week before my time away in this sort of frantic hysteria: I must get it done! I must get it done! I must! And of course, I didn’t…

If you read the last entry, you remember the list. I must have been delusional!  And of course there were some inevitable machinery catastrophes….  But now, as I have come back, I seem to have a slight calm emanating. I’m more relaxed. More blasé. More tempered, perhaps.

See, I came back, and even though things were not completed before I left, the fields are still there, the crops are still (trying to)grow, the machinery wasn’t stolen (has happened before).   They probably didn’t miss me at all!  They might have even welcomed the brief respite from my endless worrying.  And to inject even a bit of humor — when I asked Erick how things had gone while I was away, he texted me back “Well, all the corn fell over, and the beans died”.  What a sense of humor, huh?

Or maybe the calm is the “the end of the season might be coming into sight” type of relaxation that we all get, knowing that everything is still standing and progressing no matter how hard we all try to mess it up.  You know, and as I think I might have mentioned before,  it seems that farming is a constant battle with Mother Nature.  “GROW IN STRAIGHT LINES!”

It's astonishing the depth of coaxing you have to do, as an organic farmer, to win that battle. In case of the weeds, of couse. We can’t just spray toxic stuff all over the field and watch the weeds curl up and die.  No, we have to test the soil, find which nutrients are missing or in excess. Figure out which weeds thrive in those nutrients and which ones don’t. Figure out how to manage our soils so that only our plants grow. It’s a constant amazement.

Beans ready, beginning to senesce. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Beans ready, beginning to senesce. Photo: Anne Riordan.

I was given the world’s best weed book at the NOFA conference three years ago. I need to go back and find it, for it has every single weed that is a bother around my area, what they look like in several life stages, and under which conditions they thrive, how to kill them, and how to keep them gone. I bet you all want this book too, yes?  It’s genius!  I wish I could remember who wrote it.

Meanwhile, the farm is slowly becoming whole again as time progresses. Plans for the building are slowing finishing, and the visuals have been passed around so we at the farm can have an idea of what the new set-up will look like.  Machinery is arriving. The cold room is finished and will hopefully keep any bugs from ever being a problem again.

When we designed this new building, we had to take into account every problem we had with the farm setup before the fire. Pests, bugs, moths, height problems, width problems, outdoor/indoor problems (snow causes a lot of issues).  Where do trucks come in to drop off and pick up?  (The old system we had certainly caused a lot of them to end up in the ditch).  Where do crops come in to be unloaded? How many of these things can happen at the same time? Power outlets? Cement pads? Waste disposal? Hull disposal?  The new building is rumored to take care of all of these questions and more. It will be a great day for CPO the day we cut the ribbon on that new facility and press it into action.

It feels like we have been living in crisis mode for too long – wondering how long the inventory will last, wondering if we’ll have room for storage, wondering if we can find things we don’t have, wondering about how long it has taken to slowly have us regain our feet. Wondering and loving, and being scared about the amount of support we have received and worrying about letting our active support community down.  There is a lot riding on this new building and process!

I am in bed now, writing this and listening to the rain on the roof.  It had an 80% chance of rain today, so I told my helper she didn’t have to come in. Obviously, it never rained…. But, only 30% chance tomorrow!  So I’m sure it will 😉

Good night!

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