Farmer John Writes: Earthly, and Then Some

 In Farm News

Off-Season Farm News, Issue #1, April 23, 2017

Year-Round Farm News
Welcome to the debut of my year-round Farm News column. There will be one to two issues per month in the off-season, from mid-November until early June, and weekly issues during the delivery season from early June until mid-November. Some of the off-season issues will consist of new material; some will be re-runs of favorite Farm News columns from the past; and some will contain excerpts from short stories I have written.

If you are a current shareholder, we hope you enjoy connecting to your farm during the off-season.

If you are a former shareholder, you are most welcome to continue receiving Farm News, to be in touch with the farm that provided you with vegetables and herbs for a season or more. The Farm News series is not a marketing initiative; its purpose is to share the story of life at Angelic Organics and provide you with an enduring and hopefully endearing connection to our farm. Feel free to unsubscribe if the subscription does not suit you.

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Earthly, and then Some
I’ve experienced over 60 springs on this farm. The balmy spring breezes, the earthy and floral fragrances, and the feel of freshly tilled soil underfoot never fail to make me slightly delirious. When Earth Day arrived this spring, it got me to thinking about the various tasks that we do at the farm. In one way or another, pretty much everything that we do on the farm is in service to the farm, and is therefore in service to the earth, and of course, the earth is in service to us. Our machinery ultimately comes from the earth—steel, aluminum, rubber, iron, tin, copper, etc.—and our machinery works with the earth. Our buildings come from the earth—wood, glass, concrete, metal etc.—and they serve the earth. Plants come from the earth. Soil is the earth. I suppose a person could think long enough and come up with something that does not come from the earth—meteorites!, the thinker might say.

Earth Day also made me think of Hip Hip, an earthly/cosmic story that I wrote in the 80’s in Mexico, back when I had the time to sink deeply into my memories, write them, and then perform them. You will find an excerpt from Hip Hip further below in this issue.

Our farm is a busy place. While perusing the photos below, consider that often, many of these tasks of earthly service might be occurring on the same day. It takes 3 of 4 people year round just to keep up with machinery repair and operation, and building construction and maintenance. All of these photos were taken between last fall and this spring. 

Eduardo (left) and Victor re-roof the wooden farmhouse where I grew up—now the home of Primo and Betty Briano and family. The new roof will keep the Brianos dry, helping them to till the earth.

Allis G tractors, manufactured out of steel, tin and rubber in the 50’s, being re-built and re-painted in our heated shop. The tractor on the left will put seeds into the earth; the tractor on the right will rip weeds from the earth.

Victor (foreground) and Nathan seed into flats filled with organic soil

Under construction—milkhouse staircase to the community loft in main barn. The earth’s gravity must be respected in the design of a staircase.

First day in the fields—rubber meets the earth; steel aerates the soil

Eduardo re-roofs the granary, now the farm office. We stored corn and oats in this building for the chickens and dairy herd in the 50’s and 60’s.

Transplanting onions into freshly tilled, organic soil

Removing mulch from the garlic

Shoring up the floor in the farmhouse basement, as the limestone foundation crumbles. The foundation was probably laid up in the late 1800’s. The stone likely came from the now dormant quarry in the woods across the road.

Victor helps to restore the flagstone walkway at Haidy’s and my home on Earth Day. He is using the limestone rocks that came from the crumbling foundation in the farmhouse, noted further above. The flagstones will be buried to ground level. The previous walkway of flagstone, laid in the ’70’s, had mostly dissolved into the earth.

Re-building the walkway above propelled my thoughts back in time. In my early 20’s—that was 45 years ago—I bought the little limestone schoolhouse across from the farm, as it was in danger of being condemned and demolished by the county. It had served as a schoolhouse in the community for 100 years, including the education of my dad, uncle and aunts. My mother taught there for four years after she married my dad in the 30’s, and they moved to the farm across from the schoolhouse, the farm now known as Angelic Organics.

After purchasing the decrepit yet charming house, I proceeded to make it habitable. This mission got me interested in working with stone. I incorporated marble and slate into the renovation, which were readily available from lovely schools and federal buildings that were being demolished in the 70’s. Friends and I quarried about 150 tons of limestone for retaining walls, a circular garden wall, and a bathroom addition to the schoolhouse, so it would finally have indoor plumbing.

Friends and I did this stonework in the 70’s—bathroom addition to schoolhouse, walled garden, terrace walls, pathways, etc (Photo taken April 23, 2017.)
Working with limestone made me ecstatic. I loved prying huge slabs out of the quarry walls, breaking them with a sledge hammer into suitable sizes, loading, then unloading them, then hefting them into walls and walkways.

From my true short story Hip Hip:

     [In the 80’s in Mexico,] I went to a gemstone healer, lay down and closed my eyes. The medicine woman put a huge quartz crystal into each of my hands. She waved an eagle feather, wafted mesquite incense over my naked body and chanted. I felt cool, gentle weights form a large circle around my heart. Three soothing stones blessed my forehead. My cheeks, chin, neck, forearms, navel, abdomen, groin, thighs were graced with stones.

The healer’s murky voice nudged into my reverie. “Do you see them dancing?”

I opened my eyes, gazed into her blush. She motioned towards two large boxes. Hundreds of gemstones dazzled from their little compartments. Coal black, paynes gray, sap green, indigo, ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber, cobalt blue—the colors swirled and spilled.

“They love you,” my shaman said. “They have never danced like that before. You must be of the earth.”

The earth. Stones. I closed my eyes. Summer sunlight cascaded from the high limestone walls into the shadows of the pit. I was in the quarry, down in the quarry pit, sledging and prying the stones, heaving them ton after ton into my grain truck, load after load. I built foundations of stone, planters and walls, walks and gardens.

I water cut marble, sliced it into thresholds, a terrace, a bath—marble, a slow swirl of the earth frozen in motion. I diamond cut slate into sills and floors—earth gem, heavy, black.

Every year the earth froze and the fields heaved big stones to the surface. They chipped the lathes and shins of my plow, smashed harrow blades, mangled a cutterbar once. I carried the big stones to the fencerows. They relaxed me into the earth, a heavy, honest comfort.

My healer’s gems weren’t the stones of my earth. They were pebbles in dance, cherubs. But they seemed to care.

“They all want to be on you,” the shaman rejoiced. “I don’t know how many I can fit.”

The medicine woman arranged the final cool, colored earth dollops on my radiant body. She invoked spirits through her Indian dance and chants. She caressed the air around me as her hands floated through my ether.

“I think that will help,” she said, as she plucked her affectionate stones from me.

I sat up.

(end of excerpt from Hip Hip)

The earth still beckons me. I am still a steward of its soil, of its stones.

Let us all be stewards of the earth.

Farmer John

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  • Mary Jane Lewis

    Very interesting and well written, John. Looking at the farmhouse’s basement wall brought back a lot of memories. I remember when the coal truck came every fall because we had a stoker to heat the house. The driver would put a chute through the small window, raise up the back of the truck, and the whole load of coal would go down into a room in the back of the basement. Potatoes were stored down there, and I don’t know how many thousands of eggs were carried down the steps to put into crates to go to Bonnie Bee, the grocery store in Beloit. Shelves were on the wall with jars of beet pickles, peaches, pears, etc. that Mother had canned, and next to those jars was one of my favorite things, a WWII olive green siren Dad had got from someone that you could crank. Sometimes I’d go down and get it, take it outdoors, and crank it up just to listen to the loud noise it would make. That farmhouse is well over 150 years old, and it’s amazing that the basement walls lasted as long as they did before starting to crumble.

  • Lorena Magdaleno Rodríguez

    Hola saludos

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