The Dishonest Farmer, a Dancing Black Widow, and Way Too Much Cole Slaw

Posted by Jordan Marr on November 05, 2014 2 Comments

Preparing a small plot before transplanting seedlings.

At the start of the season that just finished up, bored with a format I’d stretched to its limits the three years’ previous (usually, 500 word essays on a single topic), I decided to keep a mostly-honest farm journal as one way of communicating with the people in my community who, for one reason or another, care about the farm. My aim in writing the journal was equal parts exposition, entertainment, and education.

What I didn’t think about at the outset was that, if I somehow managed to keep up the journal, I would end up with a colourful account of my farming that is missing from your standard farm recordkeeping (we’re certified organic, so there’s a lot of that).

I’ve included the journal in its entirety below, with very few modifications of the original, bi-monthly serials I produced for the newsletters. And, since I was also including farm photos, GIFs, and videos in my newsletter, I’ve peppered those throughout. The combined result is a mostly true, largely irrelevant chronicle of life on a small farm in British Columbia.

We have a lot of fun here at The Homestead. I hope you enjoy reading about it. And please remember: this journal was published in chunks every two weeks, which is why you’ll start to notice certain repetitions if you stick with it.

The journal begain with an announcement of my intentions in the local paper, which published each segment through the season. Now, with out further

Rebirth

I’m back! Spring has, well, you know, and the P.View has graciously offered me this space for a third season of semi-monthly farm dispatches. Do you know where The Homestead is? We’re way up at the top of MacKinnon Road, tucked below the rest area on 97c. It’s kind of a look-way-up-and-I’ll-call-Rusty situation.

So, where to begin? It’s hard not to talk about transformation given what’s been happening outside recently. Barely three weeks ago I was plowing a snowy driveway with my landlord Joe’s ATV, and only two weeks later I was plowing the field with his tractor!

The day after that, I tried to communicate this wondrousness of the season to him,  but he just muttered something about how some things never change and then asked me to hand him that wrench. I think he was still angry that I managed to break both the ATV and the tractor while using them.

Then I learned that tickling isn’t the universal mood-improver I thought it was. And that Joe is really strong! Joke’s on you, Joe; my bruises will heal, but the memories we form together will last a life time.

Spring is definitely a time of rebirth–I recently discovered that over the winter I was reborn as a heavier-set farmer, for example. Apropos of that (the season, not my love handles), I’d like to announce a change to the format of this column. I’ve published, I don’t know, twenty-five short essays here, each, generally speaking, on a specific topic related to farming.

I think that’s more than enough, and so I’d like to try something different this year. Starting in two weeks, you’ll find a a summary of my most relevant thoughts and observations about farming since the previous column. My intention is to take you through the farming season as I see it–the veggie growing and other farming, of course, but also my experiences in Peachland and further afield. And a few observations about the constantly evolving local food movement, thrown in for good measure. I envision a cross between a farm journal and a Twitter feed.

I think this is going to work. If not…well, maybe you’ll finally get around to writing a letter to the editor. See you in two weeks, and happy gardening!

March 27. I’m keeping a purportedly non-fictional farm journal for the View this year. For some reason I feel the urge to remind myself of that about, oh, every two weeks or so. Weird!

March 28: A full day off the farm spent down the road in Summerland @ TH Wines, helping friend and moustache enthusiast Tyler Harlton bottle 1000 cases of his best stuff. Tyler made me the Dumper, who stands at the head of a mobile bottling line on a tractor-trailer and dumps each case of empty bottles into the bottling machine. 

Thrived in the role, but, likely owing to repeated exposure to the tiny puffs of microscopic cardboard particles that wheeze out with each dumped case by day’s end, I was showing the telltale dry cough of Dumper’s Lung . Another Dumper Wunderkind snuffed out in his prime.

March 31: Transplanted beets, spinach, scallions, basil, parsley, salad turnips, kale, chard, and lettuce into unheated tunnels. Peas could be planted outside any time. Started broccoli and kale in the nursery. Potted on tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. Local gardeners should get their tomatoes started indoors if they haven’t already, or plan on buying seedlings.

Transplanting some of the first seedlings in the Spring.
Transplanting some of the first seedlings in the Spring.

April 2: Such nice weather! Bumped into my landlord, Joe, just after having removed my shirt for cooling purposes following a hard run. He remarked that I had shoulders like a runway model. Wore a tube top around the farm for three days before I realized it wasn’t a compliment. 

April 4: Embarrassed to be seen in IGA just to buy candy, $1.50 worth, for sweets addiction, on a debit card, I grab some flowers for Vanessa too. This was a good decision; she was pleased. She mightn’t have been if she knew the moral compromise involved. You’ve heard of blood diamonds? These were Gummi Bear Tulips.

April 6: Rehearsals for Bus Stop with the Peachland Players continue as we approach opening night on April 10. My character, a young cowboy, is supposed to eat three burgers during the play, which we’ll be procuring from A&W. I just did the math: 5 shows x 3 burgers/show = 15 burgers in four days. And an angioplasty on the fifth.

April 7: Experimenting with starting carrots in the nursery for later transplanting. Not normally done, but using a special potting method called soil blocking will allow me to transplant the carrots out, three or four to each soil block, without disturbing their roots. If it works I’ll avoid time-consuming carrot weeding later on. One of my favourite parts of this job is the leeway to approach every single task from various angles. A farm is a giant set of puzzles to be solved.

April 8: Does anyone else’s heart sing when they drive by the once controversial Peachland skate park and see, like a jillion youths enjoying the heck out of it? Though apparently this success has come at the expense of the traffic at the Peachland Drugs and Graffiti Park, so I guess it’s a zero sum game.

April 10Semi-monthly self-reminders: I’m keeping a dubiously truthful farmer journal for my readers this year. I joined Peachland’s Slow-Pitch Softball League. Large Spoonful of Mayonaisse, as a quickie-lunch-for-a-modern-farmer-on-the-go, is neither nutritionally sufficient nor very enjoyable.

Modern farmer essentials?
Modern farmer essentials?

April 11Multiple farm-related trips to the post office this time of year. Peachland is blessed with really nice Canada Post Employees. Westbank, less so. At least not on Friday afternoons.

April 12:  With Peachland Players, performed third showing of Bus Stop, or, as I assume two elderly attendees called it, Perfect Place to Verbally Compile Grocery List For Tomorrow, Notwithstanding Distraction of Dramatic Dialogue A Few Feet Away. Audiences otherwise wonderful.  

April 14Started cukes and zukes indoors for later transplanting. Those who have trouble germinating their cucurbits in flats and pots could try sprouting them first between layers of wet paper towel in a plastic freezer bag on the counter. Winter squash to be started within next couple of weeks, especially if one intends to win the largest pumpkin competition at this year’s Fall Fair. Which I do. Though, having ordered more giant pumpkin seeds than one competitor can use, would be happy to pass on as many extra seedlings as I have to people hoping to place second. Would even provide some garden space here. Kids get first dibs but all are welcome…250 767 6636 is my number, he writes in his journal.

April 19UK’s The Guardian: China reveals that 20% of its farmland is polluted with toxic metals. Time to switch to Indian ginger.

Preparing a small plot before transplanting seedlings.
Preparing a small plot before transplanting seedlings.

SameLost two hours setting up some trellising with anchor posts that were too light and insufficiently deep. I would call my farming style hapless but it’s not so much bad luck for me as it is dumb luck. Back when I was an  apprentice farmer, the neighbour of my first teacher used to accuse him of frequently spending a dollar to save a nickel. Clearly I was paying attention.

April 20Game three of Slow-Pitch today. Was moved from Right Field to Left because better fielders were absent. During first at bat, I perceptively noticed the third baseman was hanging back pretty far, and skillfully, neigh, masterfully tapped a bunt a few feet down the foul line before blazing to first. The cheers I expected were preempted by every player on both teams yelling that men weren’t allowed to bunt. The jeering I took the rest of the game (they called me Kasey at the Bat…notice the spelling) was less about a broken rule (men can’t bunt in slow-pitch) than a broken axiom (men don’t bunt in slow-pitch). We lost 20-3. That’s not a typo.

April 21Dropped Vanessa off in Vancouver for her two month midwifery student placement in Uganda. Meaning: I can forget to apply deodorant and wear the same work pants for days on end with less guilt than usual. Also meaning: A Ugandan Hospital gains, and a Peachland Farm loses, a real good gal. Be safe Vern! Take care of her, Ugandans!

April 23Semi-monthly self-reminders: I’m keeping a somewhat truthful farmer journal for my readers this year. I need to gather up all that irrigation hose I left lying outside the nursery. Someone’s going to trip on it.

Jordan dreams of fresh carrots every night.
Jordan dreams of fresh carrots every night.

April 24: Baked cookies for Torbin, a departing visitor from Germany who was doing some house-sitting on the property and ended up helping me with a big fencing job. Stepping out of my soiled work pants, decided there was no need to throw on another pair while baking, given I’d just have to change back to work pants in twenty minutes. Regretted that decision ten minutes later when Jennay, farmer-owner of Paynter’s Fruit Stand, stopped by to drop off the carrot seeder she’d borrowed and looked through the window to find a hirsute, heavy-set guy mixing cookie dough in his underpants, Pearl Jam blaring on the speakers.

Same: Headed up to a local condo complex to give a talk on organic farming. One of my favourite speaking gigs so far. They fed and wined me first, and clearly they’ve been reading my articles, because they chose to give me a bag of candy as a thank you (much better, if less salutary, than what I received for speaking to folks at the Central Okanagan Association of Dental Professionals, who gave me a toothbrush and some of those loopy things for flossing behind one’s retainer). It went so well, in fact, that they invited me to join their group–The Ladies of Eagle’s View. It called to mind my three brothers’ previous proclamation that I’m the sister they never had. I politely declined the invitation.

April 25: While fencing in the new garden, found my beloved hammer, Fat Bob, half buried in the soil. I’d long given it up for lost. If I can find the time this week I’ll write a Haiku to celebrate its return.

Same: The first ever Homestead Friday Night Farmgate Market at the top of our driveway. Well attended. Its hippie-dippie vibe was converted to more of a tailgate one when a customer and his friend pulled in to grab some veggies after a day of golf and hauled out a case of beer. I wasn’t complaining. We’ll be doing these markets every Friday, 5-7pm, until October, he writes in his farm journal.

Humble beginnings for the inaugral farmgate market at the top of the driveway.
Humble beginnings for the inaugral farmgate market at the top of the driveway.

April 26: There you were! Dirt-sheathed

Your shaft now half-composted

I missed you, Fat Bob.

April 28: Nearly tripped on the irrigation hose outside the nursery. I really do need to get it out of there.

April 29: There are long workdays when so much stuff comes out of my hair in the shower that it begins to feel like I’m in a Warner Bros. cartoon, and I half expect an Acme Anvil or a fish skeleton to suddenly pop out of there. That hasn’t happened yet but I did find a tick today. I smushed him.

May 2: Was rushing out of the nursery with a tray of onion seedlings in my hands when I tripped on the pile of irrigation hose. Tray went flying. It landed face down; I landed tits up in the rhubarb patch. I really need to move that hose.

May 5: Those with risk tolerance could plant their beans and corn now. We’re not out of frost season yet but by the time they germinate they’ll likely be okay. The risk averse should wait 7-10 more days to plant. 

May 7Semi-monthly self-reminders: askance is how my readers may want to look at these farm journal entries, which is the format I’m using to speak to them this year. I grew bored with the old format and thought this might spice things up in the headroom.

7
Driveway, Spring.

May 8: Attended a valley-wide Chamber of Commerce event with winemaker, friend, and Mazda enthusiast Tyler Harlton of TH Wines. Wore a new pair of slim-cut, navy pants for the occasion. Enroute, remarked to Tyler that I couldn’t figure out why I don’t wear slim-cut pants more often because “I make these look good.” Tyler stopped for a wine delivery in Kelowna. By the time he returned I had split my pants down the inner thigh, crotch-to-almost-knee. Insisted to Tyler I could hobnob while standing just so to avoid showing off my alabaster skin. Tyler balked at the suggestion just before realizing he happened to have an extra pair of pants in the canopy of his truck. The lovely folks at Discover Wines allowed me to change in their bathroom, and off I went to the Chamber event, apparently concerned about an impending flood. Tyler is a bit shorter than me, turns out. I still think showing off a little thigh would have been the lesser transgression. 

May 10: Second farmers’ market in Penticton. Already questions about whether any of my veggies are genetically engineered (AKA GMO) are rolling in. I always reply with the same primer: 1. Certified organic farmers like me are forbidden from using GMO seeds, period. 2. This is a more or less a moot point at the farmers’ market, where the only possible veggie you could find that could have come from GMO seeds is sweet corn, for which it is unlikely any valley farmer is using GMO seeds to grow. This doesn’t stop veggie vendors from erecting signs that say ‘GMO Free’, which is a bit like an apple juice advertised as ‘Fat Free’. 3. Where meat and eggs are concerned, if the producer is not certified organic, it is highly likely the feed used for the animals has GMO soy, corn, or canola in it, since just about all conventional (ie., non-organic) livestock feed contains those products.

Bumbler on the heat mat cord in the nursery.
Bumbler on the heat mat cord in the nursery.

May 11: Addendum to last entry: I should add(endum) that, while I am not allowed to, and don’t use GMO seeds, I am among a minority of organic farmers who believes that the GMO foods approved for commercial use are safe to eat. I don’t usually mention this to my colleagues and customers because I don’t enjoy conflict and awkwardness. Read: I’m a coward.

May 12: Woke up to find more cucumber seeds rooted out of their seed trays, insides scooped out like yogurt by an enthusiastic modern woman in a Danon commercial. Mice have been stymieing my efforts to grow cucurbits this year. I’ve got a few traps set now, with cucumber and squash seeds as bait. Let’s hope Mickey returns, hung-over, for some hair of the dog.

May 15:  Attended a meeting of the Peachland Fall Fair organizing committee last week. If my prose appears suddenly more illustrious, it’s because I write with a new title: Jordan Marr, Fall Fair Trophy-Master. Ever noticed how a title’s magnificence is often inversely proportional to its job description? I am to haul 50 trophies back and forth from the engraver, and hand them up to the stage one-by-one during the event. If the Fall Fair committee were composed of Archie Comics characters, I’d be Moose. Incidentally, I hope readers plan to enter something in the fall fair this year. It’s really fun.

May 18: The start of the Homestead Farm Veggie Box program draws near. If you’re in the program and haven’t received an update from me, I apologize. It has been just crazy up here on the farm. But I’m still thinking of you all; today I stood on my deck and blew you a kiss on the wind to reassure you of your place in my head and heart. Unfortunately, Joe, co-owner of the farm and an old-school, less sentimental type of farmer, saw what I was doing and blew some armpit farts on the wind at the same time. So, be careful which messages you accept from the breeze. 

May 19: Mickey returned and met his end. I’ve got a pretty incredible photo of him caught in the trap on my website’s blog. Warning for the faint-hearted: it features a dead mouse. 

Sorry, Mickey.
Sorry, Mickey.

May 25: I’m keeping a farm journal for my readers this year that my late, dear grandma Stella would have identified as being “full of BS”. I really miss her.

May 26: My soil is deficient in boron, so I went down to IGA to buy some Borax, a mined salt that, in addition to killing ants and washing your clothes, will help my sunflowers, those boron hogs, grow tall and strong.  Owner Harry was at the register and asked me if I was going fishing. “???” I said. He explained that fishermen use Borax as a binding agent for fish roe so that the latter will stay on their hooks as bait. I realize that a local Grocer like Harry has a hard time matching prices with the big boxes, but where else are you able to get ninja fishing advice along with your jujubes? Certainly not at Superstore. 

May 27: I tossed and turned in bed last night, feeling guilty about the presumptions I made in yesterday’s journal entry. So I phoned Galen Weston to ask him how to hook a decent-sized trout, but all he did was go on and on about his Decadent-brand ice cream sandwiches. In the end I had to hang up on him. I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight. 

Meant to document some tomato transplanting; instead, the camera caught a storm rolling in.
Meant to document some tomato transplanting; instead, the camera caught a storm rolling in.

May 31: A lesson in extremes today. Down in Penticton to deliver the year’s first weekly veggie bag to my subscribers, I visited one new customer and was whisked inside to be thanked and introduced to every member of the family, including Jet, who will be five in fourteen sleeps. He invited me to the party. Ego soaring, I proceeded to the next recipient, an eighty-five year old whose daughter had purchased her a veggie subscription for Christmas. Evidently is was a suprise. “What? I’ve got too many veggies already! I throw them out!” I’ve never had a customer accept their veggie bag so begrudgingly. I liked her, though. Farmers tend to get put on a pedestal. This lady will keep me humble. And I like a challenge.

June 1: I split my pants crotch-to-knee while lunging for a pop fly during a softball game today. This is journal-worthy only because of my lengthy pants-splitting story from a couple weeks back. My thighs are like Andy from The Shawshank Redemption, only less successful. 

 

Greens.
Greens.

June 2: Farming is awesome because you can be in on a conference call for a board meeting of some non-profit you’re involved with, and the topic is bylaw changes and you just want to stick your head in the oven, and then Joe calls you on the other line to tell you he needs help baling hay, and when it’s hay-baling time and there’s thunderheads on the horizon, you don’t mess around man, and so you get back on the other line and say “I have to go. There’s hay to be baled.” And you race out the door, and you feel like Batman. And so you ask Joe to call you Batman, and he says “I’m not doing that. Pick up a rake.” But it’s still way more fun than that conference call. And you can still refer to Joe as  Commissioner Gordon when he’s out of earshot. 

Joe mows the first hay crop.
Joe mows the first hay crop.

June 3: I’m keeping a journal for my readers this year that is fiction-enhanced for their enjoyment.

Same: Today we headed out to gather up our square bales with stormclouds overhead. We had one more wagon load to pick up–56 bales–when the rain poured down. A haying in the Okanagan takes a minimum of three days, and up to seven, and you need the weather to be fair for all of it. We needed 30 more minutes to get ours in. But that’s haying in the spring.

June 9: Called by an aggrieved reader who objected to the treatment I gave Superstore in last journal update, in suggesting I probably wouldn’t get good fishing advice there like I did from Harry at the local IGA. Reader/caller became even unhappier upon finding out that aspects of this journal are fabricated. Attempted to explain that the made-up parts are usually meant to add humour to the real parts. Reader/caller called me dishonest. I pointed out that I start every column with a suggestion that aspects within might be untrue. Reader/caller called me dishonest. The rest of this date-entry contains only true things. 

I shop at Superstore regularly. I rarely encounter its employees, but they seem nice. Many have smiled at me. I appreciate Superstore’s organic selection and its self-checkouts.

Outwardly gregarious, inwardly I suffer from social anxiety. I spent a conversation at a recent Chamber of Commerce event terrified that I might somehow suddenly and involuntarily spill my glass of wine all over my fellow attendee. It’s why I like self-checkouts.

I think little Peachland is lucky to have a grocery store in town. And that, if we want it to be there those times we don’t feel like humping it to Westbank, we have to make a special effort to shop there semi-regularly. 

Peachland IGA buys my salad greens, in small quantities, without a lot of bureaucracy. I think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell Superstore would do that. The latter doesn’t offend me. I’m grateful for the former.

In 2006 I was paid a total of $10 for twenty-one hours of graveyard shift-work for the Superstore in Whitehorse. Both the store’s management and the Teamsters Union were dishonest with me about the deductions I would face as a super-short-term, unionized worker, probably because they were desperate for labour. The economy was booming then. I was angry at Superstore for a while. Those graveyard shifts were a drag.

Okay. Back to the regular, deceptive journal. 

June 11: We are building a walk-in cooler here at the farm. This is a big deal. My business’ growth has been challenged by the lack of cold storage here. It is a used cooler. It is ugly as all sin. It looks less like a place to cool veggies than a terrible, foreboding prison cell. When we hold our annual Halloween event for customers’ kids this fall I’ll likely use it to scare the bajeezes out of them. All of that is true, actually.

Tested the limits of L'il Red bringing home the new used walk-in cooler.
Tested the limits of L’il Red bringing home the new used walk-in cooler.

June 14: Explained to Ryan, our farm apprentice and a chef by training, that each of our veggie subscription customers is allowed one veggie they don’t want to see in each week’s delivery, and that some choose awesome veggies like beets and zucchini, which seems a shame to me. “They probably don’t like them because their moms were bad cooks,” he said. “Most people hate Brussels Sprouts because their moms ruined them every Thanksgiving.” That’s definitely not universally true, but I laughed, because I think it’s probably true for some people. So, some people:  give beets and zucchini another try. They want so badly to please you.

June 16: Sometimes I write things in this farm journal I’m keeping for my readers this year that cause my pants to spontaneously combust. Weirdest thing.

June 17: I graze on fruit and vegetables all day as I work. Due to sheer garden abundance, I’m shamefully wasteful about it. Lettuces are picked, the blanched, succulent centres knawed out, the remainder tossed aside to feed the soil, My version of  a millionaire lighting his cigar with a hundred dollar bill. But, due to time constraints, I’m pretty rough ‘n’ hasty about it, so I often end up with unintended snacks in my belly. I’ve ingested a lot of soil this way. And today I ate half a ladybug, which has to be, I don’t know, like 5 years bad gardening luck. I hadn’t noticed it on the kale leaf I was munching on until its top half was in my belly. Incidentally, the ladybug’s presence on the kale leaf was likely a strong indicator that the aphids have arrived for the season. A single ladybug can consume 400 aphids a week. The aphids don’t actually ruin my kale crop, but decrease its profitability due to the extra time required to wash them off. Incidentally, did you know that certain species of ants manage aphids in a similar vein to our management of dairy herds? Google ‘aphid-ranching ants’. It’s fascinating. 

June 22: Colleague Jennay Oliver, owner-farmer of Paynter’s Fruit Market, gave me a Paynter’s Market t-shirt to wear out and about. I asked for a medium. This was a tad ambitious. I put it on and it looks like someone threw grey saran wrap over a jello mold. I don’t think this will create the positive assocations with her business she intended, so for her sake it’s now a pajama top. 

Honeybee on the gate latch.
Honeybee on the gate latch.

June 30:  A cringeworthy email from a new chef customer. I cooperate with a local thespian/fishmonger to save him some delivery time by carrying his seafood on my delivery route. This is how I met the chef in question. I found out from the monger that one of his staff inquired if I was married. So, when the chef yelled out “It’s Mr. Muscles!” when I arrived for my next delivery, naturally I thought he had been teasing his employee about her apparent attraction. In a subsequent email-offer of veggies to the chef, I added: “And FYI, my girlfriend laughed at the Mr. Muscles designation. She calls me T-Rex because she says I have small arms and shoulders.”

His reply came a few hours later. “Funny.  I’ll take 1 Kale, 1 Arugula, 1 Salad. Sorry for the delay. Awkward story though. You know I was referring to the “Mussels” you were delivering right! See you Sat. The ladies in the kitchen will be excited. And I look forward to seeing you too, T-Rex.”

July 2: Semi-monthly self-reminders: I need to stop complaining about the heat. We’re probably not into the worst of it yet. I’m keeping a farm journal for my readers this year that may contain some exaggerations for readers’ pleasure. Pants first, then shoes. I stole that last one from Gary Larson.

July 3: Lately I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to have the kind of support around the farm that I do. I should really write some of these gratitudes down in this journal. Good help, like good health, is easily taken for granted. 

Cleaning last year's Rattlesnake bean seed.
Cleaning last year’s Rattlesnake bean seed.

July 8: We discovered a new hornet’s nest, in early stages of construction, on a piece of rafter above our outdoor coffee-break space. We recognized the species: Bull Hornets. Coincidentally, Joe had just told us about Bull Hornets. That they’re one of North America’s most aggressive species. That he once watched one leave a hive dozens of feet away and head straight for his face, stinger first. Despite this, we marvelled and laughed and took photos, to no apparent irritation of the wasps.  It appears we can live and let live. We congratulated each other for our compassion and empathy.

July 9: The hornets stung Ryan, on the face, three times. Twice more on the arms. Our truce was short-lived. Later on Ryan torched the nest. Threat neutralized. Magnanimity be damned.

July 13: I’m happy for all the beach revellers, I really am. But gardening in this kind of heat is awful. Theoretically, the solution is to get up early, stop when it gets hot, and pick it up the hoe again in the evening. But managing a farm this time of year is like playing Whack-a-Mole. You finally finish one task, and two more have popped up to tackle. One of which includes trapping moles. Well, gophers. But you get the point-it’s hard to just lay down your tools and head for the lake. The Extended Siesta Plan also assumes you don’t live in a sauna and sleep between bed sheets you thought were made of linen but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be made of 100% Gladwrap. Falling asleep sufficiently early to manage an early rise has proved impossible, so that I don’t start any of these hell-cyon Okanagan summer days until 7 and so the whole cycle begins again. 

From left to right: Summer Cabbage. Ryan.
From left to right: Summer Cabbage. Ryan.

July 15: Any intention I had of keeping my birthday low-key was dashed by a visit from Nicole, who showed up at coffee time bearing gifts: a pound of good coffee, a Rubik’s Cube keychain, and a plate of (chocolate peanut butter!) cookies. Nicole entered our picture when she contacted us out of the blue a year ago to ask if she could help out once a week around the farm. The initial email was earnest and polite. So was Nicole, in those early visits. It took some doing to get her to knock that off. I knew we’d succeeded, that she had become one of us, when she showed up one day while I was on the phone, and returned my quick wave with a quicker flip of the bird. At that moment, I felt like I imagine a mother bird must after seeing its chick soar for the first time. Meanwhile, she showed up week after week to weed that bed, harvest that kale, plant those seeds, burn that pile of old tires. If I’m honest, I was a bit leery about welcoming her here. What if she messed up the farm’s feng shui? Plus, it was one less day I had the option of farming in my underpants. But now I’d be bummed if she stopped coming. I’d probably be skinnier, though. 

Hay Barn.
Hay Barn.

July 20: Sunday: time to email some chef customers with a Fresh Sheet. Tricky business if I’m to maximize sales. I have 60 lb of cabbage, 40 lb of salad greens, and 30 lb of baby zucchini to sell this week, for instance. None of our five chefs will take all of any of these items. I could offer each a fifth of what’s available, but there’s no way they’ll all be interested. If I offer each the total of what I have, I’m likely to be oversold. The key is to stagger my offers, but that strategy depends on the chefs giving me timely replies. I’ll take my chances. I start with my longest-standing customers, to whom I give first kick at the can.

Chef A is offered 10 lb greens (he told me not to expect more than 5 lb per order this year), 20 lb cabbage, and 20lb zucchini. One reason I have as much as I do is that, last winter, chef A told me I could expect 20-30 lb of zucchini ordered per week. So far he has been ordering 5-10 lb.  Chefs’ winter eyes are often bigger than their summer stomachs. Chef B: 10 lb greens, 20 lb zucchini (already over-offering, but it should work out), 20 lb cabbage. I could easily offer 40 but I know he won’t take it, and that he knows I know that, and I don’t want to look desperate.

July 20, later: Chef B replies with an order: fifteen greens (five more than offered, which I’ll strive to give him). Zero cabbage. Five zukes. If Chef A writes back by bed time, I can send out the next offers, and I’ll be in good shape.

Ian Stewart. He took most of the photos in this post. Not this one, though.
Ian Stewart. He took most of the photos in this post. Not this one, though.

July 20, later: He doesn’t.

July 21, Monday morning: Chef A hasn’t replied. I send out orders to Chefs C, D, and E anyway. Sending to E is wishful thinking. He never responds to email. I usually have to try and catch him by phone. If I don’t, he doesn’t order.

Later: Chef D orders. No zukes. No Cabbage. Five salad. Chef A’s order comes in. Ten zukes. Zero cabbage. Twenty five salad. I call A to tell him that twenty five is impossible. I promise to send him ten.

Later: I catch Chef E on the phone. Ten Salad, ten cabbage, five zucchini. Chef C sends me a text message. Ten salad. Ten cabbage. No zucchini.

Final tally: I’ve sold fifty pounds of salad, ten more than I have. I can either short each chef (never popular), or cut into next week’s immature supply, and screw over Future Jordan. Sorry, FJ. Twenty zucchini. Not bad; might be able to sell the rest at a market. Only 20 lb cabbage sold. Rats.

July 22: Cabbage soup for dinner.

July 23: Sauerkraut for dinner.

July 24: Cole slaw for dinner. Next week I hope I undersell my eggplants. I like them better.

August 4: I’m keeping a farm-journal for my readers this year. Sometimes I’m free and easy with the facts in service of humour; this instalment, however, is pretty true to life. 

August 7: Fire at Drought Hill! Or as I call it, The Furthest I Can Throw An Unsold Zucchini From My Front Deck. That’s how close we were to the initial flames, though, owing to the buffering effect of 97C, we never felt anything like the threat that we felt from the fire two years ago, save for maybe those first few uninformed minutes. About those minutes: I had missed the early cues, having assumed the sirens I heard were for, I don’t know, a dignitary’s cavalcade, or maybe the Kelowna Rockets having scored a goal up on the highway. It was Torbin, our German farm-guest, who pointed out the plume of smoke and the suddenly-obvious commotion. 

fire6 (Small)

 

It’s crises like this that often separate the wheat from the chaff. I immediately thought about the one neighbour on the fire’s side of the highway, yet my response was to run up to the highway to get a better sense of the situation. Terrible, Jordan; it’s terrible. In establishing this, I had wasted valuable minutes and was now far away from my car. On the bright side, I was called Sir for the first time in months when an RCMP constable asked me to get the hell away from there. 

Torbin and the farm’s owner, Joe, meanwhile, tossed some shovels in Joe’s truck and roared up the wash-boarded, circuitous driveway to our neighbour’s house to make sure she and her dogs were safe. They were. Emergency responders were on scene, refused Joe’s offer to help fight the fire, and sent him back down just in time to have his beloved Ford doused with retardant from the first pass of the air tanker. I saw it all from my vantage on the highway, where I was also being useful…as tits on a bull.  

I can’t stress enough the rare treat, and bizarre circumstances, afforded by the curious geographical relationship among the fire, the farm, and the shelter of the highway between. We were so close to it; yet, never in any great danger, no evacuation was ordered. We were thus treated to a better air show than I might ever pay an admission for. The air tankers, the water bombers, the helicopters–all skimmed the tips of the farm’s treetops, and one even landed in our hay field, as they fought the blaze. I was due to host a dinner party that night, and proceeded with it. It went off without a hitch, save for the pilots’ engines drowning out all my best carrot-harvesting stories. They saved the farm though, so I guess we’re even. 

August 9: Fire’s out. A little hazy, but otherwise back to normal. I’m not a very patriotic guy, but watching the firefighting apparatus spring to life to put out the fire made me proud of the society I live in. I’m never sure how to strike the right balance between gratitude for, and healthy criticism of, one’s governmental institutions, but when you can point to a blaze a few hundred feet away as the reason for turning away some tourists who showed up unannounced for a tour, but really it’s because you’re inside baking a peach pie and you’re trying to keep the pastry as cold as possible before it hits the oven, well, I think that calls for some unbridled gratitude for those institutions, and the people that comprise them. 

August 10: Clarice is getting bigger. Clarice is the Black Widow that Ryan found clinging to a head of lettuce he had harvested (thank goodness he found it!). Ryan, perhaps driven by a stirring of his paternal instincts, deposited Clarice in an unused wash sink in our processing tent. She’s made a home there, and we’ve been feeding her grasshoppers ever since. 

August 23: Haven’t updated the ol’ farm journal in a while. I’ve been doing so for the sake of That Portion of Posterity Interested In Hapless Veggie Production.

August 24: There is a Facebook thing happening lately where people are posting about what they’re grateful for. I’m way too cynical and grumpy to do that. Plus, I mostly like to save my FB posts for radish selfies. If I were to jump on that wagon though, Gratitude #1 would definitely have to be for eggplant, that most overlooked and misunderstood nightshade. Properly cooked eggplant eases the pain. Give it a second chance, folks. Eggplant would die for your sins if it were called to do so. Also, Bulk Barn. 

September 1: Just returned after a week–a week!–off for summer vacation. Never have Vanessa and I had the audacity to attempt such a thing in August. Never could we have attempted it without a stellar farm crew. After a season of learning the ropes on a middling market garden operation, Ian and Ryan got to take a stab at being a neurotic mess for seven days. You know the farm’s been in good hands when you return to hear that your replacements sold produce to a buyer you hadn’t even thought to approach. For cash! It’s in the cupholder of the van, Jordan.  

Midsummer night dance party. Thanks, wine.
Midsummer night dance party. Thanks, wine.

What do farmers do on summer vacation, no one asked? These ones hiked to a hut at 9300 feet in Glacier National Park, before a regrettable stop at Canyon Hot Springs, home of Revelstoke’s largest public bath tub, before a flight to a wedding in Muskoka. I have nothing sarcastic to say about Muskoka. It’s lovely.

September 2: My pumpkins are getting big. Sufficiently so, in fact, that they failed to escape the wandering eyes of a customer–a stranger to me–who dropped by about ten days ago. Ostensibly he was there for some carrots, which I sold him. That’s when he started asking about the giants in my garden. I explained that I was fixing to take down the guy who won the giant pumpkin category at last year’s Peachland Fall Fair. 

There’s a scene in Young Guns–a classic Western to Gen X and the Millenials–when Brat Packer Emilio Estevez’s Billy the Kid feigns wide-eyed admiration toward a pompous coxcomb in a bar who brags about his intention to capture and kill the infamous outlaw. Billy goads him on–What does he look like? Can I touch the gun you’re going to kill him with?–before revealing his identity, chillingly, by whistling in the manner the coxcomb had just ascribed to Billy the Kid. Then Billy shoots him dead. 

I hadn’t thought about that scene in a long time until my encounter with this stranger, who, after hearing me ramble on about my intentions, and about the finer points of growing Big Orange, casually informed me that he, in fact, was the winner of last year’s giant pumpkin category at the Peachland Fall Fair. Then he smiled and went on his way. I’m not sure if he noticed the tremble that had developed in my trowel hand. 

My pumpkins are big, but his was a monster. Whether Billy will succeed in shooting me down, though, remains to be seen. And, indeed, you can see it. The showdown happens at the community centre this weekend. Fittingly, the theme chosen for this year’s fair is Western Flair. Hope to see y’all there. 

Ryan, Steph, and a pumpkin that didn't even come close to winning the Fall Fair.
Ryan, Steph, and a pumpkin that didn’t even come close to winning the Fall Fair.

September 4I’ve been keeping a journal of my farming foibles for my readers this year, and most of it is true!

September 7The epilogue to my September 2nd journal entry about Billy the Kid and growing large pumpkins is that Billy shot me down. The 65 pounder I submitted to the Peachland Fall Fair was a marble to Billy’s softball. His came in at 160 lb. Deep down I knew I had no chance. Redemption, sort of: for the second year running, a veggie-creature submitted by farm staff-this year, Ian and Ryan and Steph–fetched a blue ribbon and a Best-In-Show. Way to go, you three; you sure showed those arrogant ten year olds who thought they could beat you. 

 Ian, Ryan, and Steph's entry at the Fall Fair: no contest. Best. In. Show.
Ian, Ryan, and Steph’s entry at the Fall Fair: no contest. Best. In. Show.

September 13: The sudden need to replace our scale’s batteries at market led to social and financial catastrophe. Ryan being the better salesman, I left him to tend the stall and headed up the street to seek out some replacement portable energy. 

The first thing I learned: Main Street in Penticton is not the cornucopia of Sunday morning battery merchants of bygone days. I suppose it’s linked to the general decline in religiousity in recent years. What Baby Boomer, after all, can’t remember returning from church, back of the station wagon, joining brothers, sisters in pleading with dad to stop for some double A’s? Maybe even a 9 volt, on special occasions. Dad always pretending not to hear, turning in at the last second, to cheers from the kids. Mom never indulging in more than a triple A for herself, seemingly restrained, but knowing, in the back of her mind, that little George would be unlikely to finish his whole four-pack. We lie to ourselves more than anyone else, don’t we?

Times have changed, and Main Street’s windows are filled with books and shoes and fabrics. Nary a C Cell in site. Moral decay, folks. Moral decay. 

I had almost given up when I encountered the Pharmasave, filled with equal parts hope and dread. Halfway chance they’d have the D Cells I needed, but at what cost? You don’t go to Pharmasave for batteries unless you’re desperate. I know it, they know it. For my purposes the store might well have been called Enerspend. 

What should have been a simple process veered into awkwardness when a clerk an aisle over asked me if I needed help finding anything. My answer was a rambling explanation of my farmers’ market scale failure and my long quest to find some D’s. I wish I had looked up before giving it, since I discovered, when I finally did, that the clerk had been talking to the pregnant woman in a neighbouring aisle. Had she laughed at my blunder it would have been fine, but instead she acted as if I had just availed myself, right in front of her, of a strong need to pee, staring at me with some mixture of pity, wonder, and disgust. 

Before market...
Before market…

...after.
…after.

I found the batteries, eventually. Eight of them cost $28, or 1/10th the cost of my fancy scale. I returned to market, clearly defeated by Enerspend, but also inspired. Were an errant, emaciated rabbit to approach my stall looking for carrots, I would quickly put the the price up to $10/bunch, because the poor sucker would pay it. 

September 14: I’ve been keeping a journal of farm life for readers this year. Excepting the odd fictional flourish thrown in for good measure, it has been a true account of my farming experiences, neurotic internal dialogues, and foibles. And it’s almost complete. I have a good, lucky feeling that I’ll close this thing out by Thanksgiving, which, though not technically the end of my season, is about the point that my joie de vivre gives way to a soif de sommeil. Plus, I subscribe to the notion that an entertainer should always try to leave them wanting more. Though in my case I should probably aim a little lower: I’ll be satisfied if I leave you not wanting less. 

38

September 26: Last night I gave a talk to a dulcet group of listeners at The Bohemian Cafe, where the Okanagan Institute stages a bi-monthly speaker series. The gist of my speech: stop revering small-scale farmers. Stop demonizing big farmers. Realize we all face tough choices between stewardship and profit on a regular basis. Had you heard the whole speech it would have seemed a lot less like the verbal equivalent of a wet blanket. I hope.

September 30: Rhetorical question: what’s more fun, giving a speech to adults at The Bohemian or giving a farm tour to a bunch of six year old girl guides and a few moms this eve? I’ll answer your question, Mr. Question Asker in my head, with some of my own. Did the Okanagan Institute give me Girl Guide Cookies–two boxes!–as a thank you? Did a Bohemian attendee peer into a box of old veggies we were about to feed the horses and check with me to make sure horses “like gross food?” Did anyone at the Bohemian ask their mom to bring up a smartphone photo of the giant pumpkin she grew and proudly show it to me? Did anyone at the Bohemian buy me a cocktail? Actually, yes, yes they did. That was pretty cool. And the girl guides did not ply me with any booze. So, that’s a point off, girl guides, and an improvement you may want to consider for next time. But you still win, hands down.  

Faceoff for the Italian Prune Plums.
Faceoff for the Italian Prune Plums.

October 8: While at market in Penticton last Saturday, two chefs from Joy Road Catering approached my left flank, armed with, like, a honker of a loaf of sourdough bread. Turns out they baked it using wheat I grew for fun last season, that I “donated” to them in a very annoying, unthreshed form. They had etched little wheat plants in the crust. It tasted like a warm embrace. And it was so damned big. I greedily ate four slices doused in home-made apricot jam when I got home, and barely dented it. I carved off a hunk and gave it to Joe and Jess, who were as tickled as I was to eat bread made from our farm’s wheat. Another hunk’s worth of slices went to propping up a lemony zucchini hash I made for dinner the next night, and I still had enough for the 3/4 of a pound I needed for a French tomato and bread soup we had for lunch the following day. Oh, man. Full belly, happy heart.

Joy Road bread. Farm wheat.
Joy Road bread. Farm wheat.

October 9: Thanksgiving this weekend. Perhaps not my favourite holiday–I’m a sucker for eggnog and full stockings–but probably the most meaningful for me. Traditionally, a time set aside to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, a notion that is still very relevant for us here. So much can go wrong in any given farming season. And some stuff does. But this year, it mostly didn’t. We had enough water pressure all season. That’s a big one. I found the markets necessary to absorb our expanded garden. The deer behaved. So did the marmots. And we enjoyed a lot of support–from Joe and Jess as always, but also from Ryan, and Ian, our stellar farmhands, and Nicole, and from our customers–Jennay over at Paynter’s Fruit Market, Harry and Brenda at IGA, Noreen at Nature’s Fare, Our chefs at Joy Road, Hillside, Lake Breeze, Vanilla Pod, Brodo, Local, Blue Rooster. And of course, all of the eaters who shopped at our market stall or subscribed to our veggie program. A heartfelt thank you to all of those people. And to anyone who took the time to read these stupid journal entries all year. Have a great Winter. 

**drops mike to look cool, subsequently trips over it**

2 thoughts on “The Dishonest Farmer, a Dancing Black Widow, and Way Too Much Cole Slaw

  1. Lovely writing. I used to live in Peachland, worked at Brenda Mines in 1970/71, loved it there. Now in Ashcroft, on 10 acres in the desert, looking to find a younger more energetic and note capable version of myself to start growing hops here.

    Your journal is encouraging. Thanks.

    John

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