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This afternoon a big storm came through and along with it pea sized hail.  We weren’t home when it it came through, but from the looks of it it hailed for some time.  I lost my entire garden.  Tomatoes, eggplants, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, bak choi, red cabbage, broccoli, broc rabb, orach, peas, spinach, and arugula.  Not to mention daises, lavender, verbena, lobelia, and a few other flowers.  Here’s some pictures of the damage:

hail damaged beanshail damaged dasieshail damaged tomatoeshail damaged red cabbagehail damaged pak choi

I’m really sad that all the work and effort I put into starting all the plants from see was destroyed in a few minutes of hail.  Some plants I wont be able to put back in the garden.  Peas, for instance wont grow fast enough to get a harvest from before it gets too hot for the plants to set fruit.  I don’t think I’ll be able to grow tomatoes from seed starting this late in the season.  I think I’ll be able to put everything else back in, but it was frustrating because I was really close to being able to harvest some things.  It’s sad I lost my garden, but I’m worried for some of my fellow farmers whose farms are right in the path of the storm.  I hope that they didn’t see this kind of damage.  It’s sickening to think that a 30 minutes storm could wipe out months of work.

Oh well, I guess tomorrow I’ll start cleaning things up and planting again.

Last night I spent a few hours looking at the time and credits needed to finish my degree.  At this time I’m working toward a degree in Horticulture with a focus on specialty food crop production and taking classes for an interdisciplinary study on organic agriculture.  I’ve tried to put into words why I’m studying horticulture, but I feel as though there is still a large part that I cannot yet put into words and when I try I find myself bumbling on.

I’m interested in the practicality of growing food for people.  I want to understand how food grows and participate in growing it for people who cant grow it for themselves.  But I’m also interested in what people should grow for health benefits.  It might be fun to grow lettuce, but if you have a limited space to grow food is that the best use of your space?  These are questions that I think about.  Is there food that people can grow that will be more healthy for them to grow than for them to buy at the store?  The third piece to this is the preparing food part.  I’m surprised at the stories I hear about people’s fears in the kitchen.  It seems that the people who cook food for their family (with an oven, not a microwave) are the minority.  I think that if people are going to grow food that is healthy they should be equipped to prepare it.

Studying horticulture is one piece of this puzzle.  The preparing food part is something that I don’t know that I can necessarily pursue as schooling option.  Culinary school, as I have seen, focus of training people in classical forms of cooking.  What I am interested in is basic cooking skills.  I want to help chip away at fears people might have with cooking.  Teaching people how to make foie grass is not practical when most of their meals on a weekly basis come from the microwave or a fast food kitchen.  The nutrition aspect of all of this is something that I recently found out I can do something about.  CSU offers a minor in Nutrition, and it’s open to any major of study.

I’m seriously considering dropping the organic agriculture study and picking up this nutrition minor.  It seems like this would be really beneficial in helping me look at the nutrition aspect of food at the same time I’ll be looking at the growing process.  I’ll take classes like: Human Nutrition, Nutrition Assessment, Community Nutrition, Nutrition in the Life Cycle, Integrative Nutrition and Metabolism, and a few others.  Sounds fun, huh?  The potential downside to going this route is that there is quite a bit of argument of what is really “nutritious.”  There are studies done to say that butter is bad for you– you must use margarine.  Other studies say that raw milk is better for you than pasteurized milk.  Much of the conversation sound similar to the organic vs. conventional farming argument.  But I think that in the end, having a minor in nutrition will give me some building blocks to work with.

Picking up a minor in nutrition seems to clear some of the fog that is my future career, but there is still a lot that is still unknown.  I feel like I’m heading into uncharted waters (although I don’t claim to be unique in my pursuits) know that there is a destination somewhere in the future even though I cannot see it from here.

I’m on fall break this week.  No classes.  It’s a strange feeling.  School has become my main focus and to have a break from that main thing is weird.  I’m sitting in Cafe Ardour in old town Fort Collins enjoying a cup of coffee and reflecting on the past few months.  The transition for me back into school has been slow.  The semester has left me feeling more like a visitor on campus every day and less like an actual student.  But I have my schedule set for next semester and I’m really excited about it.

I mentioned earlier that Lauren and I are watching every film that has won an Academy Award for best picture.  If you want to hear about some of the films we’ve watched you can read Lauren’s impression of them here: Cimarron, Grand Hotel, Cavalcade, It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Great Ziegfeld, and The Life of Emile Zola.  It’s been fun ( and sometimes painful) to watch these old films in order.  Many of these early movies have taken place between 1890-1910, which at the time was only 20-30 of history for them.

I have become very excited about planting next year.  It’s never too early to start thinking about next year.  Soon our mailbox will be filled with seed catalogs and Lauren will find me surrounded with dog-eared catalogs and sketches of the soon-to-be-filled garden beds.  Along with the process of planning for next year comes reflecting on the previous season.  I didn’t take any notes this year.  I debated about taking notes, and decided against it since I wasn’t spending a full year in the garden.  I planted later than would be ideal, and because of that my whole schedule was different.  This year I’ll be able to start more seeds indoors, plant cold hardy veggies in the early spring and plan on growing food to put away for next winter.

I’ve also been thinking about putting together some posts that can offer some insight into the things that are shaping my thoughts about food and farming.  I’ve seen a number of videos that showcase young farmers that greatly inspire me.  I’ve also read a number of articles about our current food structure that scare me.  I’m going to start posting these things to help offer an explanation as to why I’m going to school to study Horticulture and what I hope to do with it.

Well that’s about it for now.

The threat of an overnight frost drove me into the garden this evening.  Frost is Nature’s way of telling the gardener and farmer that it is time to slow down.  The hard work of the season has come to an end.  The growing season is filled with endless tasks to assist, as best as humanly possible, the growth of bountiful crops.  But Frost steps in and brings with him an abrupt end to the season.  With one visitation many of our beloved warm season vegetable crop’s growth, comes to a halt.

Tonight I entered the garden with the expectation of a final harvest.  I meticulously moved my way from plant to plant harvesting what needed to be saved from the impending doom.  I didn’t waste my time with the green beans; they had already given their last few beans last week.  The cucumbers had begun to fade a few weeks ago, but there were still a dozen lemon cukes that I’ve been planning on turing into pickles.  I grabbed the dozen I wanted and left three times that many on the vine.  Those left were either overripe or damage and will meet their end in the compost pile a week from now.  Next came the harvest of onions.  I stooped down to the hard soil (you should stop watering your onions a week or so before you harvest) and dug each onion out by hand.  The onions ended up with quite the range of sizes, from tiny, shallot sizes to huge, softball sizes.  I think of everything grown this year, onions seem to pique my interest the most. Tomatoes and cucumbers-those are what normal people grow in thier gardens.  Onions, however, seemed to be outside of the norm for the average backyard grower.  It’s been amazing to see them go through their growth phases.

After the onions it was on to the peppers.  Small tiny purple beauty, still green “golden bell” and the hot-pepper-looking sweet peppers whose name have escaped me all were harvested.  I’ve heard rumors of people digging up their pepper plants and potting them up to keep them indoors through the winters (most peppers are natural tropical biennials.) but I decided that that might be too much work for me.  Now on to the tomatoes.  I’ve learned countless things this year, but one thing stands out when I’m looking at my tomatoes: give them more room and more support.  I know that’s two things, but the two go so well together.  My tomatoes outgrew their cages and started to sprawl all over.  As I was harvesting the ripe and larger unripe fruit I had to untangle 4-6 ft. tomato branches.  Not next year, if I can remember about this hassle.  I harvest purple “Black Krim” and orange “Hill Billy” and red “Amish paste” and black “Black Cherry” tomatoes ripe and ready to eat as well as their green, yet to be ripened, counterparts.  I have several large green tomatoes that I am excited about turning into “fried green tomatoes.”  I’ll let you guess which cultivar I think would be most appropriate to be eaten fried-it has the initials “H B.”

After I finished harvesting what I wanted I stood back and looked at what was left of the garden that I spent the summer toiling in.  My heart was filled with a great sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in quite some time.  I had crafted this garden plot into an investment of time, resources and emotion, and had harvested ten fold what I put in.  I wish more people could experience this feeling.  I want to help more people experience this feeling.   But now, with the frost quickly approaching, my job is to inspire people to take part in this expeirence whether through digging up thier yard and planting rows of crops or simple filling a pot with some soil and a few seeds.

The harvest has been abundant.

I love the cooler morning temperatures.  I love the warmth of the sun on my face in the morning.  In the middle of the summer, the sun warms the morning temps to 70 degrees Fahrenheit , but now it’s almost 20 degrees cooler in the morning hours.  This morning I grabbed a cup of coffee and a sweatshirt and headed out to the garden.

We have had a strange growing season here in Colorado.  It appears that most begetable growth is a few weeks behind the norm.  There’s several key factors in this:  above average rainy spring, freezing temps in May, several weeks above 90 F. in July with no rain.  All in all, these things remind me how “out-of-my-control” growing vegetables really is.

The past few weeks I have been harvesting beens and cucumbers beyond what Lauren and I could eat ourselves.  Recently the zucchini and summer squash have picked up the pace.  But now, the moment we have all been waiting for, the tomatoes are here.  With in the past two weeks I have picked almost 3 dozen tomatoes from 9 plants.  The most abundent variety is called “Black Plum.”  They have an tall, elongated shape with dark red coloring at the base and deep maroon/black at the shoulders.  The inside is often remarked as looking “rancid.”  I assure you that this isn’t the case.  The inner wall of the fruit has a black shadow to it, and the seeds are almost green.  I can understand the comparison, but I wish there was more of an encouraging way to describe it.  I also have some Amish Paste, Black Krim, Hillbilly, and Costoluto Genovese plants that are slowly turning.  The tomato plant that taunts me is called Bloody Butcher.  It produces small, round fruit (about 2-3 oz.)  If you make an “O” with your hand, the fruit would fit nicely in the empty space. (Ok, be honest.  Who stopped to make the shape with your hand?  You can tell me.)  These plants are taunting me because they overheard me say that they could be in the running for the best tomato I’ve ever tasted.  Since they hear me say that, they have slowed way down in maturing.  They are, how you say, “very sneaky.”

So, there’s a little Garden Update for you.  How are your gardens doing this year?  Do you have a bumper crop of anything?  How about failures?

May your harvest be abundant.

I have a Google Alert set up for a number of phrases: Micro-Farming, Vegetable Garden, Farmers Market, Emergent Church, Missional, and Organic Farming.  Throughout each day Google sends me an email for each Alert with links to news articles and blogs that were written in the past day about each of these topics.  Most of the info I stumble upon because of this service is helpful, however there is quite a bit of information that is poorly thought out and trite.  This is the internet after all.  For the past month or so I’ve become a bit annoyed with some of the “news articles” that come across the wire.  Most of them have this title:

Organic Farming Can’t Feed the World

I’m not really arguing whether or not this is true.  I don’t know whether or not organic farming can feed the world.  What bothers me is that conventional farming (farming using chemical pesticides and herbicides) isn’t feeding the world either.  When this news articles is written is comes across as though conventional farming is doing well to feed the current global population, but it isn’t.  People are still dying because of lack of food.

The truth is that an organic farming does need more land to cultivate the same amount of food as a conventional farm, but there are so many factors that go into that statement that sit below the surface.  Primarily, organic farming believes in building up the soil so that the next season the soil will be healthier than the previous.  This is not a concern with conventional farming.  Aslo, and perhaps the biggest factor, the Western Diet is not sustainable because of the waste associated with it.  Westerner’s throw away an incredible amount of food to support our way of eating.  Rare is it to find someone who saves food from the night before to actually eat in the future.  It is more likely to put some left-overs into a Tupperware only to throw them out in the future.  This is just one example.  If we learned to cook only what we were going to eat.  And buy only what we will eat.  And be conscious of what we are buying.  Not only would our grocery bills go down, but so would are trash piles.  There is another factor in this, too.  We Westerner’s eat more than we need to. Which seems to beg the question:  If we didn’t live on a diet larger than we needed, could organic farming feed the world?

Any thoughts out there?

This morning I filled 15 small, clay post with soil and a few seeds for the Justice Kitchen event next week.  I planted Freckles Romain lettuce (a French heirloom with maroon splotches on the leaves) and “Sparkler” radishes.  The pots will be take home gifts for the people who attend the event as a way to encourage people to grow some food for their selves.  What could be easier and quicker than growing radishes and lettuce?  Both vegetables have quick maturity lengths and do well in containers.  Whether you have acers to plant or a mostly sunny windowsill, these two plants are perfect.

As I filling the pots with soil I was thinking about the purpose that they would serve, and as I started to place the seeds in the soil I found myself say a short prayer for each seed, “May these seeds help us better understand the Kingdom.”  I wasn’t using this prayer as a magical formula or incantation, but I was asking God to use these seeds to draw people closer to the work of the Kingdom of God.  When I watered in the seeds I realized how dependent I am on God’s working where I cannot see.  The next five days these seeds will be germinating below the surface of the soil.  Creation will be at work where I cannot see.

May the harvest be abundant.

“I believe in agriculture,” she said.

Then she paused and nodded her head slowly while letting out a sigh.  Her presentation continued, but I was stuck in that moment.  Her statement was so simple, but it has left a lasting mark on me.  I understood her words to mean that her life has been deeply affected by agriculture.  The pause and nod were a silent reflection of the impact that has been left with her.  Her words struck me so profoundly because I think I am starting to be affected by agriculture in a deep way, too.  I feel as though my journey into agriculture is taking me down a path that is showing me familiar scenery from a different angle.  I am seeing, or perhaps, re-seeing things again in light of my understanding of agriculture.  Words and phrases that I am leaning in the context of agriculture are being applied to non-agrarian aspects of my life.

The biggest intersection has been between gardening and faith.  Words originally associated with gardening have been transplanted into my “Christian” vocabulary.  This certain isn’t unique to me.  My Christian heritage is filled with agrarian language:  The psalmist sings “the Lord is my shepherd.”  Jesus often began his parables by comparing the Kingdom of God to a man who sows seeds.  In contemporary culture  the word “organic” has become a buzzword for many churches.  I recognize that these images and phrases have been a part of my vocabulary for quite some time, but it hasn’t been until my hands were covered with the soil from my garden that I felt like I could really understand these images.

I hope that I will be able to unpack my thoughts clearly.  As I have thought about what to write for this collaboration I realized that I couldn’t/shouldn’t pack all my thoughts into one post.  I expect this post to be like preparing the soil in the bed; it’s the first step in the whole process.  In the coming weeks or months I’d like to cultivate a few ideas regarding the comparisons between gardening and church in three areas: 1. Organic vs. Conventional  2. Local vs. Global  3. Heirloom vs. Hybrid.

For this post I’d like to begin with a quote by Wendell Berry:

“We must learn to see that every problem that concerns us as conservationists always leads straight to the the question of how we live.” (Conservation is Good Work)

I think that it is important to define the word conservation before moving too far forward.  Wikipedia defines conservation as “a political, social and, to some extent, scientific movement that seeks to protect natural resources including plant and animal species as well as their habitat for the future.”  Our contemporary infatuation with sustainability is, at the core, a focus on conservation.  Conservation must attend to the needs of the future.  Conservationists recognize that our actions today affect our opportunities of tomorrow.  We cannot separate our beliefs from our actions.  I see the truth of this quote living itself out in both my understanding of gardening and of faith.

A quote by Joel Salatin:

“You know what the best kind of organic certification would be?  Make an unannounced visit to a farm and take a good long look at the farmer’s bookshelf.  Because what you’re feeding your emotions and thoughts is wht this is really all about.  The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview.  You can learn more about that by seeing what’s sitting on my bookshelf then having me fill our a whole buch of forms.”

After I read this quote I went to look at my bookshelf to ask the question, “What do these books say about me?”  I haven’t been able to figure out what they say, so if anyone wants to come over and take a look let me know.  But I do agree that my worldview is shaped by the things that I read.  As I have started to buy books about gardening I have been conscious about what the books are really saying.  Beneath the surface of planting instructions you will see the worldview of the authors.  Is the author promoting actions that encourage sustainability or are they giving easy answers encouraging a regular pesticide used?  Does the author encourage the reader to look at long term plans about crop rotations?  When I look at the theological books that I have I ask the same questions.  Does the author offer a quick solution to the problems I’m facing or is there encouragement to look beyond the immediate to understand what’s going on.  Does the author recognize the seasonal cycles of growth that we go through?

My decision to tend a vegetable garden has affected most areas of my life.  It has caused me to look at the things that I had been throwing into the trash, which I now add to the compost pile, and seeing that I don’t need to be producing that much waste.  It has helped me slow down.  I am starting to see the purpose of growing vegetables is more than just recieving the harvest.  The purpose is in the harvest as much as in the planting and as much as in weeding.  I see this change of thinking in my understanding of my faith also.  I believe that the purpose of Christianity is not simply to get “butts into Heaven,” but rather about the journey with GOD.

I feel as though I’m trailing off in my thoughts.  I appologize if this is incoherent.  I hope to take some better time to work on the next three posts.

Here’s a few quotes from Mr. Berry:

“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?”

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility.  To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

And here is my most favorite poem from him:

Peace of the Wild Things
“When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
or grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Wake up at 6am and actually feel rested.
Wash the dishes and clean the kitchen a bit.
Turn the sprinkler on in the front yard and watch the water fan back and forth.
Contemplate baking Zucchini Muffins.
Start thinking of a weekly menu for the week and items to buy from the farmers market.
Weed and meditate in the vegetable garden before it got too hot.
Enjoy a cup of coffee on the back patio while listening to the roosters.
Write a short blog post about reasons I enjoy early mornings.


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