Many of my perceptions and understanding about farming and growing things have changed dramatically since I started my apprenticeship at EarthDance Farms. Trying to list them would be difficult because they morph into each other. One way to capstone this would be to focus on observation.
My childhood experience of observing would be to note when the plants needed watering, weeding, harvesting and removal. I learned what a mature green bean, eggplant, tomato or strawberry looked like and became adept at harvesting. Weeding, while it took understanding of what was/was not a weed, was a simple yet constant task in our farm garden. Overripe fruit was always a treat to find, especially if a sibling or shed was nearby to receive a rotten tomato or cucumber boat.
We would observe our auntie’s gardens too, if we choose to go on the Sunday strolls through on them on their farms. I would usually start off with the tour but rarely made it to the end, unless it was fall and we’d end up in the apple orchard.
But that was the extent of my observing. Perhaps it was my age but I am convinced it was more the setting.
At EarthDance Farms these past four months, I’ve been taught how to observe many things. Flight paths of the honey bees, chickens that are ramming into the electric fence, beans falling over because of their proximity to the green house fans, just to name a few!
Monica’s gift of observation and ability to teach us how to observe has affected how each of us engages with our fieldwork. We don’t grab a bug that we find crawling across the zucchini leaf but we first observe. We decide what kind of bug it is in order to figure out if it is harmful or beneficial to the plant. If we don’t know what kind of bug it is, we ask snap a shot of it on our iPhones and google the image to see if we can learn more about it. If it’s a new bug we are unfamiliar with, they we observe it to see what we can learn.
Observe her cherry tomato fashion statement.
When we all were getting stung by our farm bees for several weeks, Monica observed that it was the probably because of the new constructed high tunnel. It was in the way of the bees’ flight pattern to/from their hives and they were confused.
One day, when I was harvesting kale with another Farmy, Steven, we noticed there was a chicken outside of the fence. Another Farmy, Daikon Dave, picked up the chicken and returned to inside the fence. As we watched the chicken join up with the brood, we noticed that other chickens started ramming the fence from the inside trying to get out. It was such odd behavior. So, of course, we went to Monica. She observed the chickens for a bit, looked around and thought aloud, which I appreciate a lot! Monica noted that on this particular day on the farm, there was a road being constructed through the farm. There was a dump truck and a bobcat making all sorts of noises…loud ones. While we were not affected by this commotion, evidently the chickens were. Monica believed that they were trying to get away from the noises that were less than 50’ from their coop and fence. AMAZING!
Then there's the green beans. They were growing well, beginning to size up and then suddenly all of the plants were lying down, looking like something had knocked them over. Indeed it had. Monica observed that the green house fans had kicked in during the hot spell we were experiencing. The fans were blowing air out of the green house into guess where? The green bean paddock, so the beans were blown over by the green house exhaust fans.
I’ll conclude with a quote from one of my favorite farmers, Wendell Berry and a fabulous fennel for you to observe.
If we represent knowledge as a tree, we know that things that are divided are yet connected. We know that to observe the divisions and ignore the connections is to destroy the tree.