Let The Chard

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Let the weeds in their season,

and let the wildness in its time.

Let lostness,

and let wandering

and waste.

And then let it not:

let fire

and let burning,

let the destroying of every extraneous thing.

Let the wheat.

                                                                               ~ Jan Richardson

Kneeling in wet dirt, I relish the slide of grass roots from around the onions, the soil caking my fingers. Stella flits about, newly four, cheering the vegetables and announcing her birthday to the chickens. If we tend it, this plot between the barn and the road will feed us all year.

This field-turned-garden lies just beyond our kitchen window, so we can watch it grow as we wash the dishes. We tell ourselves to focus here, close to the house, this year. We rein our impatience to tackle everything. The limits of time, money, and continued occupation by the previous owner support our self-restraint. We feel ready though, for dramatic transformation.

The Garden: August 2014


For the past six months since we bought this place, I have repeated this mantra: Let the weeds.

I have glazed my eyes across armpit-high burdock, looking towards the hills. I’ve inhaled full breaths as I passed rust-eaten trucks, then exhaled slowly. Let the weeds.

I watched the lean-to fall off the barely-sided barn, and hoped the barn didn’t follow. I’ve muttered at the rubble piles and stacks of junk that, even now, move too slowly off the property. Let the weeds. Let wandering and waste. In their season.

And then let it not. One evening, I stomped around the junk trucks, filling their wrecked bodies with expletives. I slammed my boot into one blue fender, another dislodged tire, an echoing side panel. I made a dent in none of it. I wanted to beat it back the way I can trim bushes, dig out burdock, mow tall grass. Get out of here, I growled. Just sitting there, the junk seemed aggressive, oppressive.

Then I turned my back on it. Again, breathing. The golden light pooled in the distant valley. Bobolinks danced on the hay-flowered hill. Andrew pushed the wheelbarrow—full of our kids—around the corner of the barn.

In so many ways, we have moved forward, beyond lostness, into the next season. We have elbowed back weeds so the kids have a grassy area for barefoot somersaults. There are fruit trees and curved new beds across the backyard, sprouting basil and squashes. In the garden, 16 varieties of tomatoes survived a late frost, and the potato patch looks plush. Corn, beans, cucumbers, onions, eggplant, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, sugar snap peas—it’s growing encouragingly.

Our first taste of this farm is the bright lights chard. Yellow, red, and purplish stalks holding the deep green leaves trigger a gasp of delight from Stella, bending over them beside me. Her birthday ladybug wings wave gently as she straightens, then traipses confidently down the row away from me, deeper into the garden.

“Mom,” she calls over her shoulder, “Come over here. The weeds are winning.”

“You’re right, Stella,” I laugh. “But not for long. I’m coming!”

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Kitchen Chickens

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“They just had to kill, like five million chickens, man. Eggs just doubled in price,” the guys behind the local coffeeshop counter are college students in the culinary arts program. Their breakfast menu features various omelets and egg sandwiches.

Influenza H5N2 has been breaking like waves across Minnesota, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Iowa. It sends ripples into our Upstate New York village. The current USDA numbers show over 47 million chickens and turkeys affected in the past six months. No humans have gotten sick, but I can only imagine the farmers’ suffering and the pending egg shortages.

Since May, our kitchen held a bunch of chickens. Forty meat birds arrived on the heels of our twenty-six bird, egg-laying flock, as they transitioned to life outdoors. Before they moved outdoors, our layers had become proficient at perching on the brooder’s edge, regularly peeking at me during breakfast. They sometimes hopped out onto the kitchen floor.

2015-05-11 01.08.30As I leaned into the brooder, replacing wood shavings to keep things as clean as possible, I wondered about birds and food and people and disease. Our meat and eggs will be exceedingly local, raised a few feet from the table where we’ll eat them. Our flock is a speck, compared with the Midwest’s commercial flocks, tens of thousands of birds. Do these facts secure our food? Are we exempt from disease?

These days, when it comes to food, we aren’t any kind of –vore or –tarian. We make gestures toward kinder, closer, fewer chemicals, less fossil fuel, but still shop at the grocery store. We make friends with our food, talking to the rainbow-colored chard and stroking the chickens. This is privilege. It’s also dirty hard work.

We won’t always 2015-05-11 01.18.40have kitchen chickens. We can raise future chicks in the barn, when the junk filling it is gone. For our adult chickens, we build chicken tractors and use electronet fencing, trying to protect them while offering fresh air and new ground for scratching every day.

When I kneel beside the open chicken tractor door, a couple of my favorite young laying hens come running and jump in my lap. We pet them and name them. I have to tear myself away from their intricate feather patterns and curious behaviors to go mow or weed. I carefully latch the door, hoping that I’m keeping them safe.

In reality, our chickens might not dodge H5N2, if it travels our way. Perhaps, though, other flocks in our community could stay healthy. Perhaps smaller, more local, more diversified agriculture will help to secure our food. We can hope.