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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food for the World

Well, maybe not the entire world, but we are certainly providing veggies to a lot of Nashvillians!

This article in today's Tennessean is about EricTheFarmer and the Bells Bend cooperative's donations--1500 pounds of squash and cucumbers to Second Harvest last week, plus a weekly give-away at a Jefferson Street church, and donations to a number of other organizations.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baby Farmers

These baby Smiths' great-grandaddy Lawrence has been our "cowman" for many years, buying, selling, hauling in and out, and generally tending to the needs of our little herd. His detailed memory is simultaneously remarkable and inscrutable: "That little red heifer with the white tail and foot, you know, bought her a couple of years ago. Pregnant, had that big black calf, and the little one with the foot that wasn't quite right, sold them so she's paid for. Think I'll take her down Tuesday, prices looking good, maybe can find a couple a yearlings, not gonna calve this year. " We've done ok just taking his word for it.

Miss Nancy, his wife, was the crossing guard down at Wade School in Scottsboro for about 35 years, and is known around our house for her great good humor and those squash pickles. Miss Nancy called one afternoon many years ago, commenting on the blistering weather, and asked if her friends could come swimming. They came--about five ladies in dresses and pantyhose--and jumped fully-clad, panty-hose and all, laughing hysterically, into the pool. Pretty wild bunch.

Lawrence told me that he had never lived more than 5 miles from our place his whole life. His daddy was a sharecropper--the family even lived up in our own holler for a while.

Farm maintenance--and our survival!-- has only been possible these many years because Lawrence and his clan were out here. And, I must say, they have had the cutest grandbabies and now great-grandbabies I've ever seen. A couple of the Smith granddaughters were excellent bushhoggers in their day--could put a tractor across our pastures as well as anybody.

Farmer's House/Cabin/Cute Box/Excuse for Porch

Our little house-let where EricTheFarmer resides, along with a clan of brown recluse spiders (let the warfare begin!), and, last time I looked, about eighteen bushels of cukes and six or eight of squash.

With the A/C cranked up, the cabin has been pulled into occasional service as our walk-in cooler.

The big side porch (no, you can't look) seems to effortlessly be creating chairs, old sneakers, bugspray cans, towels, and music in its afterhours job as communal center for the farm crew. Clearly a parallel universe.


That's really his name. As far as we know.

Some of our farmers

Eric, Evan, Amelia, and EricTheFarmer

Pictures! Today is CSA Pickup Day

Maybe I shouldn't even be blogging, given age, occupations, and current lack of ability to provide blogable pix. But Montana, our effervescent WWOOFer (i.e. farm intern) has fixed at least the pix-lack.

In return, I taught her a permanently useful life skill: how to set up a double sink to wash a large batch of dishes with relative efficiency.

Again, we tribe are all about mutual: here with knowledge, skill (however you might snicker at dishwashing as a skill--wait until you see someone who hasn't got it), food, work, care, entertainment.

Anyway, thanks, Montana, wherever you are.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Farm Party

Farm party. Or something.

Sandor Katz talking about fermentation--sauerkraut in all its many varieties and forms. Kefir. Yogurt. Instead of the 15 people we anticipated, we had 50. Or 60. More trickling in for the farm tour.

And then food--India and Brooke made three gigantic batches of squash casserole, and the biggest apple crisp I've ever seen. And more. Two beer kegs. Music: song, fiddle, sax, dobro, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, in endless configurations on porches front and back, and around the bonfire.

Great kids who (mostly) cleaned up the vast quantities of pots, bowls, and plates. Only one popularly acclaimed bad-behavior-never-to-return. And he was an old guy, more my age.

In the early light of dawn, person on couch I didn't know. The person. I am quite familiar with the couch. Though perhaps we should suggest BYOC next time. Bring your own couch. If there is a next time.

All we wanted was a garden. What we got was a tribe. Everyone should have one.


Six kinds of tomatoes (DiAnne's, not for CSA, this year, at least):

Aunt Ruby's German green, Dr. Wyche's yellow, Black Krem, German Johnson, a Bradley variety, and a German yellow.

Heaven hath no secrets beyond the smells and tastes of a Tennessee garden in July. OK, that's a bit hyperbolic. But not much.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Real Business of Bells Bend

What in the world are us Bells-Benders (that sounds like an undiscovered species of newt, doesn’t it?) doing, now that, along with Maytown, council meetings, letters, phone-call marathons and policy papers are—at least temporarily-- a thing of the past? Lying on our laurels like lizards in the sun? Attractive though that sounds, no. The Bend is a busy place these days.

The biggest thing going on is the glimmer of a start of a beginning of a return to farming in the Bend. We’ve always had cows, sodfarms, big turnip fields, and several dozen of the best-looking backyard gardens in Nashville, but seventy years ago there were 8 dairy farms out here, sorghum, and a wide variety of other crops. This year two young men, raised in Scottsboro, are back after college to start new farms.

It’s hard to preserve a cynical newsblogger face about this: I come home every day to a lush truck farm in our front pasture with young folks all sweaty and laughing out there, picking cukes (we have slicers and picklers), squash, and celery. We cook dinner—maybe our own potatoes, roasted and tossed in our own garlic—well, the garlic really comes from Millwant’s farm up the road—and mint, our own basil for pesto, our own squash in someone’s grandmother’s casserole recipe, and our own tomato-cucumber salad.

Usually there are ten to fifteen around the table in our backyard pavilion, known as the Church of Outdoor Dining, including Dan and Evan (Chicago), Montana (that’s really her name, and she’s from Pennsylvania), the Lauras (Reston, Virginia), Nate (Minnesota), Buddy (Oak Ridge), and Nashville’s own Sabina, Amelia, Ian, Sule, and more.

These young folks are here to learn something about farming at Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms, a cooperative project involving, so far, four landowners and advice, assistance and counsel from many more, with EricTheFarmer managing and coordinating the troops.

More than thirty families so far have bought farm shares, and collect their baskets of produce each week. Yesterday’s pickup at Sulphur Creek Farm featured a beautiful display—two kinds of potatoes, cukes, squash (pattypans, yellow, and zucchini), chard, beets (have you priced fresh beets lately?), green onions, garlic, sage, basil, rosemary, parsley, plus Julia’s eggs and DiAnne’s spunky zinnia bouquets. (There’s iced mint tea and chairs in the shade, too.)

We’ve just started selling at the farmers markets downtown and in East Nashville, and started a weekly food giveaway at a church on Jefferson Street. Bushels of squash have gone to Second Harvest, and some of our workers are cooking for Food Not Bombs, which feeds people downtown every Sunday. EricTheFarmer calculates that so far we have harvested and eaten, sold, or given away more than 2000 pounds of squash alone!

Dennis, from up on Bull Run Road, has two hives of bees on our front lawn, so eventually we’ll have honey, too. And we’ve delivered two trailerloads of bamboo forage to the elephants at the zoo.

Last night the Community Club—one of the few remaining in the county—fed our volunteers dinner, and other neighbors are pitching in with food and beds. The Community Club, by the way, has scheduled its legendary fall barbecue for September 5. Mark your calendars. Come early, and pull barbecue, or late, and wash pots and pans.

We’ve had workshops on bamboo, biodynamic gardening, and one coming up on fermentation. (Don’t call the revenuers—think sauerkraut, not hooch.) We’re talking about doing some canning and pickling—Miss Nancy left her squash pickle recipe on my kitchen counter last week. (Never one to take undeserved credit, Miss Nancy says it’s really Emma Byrd’s recipe, and carefully noted that fact on my hand-written copy.) This heavenly combo is the about the only thing—other than caramel cakes from one of Tom’s patients—that our family actually begs for, otherwise keeping to the better manners of silent hope with regards to gifts of food.

A couple of weeks ago I remarked to Jeff Poppen, the Barefoot Farmer and our gardening consultant, that George’s Bells Bend potatoes were a surprise, crisp and crunchy like good apples. He just laughed, and said simply “Well, they’re alive, really alive”.

That’s just it. This place is alive, really alive. Our baby girl, home from college, looked around and said “I see you’re suffering from overfull-nest syndrome!” . But it’s not just us. This is a neighborhood vibrant with particular knowledge, about bees and barbecue and canning and computers and tractor repair. It’s not about nostalgia. It’s about what we need right now, in 2009, in a world roiling with war, starvation, unemployment, anger, and soundbite politics—independent hardworking people pitching in for the common good. Maybe that’s Bells Bend’s best crop, produced in selfish civic hard times—citizens.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

CSA. And the ineffable More.

We're getting the CSA thing down pat. More or less. Anyhow, we are happy, and our members seem to be happy--when I come up the driveway at the end of pickup time there are always folks standing around in the shade of the blue canopy just talking. Talking about eggs, celery soup, fences, the mayor, our kids, their kids.

And then, dinner. Brook might be up in the kitchen just putting squash casserole--her grandmother's recipe--into the oven, DiAnne doing parsley'd potatoes, and Sabina chopping parsley.

Usually we have about 15 gathered around the copper tables in the Church of Outdoor Dining, and somehow there is always enough. Enough dirty dishes, too!

I always end up meditating on--well, not exactly meditating, but considering, then re-considering--the idea of abundance, that, at least some of the time, we are in the thick of glory, surrounded by light, glowing through leaves and saffron squash blossoms, flavor, friends, good sweet dirt, lightning bugs glittering in the dusk, and, as I head up to bed, what sounds like the breath of summer, the kids playing guitars and harmonicas on EricTheFarmer's front porch.

This whole farm idea is crazy for a couple of old docs looking at retirement. But it's a crazy that keeps on giving.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Maytown Nixed

I’ll spare you the suspense: Nashville won! The Planning Commission voted against Maytown zoning last night at 10:45. (Now last Thursday night at 10:45).

It was an unbelievable scene: dozens of citizens sitting silently for six and a half hours, listening carefully to last night’s Planning Commission hearing, the last of the Maytown debates. And our volunteer Planning Commission, heroically and politely paying attention. I’d like to send them all roses, but a sixpack of Red Bull would probably be more welcome.

We actually learned something new: the Maytown site lies directly under the approaches to John Tune airport, and, as we heard from an experienced pilot, there will be noise complaints. (Tony G. has also been admonished in a letter from airport authorities dated weeks ago that he should mention this in all presentations to the public. Well, he’s been busy. Maybe he doesn’t read his mail.)

But the most riveting thing was the Commission debate. As best I could tell, Maytown’s main attraction was that it is Bold! and Audacious! I would have felt better about the votes for the project if those commissioners had been convinced it was Sustainable! or Will Attract Rich Executives Who Want to Drive by Prisons and Don’t Mind the Drone of Airplanes!
The potential for destruction of adjoining neighborhoods, the opposition of the corresponding council members, the low odds for success, the effect on downtown and other business areas, the likelihood of domino development through the rest of the Bend—none of this seemed to matter much. Maytown was the Bold! and Audacious! plan that would protect Nashville from sprawling suburban development in the Bend, though generally businessmen only put suburbs on cheap land, and the Mays have priced themselves pretty much out of that option.

Nitpicking aside, we saw some very thoughtful struggles with the contradictions of putting intense development in a cowpasture, reality wrestling with wishful thinking, and we heard some quiet but well-informed oratory on Nashville’s future, fairness to existing commercial property owners, and the need to slow down and consider the Third Vision—neither suburban lots or highrise condos, but incremental change in an agricultural and rural area.

And we thought we had lost! The Commission refused to vote the plan down in the first vote, but then did not vote it through in the second. Yep, we had a hard time figuring it out too. My neighbor Kathleen couldn’t stand the suspense, thought we had lost, and was driving home in tears when she got the phone call to join the mad throng at our house for an endless series of toasts and analysis. I finally went upstairs at 2, to restless but contented dreams fueled by the sound of song and laughter.

Now I want to do something Bold! and Audacious! Like take a nap.

Shameful Lapse

Have we been away? Only in a metaphorical sense--away in the echoing halls of political machination. This whole Maytown proposal--remember the giant city-in-a-pasture?--has become an obsession, entertainment, gossip, and source for endless self-righteous indignation and activism.

But we won! Not that it won't be back in perverse permutations again and again. I am going to post my victory column separately.

Meanwhile, sadly unchronicled, Sulphur Creek Farm has prospered mightily. EricTheFarmer has been organizing our volunteers-- Dan and Evan from Chicago, the two Lauras from the Reston area, and Buddy, our Knoxvillian, plus locals Ian, Amelia, Sabina, Sule', and some I've left out--through weeding, harvesting, and CSA pickups.

Tomato cages are filling up with spiky leaves--maybe tomatoes (of the "fried green" variety) available as soon as next week.

Another bamboo harvest plus Buddy's nice eye for a straight row, and we have the geometries of bean trellis marching all the way down to George's corn patch. (Which doesn't look so good this year. More compost.)

Speaking of which, the third compost pile from the left in the right-hand pasture sported three speckled brown killdeer eggs in what is euphemistically called a nest. I've seen the mother bird many times in this spot, so have reason to hope that the triplets are scuttling around the pasture in good health.