Sunday, March 8, 2009


Farming, like most avocations, is a culture as well as a job. Each type and scale of farming is a subset of this culture, with certain traditions and "rules" of behavior. Many of these traditions are directly related with the cycles of the year.

Yesterday, we held the first of this spring's 5 Sierra Nevada Small Farm Progress Days. It was a vineyard field day at Vina Castellano in Auburn - a beautiful setting. One of the instructors, Glenn McGourty (who is a farm advisory from Mendocino County), talked about the culture of growing winegrapes. As he was showing us about pruning grapevines, he talked about the annual cycle of production. Most of us who farm are worn out, both mentally and physically, by autumn. Come spring-time, however, we're rejuvenated. He talked about the shared work of pruning being a time of renewal. On the small-scale "peasant" vineyards of Europe, pruning is a time that neighbors work together and look forward to the coming year.

Last night, I thought about how this translates to our farm. By fall, I am also exhausted. A summer of irrigating pastures, moving sheep and going to 3-4 farmer's markets each week takes its toll. By the time the short days and long nights of winter approach, I'm ready for a rest. My friend Dina Moore, who ranches on the north coast, talks of looking forward to winter because the shorter days force her to rest.

Now that the days are growing longer again, I also find myself re-charged. Lambing is certainly a time of renewal for me. Working with interns this spring as added the element of community work this year - I find it wonderful to be able to share the work with others (not just to make my life easier, but to share the sense of renewal). On our farm, the big job that involves many hands (and many friends) is shearing. We'll shear the ewes in late April or early May, which will be an all-day project. It will involve our contract shearer, Derek, as well as a number of friends who will help sort the sheep and store the wool. It will be a long, sweaty day, but it will also be incredibly satisfying!

All of us are so busy with modern life that it's difficult to find time to work together. However, I find shared work to be incredibly enjoyable.

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