The following post was originally written by me, Joanna, three years ago as Brian and I apprenticed at Two Bear Farm in Whitefish, Montana. It has been edited and updated to reflect our current situation. A more poetic approach to keeping you updated with our goings-on, this post aims to give you an idea of both seasonally available vegetables and our appreciation for healthy farm bodies....
Farming, while manipulative, is one of the most intimate ways to interact with Mother Earth. When I dig my hands into damp soil, situate a young plant neatly in the fresh divot, nurture the plant with nutrients and water – giving it adequate space and limiting its competition – and then harvest a leaf or a fruit or a root to nourish my own body, there is a spiritual and cyclical connection between me and the Mother. When I use sustainable practices, making sure to replenish the soil with nutrients and organic matter, and refuse to spread toxic chemicals on the ground, I am taking care of my Mother and she is taking care of me. This timeless relationship, evolving with the changing seasons, brings light to the reflections of the farm’s body in my body – a precious hallmark of the farmer.
Over the course of a year, my body will reflect the foods available in the field, as well as the bio-activity happening in the layers of soil. My muscles will mimic the intensity of the work to be done. My skin will morph to match the weathering of the ground, and my enthusiasm will mirror the brightness of the sun. At times when I will need the most energy, the Mother will provide me with the most food; and at times when I will be desperate for recovery, the Mother will go to rest and remain fallow until I am ready to work again.
Spring: The time to prepare.
Stretching my limbs after a long, cold Winter, I can feel the thickness in my blood. Trapped under a layer of snow, I mimicked the farm’s sedentary state; I was physically more stagnant, heavy, quiet. Now that Spring seems to have sprung and the snow is finally gone, I can feel the thickness moving out of my body. The workload continues to ramp up each week, the days are becoming longer, seedlings are bursting out of the potting soil, and the call of the chickadee fills the air. With projects put into motion at the farm, I am discovering new muscles and the familiar layer of dirt under my fingernails.
The soil is becoming more active by the hour; the bugs are waking from dormancy, and the cover crop we spread last fall is finding enough sunlight to grow proudly in the field. Reflecting this awakening, my body is finding fresh energy each morning. I feel excited and eager when I get out of bed, ready to conquer the task list for the day.
To help push out the thickness and invite new energy, Mother Nature will provide greens in the early spring. In a few short weeks, we will have crisp and leafy spinach, salad mix, and radishes ready to be eaten. Strawberries, scallions, and baby bok choi will hydrate my body and flush winter’s toxins away. My joints will loosen, my muscles will become lean, and my skin will prepare for Summer’s heat.
Summer: The time to work.
Summer is the height of the season. A farmer’s job is to try her best to keep up with the endless list of chores and surprises. The days will be long, the pests will be ruthless – but the food will be abundant and progressively more energetic. The soil will be a monstrous organism operating at full capacity. Crops and weeds will grow at astonishing rates during the heat of the day and the demand for water will be at an all-time high.
My body will reflect this: with the thickness of winter gone, my muscles will have room to grow, strengthened by the long days of labor and constant flow of food from the ground to my mouth. My skin will be callused in all the right places and tanned to protect that which the sunscreen cannot. My energy levels will burn as hot as the sun and be as dependent on water as the plants.
To keep up with the physical demands of summer on the farm, Mother Nature will not disappoint. Summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants…collards, carrots, peas, cabbage, sweet onions, melons, peaches, and all the greens of spring will be fresh and rapidly available. These foods are dense, full of an array of nutrients, and cook-able in countless ways. The copious proteins and fibers will be the building blocks for my tightening muscles and the fuel for my constantly moving body.
Autumn: The time to celebrate.
While Autumn will continue to be busy, the farm will be a well-oiled machine – all bodies will be working in harmony and plants will reach their peak after the long haul of Summer. The mornings will feel slower and the nights will require a heavier jacket. Hardly anything new will be planted and the promise of root vegetables will be realized. All the veg of Summer will still be available and it is time to celebrate the work of the farmer and her Mother. There will be more food than my body could ever consume, so the necessity to share and commune with friends and family will become obvious – and there will be time to do so!
My blood will be thick with nutrients and my muscles will welcome the celebratory cushion of fat as it prepares for Winter. My skin will shed the heat and hardness of summer as I spend more time inside baking winter squash and beets, roasting corn and shallots, steaming green beans, turnips, and celery root. The remnants of fresh greens will be on the table alongside the root vegetables meant to last through the winter – a true cornucopia. I will be busy canning and preserving the final fruits of Summer to make winter more bearable. My body will be stocking up, inviting the thickness of Winter to return, basking in the abundance of the season.
Winter: The time to rest.
The cold will creep in and the days will be shorter. Snow will fall upon the fields and everything will go to sleep. Some kale may survive the brisk nights, but like the body, it will not grow with much energy. My skin will pale and my body will be much more still than the previous months. While the thickness is irritating to my personal body image, it is healing. It will cloak my tendons and joints, soften my muscles, and weigh down my eyelids. My body will have time to repair that which needs repairing and remind me that rest is vital to a successful future. This time of hibernation echoes the needs of the farm: resting soil is healthy soil; amended soil is energetic and ready to give life in the coming Spring.
Mother Nature provides the densest and fattiest foods for this time in the cycle. Potatoes and squash, storage onions and cabbage, kale, garlic, and nuts – these are the foods with all the energy of summer and autumn wrapped in protective layers to nourish the body through the long nights. These foods will keep the cold from penetrating my bones and will force me to be still. With a limited food supply and time to let the mind wander, winter will be mentally challenging. It becomes the job of the farmer to transform restlessness into contemplation and reflection on the abundance of the previous year – allowing time to make resolutions, detail plans, and gather strength for the year ahead.
Brian has always said he truly appreciates the farm body because it is as strong as it needs to be. The farm body is never more than is necessary – to keep a farmer humble and honest – and is never lacking in necessity – to keep a farmer capable and productive. I love my farm body. I love the way it reflects Mother Earth and directly connects me with the nutrients I put in it. This beautiful, mutually beneficial relationship will last a lifetime and will teach me to love my body, love the Earth, and pay great attention to the ever-changing cycle of seasons.