Notes from Windward: #64

The Gardening Department

      Community is never sweeter than when folks sit down to share a meal grown through their common effort, and is there anything more grand than planting a seed, nurturing it as it grows, and then harvesting fresh, wholesome food for your own table?

      Serious gardening takes dedication, preparation and follow through, but the rewards are commensurate with the demands. Gardening is about life; it's about bringing forth life, and sustaining life.

      Over the years we've established a series of garden areas, and used the "output" of our animal husbandry work to build up the fertility of the soil in these proto-gardens, a process made all the easier by adopting the traditional practice of over-wintering the sheep in the garden itself.

      We're not talking about the person who's satisfied with growing a few tomato plants in a container, or putting in a some rose bushes around their patio. Rather, we're talking about someone who delights in growing bushels of tomatoes and potatos enough to fill a root cellar. It takes a lot of food to feed twenty people for a year, and while we don't look to make a fetish out of only eating food that we've grown ourselves, we do want to take as great a degree of control over our food supply as is practical.

      There's an old saying that observes that the best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow. Over time, the best gardener is the one who is consistently in the garden paying attention to detail. For such a person, the health and well-being of the garden isn't an idle or occassional interest. That level of enduring interest isn't something which can be replaced with the latest machine, or a wheel-barrow load of chemicals, or an automated sprinkler system.

      Traditionally, the person who's really serious about gardening ends up with have to find enough folks to give all that food to since it's just too good to let go to waste. The classic example is the avid gardener desperately trying to find yet another person willing to take an arm-load of zuchinni.

      Here, there's no such thing as too much zuchinni. As soon as a surplus accululates in the fridge, we have a marvelous recipe for zuchinni pickles that never fails to please. While not everyone here likes to garden, everyone does like to eat, so when garden products start to pile up, it's time gather up a crew and store the food away. A task that's too much for one is easily disposed of by the many.

      Folks commonly say that it's no fun to cook for one, and not much better to cook for just two. It's the same way with gardening. On the other hand, growing food for a dozen people involves way more work than one person is going to want to do, and everything we do here is intended to function at the "this is a joy" level instead of devolving to the level of "this is a job."

      Windward is designed to work the middle ground between those two extremes. An avid gardener can take up their art here because we already have heavily fenced garden plots which have had their fertility built up over the years. Lots of seeds can be sewn because we have the heavy-duty roto-tiller to prepare the beds. They can start their seedlings early because we've built a propagation greenhouse. The garden can remain relatively bug free because we have a flock of ducks that live for the pleasure of hunting down the little buggers. Long runs of potatos can be planted secure in the knowledge that there's a crew standing by that's very interested in seeing that the tubers are dug up and stowed away in the root cellar.

      In this, as in so many other areas, Windward is this simultaneos mix of doing things pretty much on your own, and at the same time, having back up when it's needed.

      While a community can go through a considerable amount of zuchinni, there does come a point when even our avid appetite is overwhelmed. That's where marketing comes in. While Department heads aren't as involved with the public as a Chair would be, everything we do here touches on some aspect of education and serving the larger community of which we are a part. Sometimes that involves serving them zuchinni :-)

      We live in an age where appearances often count for more than any other quality. That's sad, and perhaps the worst manifestation of that is the way a large portion of our nation's food supply is discarded for cosmetic reasons. Some zuchinni will grow with a twist, some bell peppers will be miss-shapened, just as some tomatoes will be blemished, and while those "defects" will make them all-but-unmarketable, it's amazing how irrelevant those "defects" are once the produce has been made into salsa, or pickles or any of the other nourishing and tasty food we store away.

      Out of any given harvest, some of the produce will be premium, some will be just fine for the kitchen and some will make the critters very happy. The trick is to grow enough so that the middle tier meets the kitchen's needs.

      Lots of people are realizing that buying locally grown products is good for them and good for their local community. Each year, more Farmer's Markets open up in an effort to bring local consumers and local producers together. Given the realities of the market place, it makes sense to sell the portion of our garden production which is picture perfect and will bring a premium price, to trade a portion of it to other producers in exchange for things we don't produce, and if we can't do either to our advantage, well, then we can always bring the premium produce home and eat it ourselves.

      Any person who wants gardening to be their primary activity needs to be self-reliant and able to live frugally. They also need to have a supportive environment in which they can carry out the long-term planning which lies at the heart of sustainability. Windward is that sort of place.

      Such a person also needs a support network of people who will help with tasks that would otherwise overload a single person, as well as access to tools as well as the tools needed to maintain those tools. Furthermore, since gardening is always a gamble, they'll need an opportunity to diversify their income stream so that when doors open and doors close, as they always do in the marketplace, one isn't left out in the cold. Windward is that sort of place, too.

      Over the years, as we've carved a home out of scrub oak and hilly clay, we've been preparing the gardens and building the outbuildings needed. We've planted the seed, now all we need is the right person to make it bloom.


For a discussion of Windward's Animal Husbandry Department, Click Here

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64