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Eight months is a long time. The apprentices are gone, scattered to both coasts, leaving behind one lone flip-flop, lying forgotten on the driveway. The sheep and a bunch of the birds have been butchered and packed away in the freezer for winter meals–our friend Judith Weinstock cooked three of the stewing hens in a delicious soup a couple of days ago for our weekly Wise Acres dinner. (You can see more about these dinners and Wise Acres at our May 10 post “Dinner for 40”)

We are moving into what one of our icons, Eliot Coleman, refers to as “the Persephone days.” In Greek myth, Persephone was the lovely daughter of Demeter and Zeus, spirited away to the underworld by Hades while picking flowers, not to re-emerge until spring. In her absence, the earth became a dark and barren place. Her return brought back sunshine and new life.

Rebecca chose Persephone for her farm’s name nearly two decades ago, an especially apt  name for a farm operated by two women. In addition to the sign hanging by the gate, one of the first things visitors see as they round the bend at the top of the driveway is a mural of the Persephone myth on the side of the washing shed. It was drawn several years ago by Thom, an Israeli woman who stopped off here for a couple of months during a world tour of visiting farms as part the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WOOF) program.

Thom's mural

We’ve been especially fond  of Thom’s work and never more so than at this time of year, when the days grow dark and the mid-afternoon shadows of the now-leafless maples stretch across the pastures. It reminds us of the other half of the myth–the spring part–when things will come back to life again.

For now though, Louisa and Rebecca putter around the gardens tidying up loose ends, spreading mulches of fallen leaves on the garlic and leeks and digging up the remaining potatoes and onions for the winter CSA. We’ll be shoveling out the chicken run soon to make way for the new flock of laying hens and making sure there is enough gas to keep the generator going if the winter storms everyone is predicting, arrive.

It’s quieter these days down by the gate with the geese and hens gone and the swallows off somewhere in Central America. Some of the turkeys are still around and they let loose with a chorus of gobbles when provoked–it is always amusing to see perfect strangers outside the fence gobbling away to get the chorus started. But they tend to hang back especially since the pre-Thanksgiving culling of the flock.

We miss Mongo too. We watched him drive off in the back seat of the van our apprentice Mondrian and her friend Terry are driving back to the east coast for a couple of months r&r. We kind of got to like him, although he never really figured out the whole manners thing. His departure couldn’t come soon enough for the cats, Selmo and Oberon, who never did get along with that dog and are now slowly reclaming their territory down in the yurt meadow. 

Greg and Caitlin, two more of our apprenti, are headed for Vashon Island to spend next season farming  at Island Meadow Farm with Chandler Briggs, yet another former apprentice. And Joel, our fourth apprentice, will be heading for New Mexico for the holidays, but he too plans to come back this way for some kind of work that will likely involve animals. 

All in all, Persephone Days probably won’t be that dark this year, with apprentices, new and old, nearby and everyone settling in for some lazier days. We’ll still check in with a post fairly often to keep things current but we’re taking it slower too.

Persephone has moved on to her winter home but she’ll be back for the new season. And so will we.

Persephone

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Every evening, late in the season, we try to make time to watch the sun go down. The light at the end of the day can take your breath away; suddenly, the leaves on the trees are on fire and then, just as quick as it came, the fire disappears and the air takes on a new chill. Usually, this warmth/chill pattern would result in some fine fall tree colors. This year is far from normal and the Big Leaf Maples either haven’t turned yet or have turned a dull yellow. We’ll settle for a few stunning sunsets.

Low tunnels

We’re closing in on the end of the eighth month of this season and as it winds down it’s nice to make time  for these brief, fiery displays. The rest of it is going fairly smoothly–the corn is gone, replaced by new garlic beds, the other beds are mostly ready for winter. We’ve put up new low tunnels over the salad garden to wring as much heat out of these final weeks as possible.

Meanwhile, the apprentices have been busy sowing winter cover crops of rye vetch, wheat and some Austrian field peas. Next week will be the final farmers market and CSA pickup. And then–well, the appentices are already planning for the future (more on this in another post) and running down a final list of field chores to prepare for winter. Our neighbor and uber-shutterbug Bob Dash caught Caitlin yesterday as she dug out some of the last of the old sunflower stalks.

We’re still not finished. Early next month we will kill the lambs–yes, that’s a harsh way of putting it, but this is a working farm not a petting zoo, and we will do it as quickly and painlessly as is possible. Their meat will feed us through the winter and their wooly coats,tanned and fluffed, will make lovely Christmas presents next year.

Lambs in October

On the other side of the ledger we just installed 25 baby chicks in the brooder pen in the barn. They’re spending their first days warming themselves under the heat lamp and are already learning to peck food and drink water.

The New Chicks

These little girls (and a couple of guys we suspect) will stay in the barn for a month or so and then go into the upper chicken run to wait out the winter. Until the spring they’ll spend their time in and under the henhouse. The hens in that run now will get shifted to the lower pasture.

There’s a point to all this shifting around. The young chicks will be protected from the harsh weather in the upper run’s sheltered henhouse. And after the lambs are gone we’ll turn the older hens out onto the sheep pasture where they can forage, pecking out the parasites and larva from the sheep manure.

The hens love that stuff and digest it efficiently, fertilizing the land with their own droppings. At the same time they clean up the pasture so those parasites and eggs don’t find their way into next year’s flock of lambs. We suspect we lost our lamb, Weakie, to worms that infected this year’s flock from leftover manure.

There’s a nice sense of conclusion to all this. And to top things off our giant pumpkins, Zeke and Tink, became birthday presents this weekend. Rebecca offered our neighbor Clara a choice for her personal pumpkin to celebrate her eighth birthday.

Clara & Zeke

Clara chose Tink and her folks hauled both giants over to Wise Acres common house for her birthday party. We held a contest to guess Zeke’s weight with the winner getting to take Zeke home. The guesses ranged from ten pounds to 500 pounds, which probably reflects how you see the world if you are eight years old or 50 years old. Zeke weighed in at 94 pounds and the winning guesser–Elizabeth Unsel–posed for a picture.

Elizabeth & Zeke

So that’s where we are at this late stage in the season. Harvest mostly in, winter fields planted, lambs munching their last grass, chicks keeping warm, apprentices pondering the future, kids growing older–well we’re all getting older–and Elizabeth, she’s trying to figure out what to do with 94 pounds of pumpkin.

The wheel does keep turning.

Persephone

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One of our favorite, and most indulgent, bits of newspaper reading is the Sunday, New York Times wedding feature. You not only get to vicariously attend a (usually) lavish event involving (usually) socially prominent people, but you also get a lot of inside info on how they met, how he, or she, popped the question, and all that.

We don’t usually deal with weddings here on the farm. Oh, we grow flowers for plenty of weddings at other venues, and we’ve even made the odd exception, (once.) Still, this is a  working farm, not a wedding palace, so as a rule–no weddings.

 But then, what’s the fun of rules unless you get to break them. And break this one we happily did this season after Devin Bodony and Robin Briggs came to us and asked if they could get married here this year.

Now you have to understand a couple of things about Devin and Robin. Devin, at 25, is one of the first of the Wise Acres kids to grow up and move out into the wider world. He’s a big, strong guy who can bike faster, swim longer, run farther than pretty much anyone else in these parts, and he also has that great intellectual quality, a probing sense of curiosity. He’s a cool guy. Judith and David Weinstock, Devin’s mom and stepdad, are arguably the hub of this remarkable community (we posted about Wise Acres back on May 10 here .)

And Robin…well, Robin is something special. She’s smart, she’s talented, and did we mention that she’s also stunningly beautiful. We haven’t seen her leap any tall buildings yet, but she’s clearly in the local Superwoman mold.

How could we resist, plus we’d get to go to a party that we knew would include knock-your-socks-off eats and terrific music. 

Here’s how it all happened. Devin and Robin were schoolmates at West Sound Academy–she two grades behind him. They hung around some back then, but weren’t anything more than small-school friends. “He was a major hippie,” Robin says. “He wouldn’t wear shoes and things like that.”

“She,” says Devin, “was definitely smart, quiet and…elegant.”

But still, just friends.

High school ended and Robin headed east to Sarah Lawrence. Devin became a serious bike racer and moved into a rental house with a couple of other guys at Miller Bay Estates. When Robin got home the next summer she showed up at a campfire party at the house. Something clicked, as these things sometimes do, and the next day they started dating. “We figured out there was something there,” Devin says.

When Robin went back east for her sophomore year, Sarah Lawrence just wasn’t as exciting or interesting as it had been the previous year. She started suggesting to her family that she might take off the spring semester and come back west. “I had all these reasons why I should come back,” she says. But her grandmother, who listened to all those reasons, figured it out, she says. “She knew the real reason was Devin.”

Robin came back, got an apprenticeship on a farm–not this farm, but one close by. She and Devin spent the winter and spring building a little house in the woods just down the road and moved in together. One evening last July, they were sitting on the hill overlooking our farm, dreaming about their future together. Just like that, Devin asked her to marry him. She said yes.

The whole thing, they both admit, was kind of spontaneous…kind of. “I had been daydreaming about asking him,” Robin says. After Robin said yes, Devin made her ring in his stepdad’s jewelry workshop at Wise Acres.  Among his other talents, he’s an accomplished goldsmith.

The nuptuals (as they say in New York Times wedding-speak) took place at 5 P.M. on the 14th of August under the massive big-leaf maple tree, just below the yurt meadow on Persephone Farm.

  

And here we need to break off for a minute because–we missed it.  After months of planning, weeks of prep work, days of mounting excitement, we blew it and got sick at the last minute. Fortunately, there are plenty of pictures to give you an idea of the ceremony and party. The one we really like (taken by Devin’s aunt, Shelley Weinstock) is this one and if you want to see more click on this link here to see Shelley’s full-bore slideshow.

Robin and Devin

A few additional facts. The wedding crew roasted two pigs, a goat and half a lamb for the dinner. Kate Briggs, Robin’s sister, baked enough panna cotta cheesecake to feed the entire West Side of New York City–we’re talking 350 hungry guests, and there were leftovers.

food

There were two bands, plus this crew that played during the service. They were still dancing at 3 A.M. when the cops came and told everyone to keep it down because they could hear the music in Suquamish, five miles away.

music men

 Perhaps the NYT wedding reporter had another engagement for that evening but we’re told they missed the party of the year. The bride and groom leave Monday for a two-month road trip around the west. When they return, they plan to live in Indianola in that little cabin they built themselves.

And we hope be happy forever after. 

 Persephone

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One of the best things about Persephone Farm is not on the farm at all. It’s just across the dirt road and it goes by the name of “Wise Acres”. That’s the name nine families chose 20 years ago when they purchased 17 acres of Indianola woods and decided to build their homes, raise their kids and live their lives over there.

Our ties are many and close. The place is full of talented musicians, artists, teachers and techies and they often share their skills with us. We, in turn, share our farm with them. There are days when we look out our farmhouse window and a flight of Wise Acres kids and their friends will suddenly appear from across the road and float through our lower pasture like butterflies. Hard to beat that for scenery.

 But our primary bond is food. Every Monday evening, Persephone Farm and Wise Acres gather at the common house across the road to share a meal. It usually works out to about 40 people, give or take a few guests, and we rotate the cooking chores each week. The result is that you never know what kind of a dinner to expect on Mondays. One week it can be Indian cuisine, then burrito night, or a cold, poached  salmon with cucumber scales and sorrel sauce.

Inevitably, a tiny bit of one-upsmanship sometimes creeps into the menu planning. When our turn to cook comes around we tend to focus on food we raise ourselves—a cauliflower gratin, strawberry rhubarb pie, spanikopita laced with our own spinach and eggs, stuff like that. And of course salad—lots of fresh-picked salad.

Food rules at Wise Acres dinners, no question about that. But what these dinners are really about is a much more subtle kind of sustenance called community. We’ll take a look at the dinner prep and results in a minute, but first let’s put some context around that word “community.”

Not so long ago, small farms were a hub of their neighborhood. They supplied the fuel, of course–the food–but they also provided the glue that often bound things into a comprehensible whole. If you wanted to explain the value of work to a child, farming made a pretty good model–labor and sweat in, strawberry-rhubarb pie out. Farms provided common reference points for everyone, from how a tractor works, to how to feed chickens, to what the weather is doing to the spinach. Barns made a pretty good community dance floor too.

Most of that is gone now, of course, even out in the far suburbs like ours. But somehow, for a little while on Monday nights, Persephone Farm and Wise Acres manage to blend some of that old community spirit back to into our lives. Sitting around a table, eating food grown across the road and prepared by your neighbors, finding the common ground of your lives, that’s what provides community that no faux Reality TV comradship can match.

So, okay, it was our turn to cook the other day and the interns were all over it. Susan Buster Thomas, our videographer for The Season, stopped in to watch the preparations in the interns’ cookhouse before the dinner. Here’s her video report:

The dinner itself starts at 6 P.M. when we all gather in a circle in the common house. The preliminaries are generally pretty simple. Anyone with an announcement or other comment or news tells the circle: there are announcements about birthdays coming up, a school play,  someone’s kid won a math award, the next high school basketball game. Then Rebecca, the head chef for this week, describes the evening menu and the interns each tell about their contribution. 

Then we eat the food we have grown and prepared together. And that is what community–or at least our community–looks like.

Persephone

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