Week 1: Tractors, Mushrooms, and the Dream of a Farm

One week down, 29 to go. Our time here is absolutely flying.

Right away, we got an intimidating overview of the plans for the year and some of the steps we would take to make them happen. I (Carly here) won’t lie—I was totally overwhelmed. Actually, I think all 12 of us trainees were. For the first time, I could see the gaps in my farm knowledge laid right out in front of me listed in hundreds of lines on a terrifying Excel spreadsheet. But the list was not infinite. Our experience at Echollective helped us tick off a few skills. And right away, in the first few days, we began to chip away at the others.

This drone photo of was taken by board member Dave Edwards just this week. The vegetable production area is situated within an old horse training track 1/2 mi. around. There is roughly 10 acres of veggie production space within the track.

Of the items on this list, the one that scared Ethan and I the most were technical/mechanical skills, especially tractor skills. 

Driving a tractor is the one thing I had been dreading for over a year, even when I first applied for the program, so I was shocked to find myself sitting there behind the wheel already, on day four.

I moved the tractor slowly, forward and back, and practiced how to lift the bucket and dump a load of compost into some wheelbarrows. The instructor was there with me the whole time, supporting me, and explaining everything in the simplest and most encouraging way. 

Behind the wheel of a tractor
Behind the wheel of OFS’s Kabota tractor. Photo by our classmate, Emma Spencer.
Ethan dumps a load of compost into three wheelbarrows using a Kabota tractor.
Ethan uses the Kabota for the first time.

A couple years ago, I couldn’t have even pictured myself on a tractor—but there I was, doing it… successfully. My heart was absolutely full the rest of the day. 

It’s moments like these, that have happened so often in the past week, that are starting to convince me that we could really make our crazy dreams happen.

Sometimes I feel so impatient, wishing we could just skip to the part where we have our own little farm. I can’t wait until we land on a single patch of earth and steward it in a way that increases health, in humans and the planet. 

However, in order to do it right, we have to find the strength to be patient. On our first day, we brainstormed some non-negotiable guidelines together as a team. One of those guidelines was, “have reverence for time and place.” To us, this not only means respecting time, but also trusting it. There are precious little hours in a day, but those hours add up fast and I couldn’t even begin to number all of the new things we learned in just the first week. Growing vegetables is an experience-based profession and I know we are on the right path, moving at exactly the right pace toward our goals.

Our slow and steady progress toward our goal reminds me of a jar of mushroom spawn Ethan has sitting in a mason jar here in our cabin. The jar is full of small wooden dowels that have been inoculated with Lion’s Mane mushroom spawn. What started as only a few colonized rye grains have grown to cover the jar of dowels with fuzzy, grayish-white mycelium. 

Lion's Mane mushroom mycelium clouds the inside of a mason jar.
Lion’s Mane mushroom mycelium has taken over the wooden dowels in this jar.

Once the mycelium has taken over the whole jar, it will begin to look for more food. At this point the dowels are ready to begin their growth process again, eventually taking over the log, and then, finally, it will fruit into the beautiful mushrooms we all know and love. This is essentially mycelium’s whole goal in life: find a growing medium (wooden dowel, log), fill it up, then fruit, drop spores, and repeat the process again. Filling up that log takes time, about one year, depending on the species of mushroom and size of the log. The whole time all of that necessary groundwork is laid, the log looks like…well, a log. It is only time and the right fruiting conditions that can bring mushrooms to fruit on the surface of the log in a visible, fantastical way. 

In this analogy, which I hope is not too far-fetched at this point, we are those tiny inoculated little dowels full of energy and potential but without the time requirement needed to produce. The log represents Oorganic Farm School and our farming connections back in Iowa who helped to provide us the right environment and growing conditions for our learning.

All of this learning and moving about takes a great deal of time and much of the knowledge as well as the many skills we are building will go unnoticed for a while, but with every new connection, we are moving to new space within our environment, mastering skills, becoming wiser, gaining competence, and gathering the strength we will need to fruit our farm dream. Only then, as if overnight, our mushroom emerges into the world, a product of every invisible step before it but greater than the sum of its parts. Finally, the original intentions of the little wooden dowel are realized.

Until that day, we will be following our dreams and listening to our hearts and the wisdom of the people, plants, and animals that surround us.

Enjoy the following photos of our first week at the farm.

Moving tomato seedlings to bigger pots. We’re growing San Marzano, Sungold, Cherry Bomb and more this year.
Radishes we harvested this week made their way to Payless, a local grocery store.
A few days after seeding spinach and carrots in these beds, we use a flame weeder to kill the young weeds around them. This does not hurt the just-beginning-to-germinate seeds.
Ethan plays with Bird.
Classmates move tarps used to weaken weeds and warm the soil.
Seeding National Pickling Cucumbers in soil blocks.

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