Saturday, October 21, 2006
Good Carrot, Bad Carrot
Deadman's Valley, BC
The day can’t really begin with out tea. Green tea and some of Mendel’s freshly milled hot cereal. And sometimes yoga.
We met up with Paula and Mendel at the farmer’s market in Kamloops. Their stand was packed. We couldn’t find an opening to introduce ourselves, so we went for coffee. The market ended at noon, and at a quarter after 12, we pushed through the customers. “Great!” Paula welcomed us, four (unexpected) days ahead of schedule.
18 kilometers into Deadman’s Valley their driveway twists into the cliffs. Homesteaders drained the lake nearly a century ago, and now, on 6 acres of organic garden they grow 2,000+ pounds of carrots here.
Our first full day at the farm we built a shelter and lay sunflowers across the top. A few dozen friends came to celebrate Sukkot at the farm. After food, wine, blessings, and horseback riding, Mendel called from the house. “Hey, we’re gonna watch Bruce Springsteen...”
The next morning we picked 500 pounds of carrots, shifting sun umbrellas to give shade as we top and sort in the field, all before Thanksgiving dinner. Every day was a variation on the theme- farming, food, family, friends, music and occasionally, an episode of “Deal or no Deal”.
Mosquito netting isn’t fine enough. The little bastards made their way through. Rust Fly. It’s not easily seen until the carrots are washed. The little brown rings and tiny polka dot holes, Mendel shakes his head, cursing. Next year will be different. Next year the fence will be up too. Then the deer won’t come in and eat the tops of the carrots. They don’t stop at the greens, no. Right into the perfect orange tops- even in the beds without the fly.
“Get him, Mugsy!” The deer are bold. Or hungry. They’ve given up waiting for dark to launch their invasion. From up at the green house we watch them avoid the leeks and head straight for the cabbage. We shout, lending moral support to the dog as she barks and jumps. The deer look up at us, leap over the dog and head back through the fields, to the red hills they share with the bears and pack rats.
“It ain’t farming if you’re not doing everything twice,” says Saul. And so we sort the carrots. First in the filed- large, small, strong tops, split/rotten. Again after the wash- small, pounders, rust fly, deer eaten, rotten. We bag the beautiful carrots, trim the eaten and separate the split carrots- juice or horse carrot? Ukiah and Aslin finish the 2-pound bags and return to their hay-stack kingdoms.
Mark washes the beets, Brad pulls the last of the celery root and I'm almost through with the chard. Up in the shop, herbs hang drying. We'll have more anise hyssop for tea tomorrow. In the distance, a truck rumbles. "Who's that?" Brad asks. Saul starts up the hill, to tell the hunters they've made a wrong turn. He runs back for his red jacket. Strangers drinking rye in a truck full of guns, looking for one of the lakes. Mendel always directs them back to the highway. Eli holds onto his red-neck streak "for survival." Paula made hummus, chapattis, tzatziki, a greek freast for lunch. Enough for Ukiah to have thirds.
We took a day away from the fields, traveling up the valley, past the home of this year’s Calgary stampede winner. We visited the place it all began- the home and garden the family first built 35 years ago. The bridge across the creek washed out in ’91 but the root cellar still stands. Up here, the terrain changes every mile, and with it a new micro-climate. Lakes, swamps and past the scrub and sage, nested in the evergreens is Deadman Falls. A sheer drop, which the government of British Columbia would like to remind us, is “undeveloped” and should be approached with “CAUTION.” The fog starts to roll in, and we still have firewood to collect.
I don’t quite have the geometry of wood stacking figured out. Saul had to rebuild the pile of fir I loaded. It wouldn’t be farming otherwise.