Les Visiteurs (The Visitors)

Andrius (Minciu Sodas) and Jeff (One Village Foundation) helping Ronny and Marcin mix mud for a cordwood house.  They joined us for two days of conversation, collaboration,  and construction.

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The legendary movie of my high school French class was “Les Visiteurs”: two men traveling through time making humorous mistakes and narrow escapes, but learning many valuable life lessons on the way.

The last two days here on the farm were filled with our own visitors.  One of the most valuable contributions that visitors bring to the farm is their observations. Because I see the farm day in and day out, sometimes I miss or forget the details.

I had gotten frustrated time and again with the progress on our water well.  Jeff brought enthusiasm back into the project, suggesting that he hopes to come again to help us on it.  He reminds me why we do physical work on the farm: theory can only get us so far.  When we get our hands filled with physical experience, a new kind of change can occur.

Andrius delighted in eating fresh produce from the greenhouse while the outside landscape reflected brown hibernation. I was reminded that hardly anyone has the opportunity to enjoy such simple pleasures or health– especially at this time of year. And what does it take? The simplest rendition could be straw bales around a small section of garden, covered with clear plastic. The next step up might be a raised bed with a scavenged window. With a little money, a heating pad could be dug into the soil to warm up the roots. Elliot Coleman is a leader in winter gardening and has documented many of his ideas in “Four Season Harvest” and “The New Organic Grower”.

If people love fresh food, then what is inhibiting them from growing a winter garden? Lack of knowledge? Fear of failure? Lack of time?

Marcin’s parents grow a tomato plant in their bedroom during the winter months and enjoyed vine-ripened tomatoes from time to time. They told me that it is quite normal to see tomato plants in people’s windows in Poland. Now why then, if it is apparently quite easy to do, have I never seen a winter tomato plant growing in an American’s house?

Last winter, I went to a local food conference in Kansas City, MO. One participant lamented giving up salad this winter as he committed himself to a 100 mile diet. No growers were providing winter greens. And why not? Coleman gardens year-round in Maine. He selects winter-hardy crops (ie. corn salad) and employs simple infrastructures like grow tunnels. What is stopping Kansas City growers from pursuing similar methods?

Among the success stories and successful methods, however, are difficulties. In our own greenhouse, for instance, the north wall is poorly insulated, the wood stove does not radiate heat to the far end of the space, and several of our plants, especially around the edges have died. We will need to make some changes if we want fresh food to be available for more than late fall visitors.

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