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Weaving a Tapestry of Flavor: Heirloom Varieties and Your CSA’s Bounty

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Weaving a Tapestry of Flavor: Heirloom Varieties and Your CSA’s Bounty

Embracing the Seed’s Song

Its been well over a year since I last wrote on behalf of the farm, and although I’m swimming in work that needs to be done out in the fields, I’m finding myself being pulled back to writing and the need to keep telling a story that I started when moving back home and farming – one that is by no means finished. Stories are a point of reflection and connection, and keeping that bond nourished is not only important to myself but also the community that the farm is lucky to feed.

It may be that stories are rich in my head because recently, my sister and I gifted my folks a 23andMe DNA kit. We are a family of storytellers, story listeners – if you can get us to zip-it. And cultivating the moments that create them, it will be neat to have a better glimpse of the family limbs and roots of rocky villages in Ireland and earthen homes in Italy, where ancestors shared laughter, food, no doubt wine and whisky, and they storied, raising their glasses, trying to get one another to pipe down and toasting to the telling and making of them.

As the sun rises high in the summer sky, this farmer hopes to keep sharing and writing and connecting with you all. Many suns have risen and set in oscillating angles across the open sky from Mt. Shasta to the Trinities in the time between writing. More fruit trees have been planted, a barn was beautifully constructed by my Dad and Jonathan, cover crops have grown high and have been tilled-in to feed spring lettuces and summer squash, seeds were collected, sown, and collected again, and rainbows came out for a very special gathering – Jonathan and I exchanging vows in front of those we love, sealed with a kiss and some muddy shoe dancing. Each of these moments precious enough for their each individual story, yet one can evidently simply make one long run-on sentence in tribute.

A Season of Surprises and Resilience

Homeward Bounty just had the Solstice of its fifth season. Each year has expressed itself differently. Days rich with wind and rain filled the early weeks of Spring, and with patience, I had to wait until the soil dried in order to get onions, shallots, and leeks planted. The weather this season has continued to control the writing of the chapters of the last months, with extreme cold, extreme hot, with yet again more wind and rain. Weekly action items have kept rolling over to the next week and the ones after that.

The only thing that has proven itself punctual this season has been the Summer Solstice, marking a season where the fruits of the sun are still weeks away. Perhaps having five seasons here under my belt has kept me from feeling complete desperation; however, keeping that emotion at bay is a challenge. The entirety of this year has been like climbing a mountain of loose rocks where you continually keep sliding, where you don’t have much to show for your exhaustion and hard work. The rocks never seem to firm up and aid me along. I have to keep climbing, hoping that this time I can be more light and sure-footed and will be graced with a fair weather window to make things come together.

It’s a season that’s as late and as anticipated as this blog post. Maybe taking the time to reconnect and tell the drama of this year is the harbinger to the weather assisting me in starting to feel caught up and on track. That life is about timing and trust becomes strongly evident with each passing year. I can feel the season grow toward the cusp of change, with young signs of abundance in the field and high tunnel. That the labor of this year will manifest into fresh farm salsa and sweet corn happily stuck in your teeth is eminent.

Finding Community in Seeds

The high tunnel structure has been wildly beneficial and fun to develop a relationship with. The tomatoes are excelling on their upright trellis system. The peppers, eggplants, and okra are content, with dill, sunflowers, and poppies seeding themselves everywhere to mess up the concept of clean, orderly rows or that of the farmer having control.

This year’s seed crops are growing abundantly. I’m growing five species for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, along with 24 species for the farm and seed packet sales. Many of the seed crops look happy, and seed harvest should yield a nice weight of genetically rich and mature seeds. Seeds that will hold their story deep inside until unlocked by rich soil, water, and sun.

As I write, the clouds are vocal overhead, proving true the diversity of Russian Roulette Siskiyou weather – the wet ink in this year’s season a well-etched story of timing, patience, and the holding of trust for future fruits and abundance.

Sowing Seeds of Knowledge

Every other year since 2012, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of February and the relatively quick trip up north to attend the Organic Seed Alliance biannual conference. My first year in attendance was memorable – a car crash left me stranded in Portland en-route to Port Townsend, WA. I was able to quickly reach out on a ride-share page that was organized by the conference and found myself catching a ride from two Ashland farmers, one of whom I had met in remote Northern India four years earlier – a testament to how small and beautiful the world is.

I felt very green at that conference, a bud just starting to form but not yet open to receive the world of pollination and inoculation. Although much of the information, names, places, and concepts were overwhelming, I knew that this was the beginning of something deeply important to me. In the four years that have followed, these sentiments have fully bloomed and have even set some fruit – Oca tubers from Peace Seedlings, Alan Kapular’s Farm in Corvallis, OR, and Chris showing the group a dormant Sea Kale stock, a perennial kale species.

Becoming a Pollinator

It has now been a month since returning to the farm from this year’s OSA conference in Corvallis, OR. The energy that I was able to take away from the conference this year was so enlivening that I’ve been running on the fumes of it since, putting newly gained knowledge into action, maintaining contact with new friends and farmer mentors, pulling ideas from my notebook and sowing their seeds into future workshops, collaborations, and future farm endeavors.

If in the first year I felt green, this year I was a rainbow prism – the fuchsia spectrum of ancient Oca tubers, the brilliant orange of trailing eight different Delicata Squash varieties, the blue of ice surrounding the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway that Cary Fowler gave us a vivid virtual tour of during his key-note address, the all-entrapping bottomless absorption of black, the pure canvas of white ideas reflecting with insights openly shared, and of course more new-growth green as knowledge buds.

When sowing plants in the legume family, it’s common to inoculate the seeds with a rhizobacteria – this symbiotic relationship allows peas, for example, to take gaseous nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil where it can benefit soil organisms and plants alike. The image of being dipped into a rich inoculum couldn’t escape my mind as throughout the many days of the conference, I became activated, pulling theories, meanings, research platforms, and objects out of the buzzing air and fixing them into my present framework of understanding.

Finding a Kindred Home

In crowded rooms of hundreds of people, seeds both physical and metaphysical were endlessly being exchanged. Their germ plasm inside destined to one day tap their roots in deep and yield sweet fruit. Knowledge and connections made their way around the room as little grains of pollen, some dancing with the wind on loud vocals, other grains moving about sticky and sweet, bonding to buzzing two-legged pollinators, carrying ideas from one farmer to the next in excitement and astonishment.

Here in this hive, I’ve found a kindred home, an alliance, one where the Queen heralds open-source, open-pollinated, organic production, resilience, community access, telling and honoring of stories, stewardship, education, and diversity. In my return home to Homeward Bounty Farm, I carried with me new inspirational books, field notes that will grow with bounty, colorful seed packets sustaining stories and history, and many little grains of sticky pollen gathered at the hem of well-worn work pants.

The Awakening

The season is off to an early start, with onions, leeks, and brassicas growing happily in the greenhouse. Rain, a loyal seed companion. To lie dormant is to still be active. A seed in the ground is never lazy, is never undoing its place, but storing, planning, absorbing – it is stable and purely patient.

I would like to say that I have not posted on the blog due to dormancy, that I’ve been succeeding in the challenge of “seedism” – of being anchored and to be still with simply being, to be abiding by the energy within and the patience in holding to know when to rise up. But I’ve not been a dormant seed. I deeply know I have a lot of wisdom to glean from the germplasm that buzzes with perfection in place. I’ve been rising too much, a novice, a puppy, always going, doing beyond-being antics, and I have not made use of the beautiful resource of time. Time to sit, time to write and speak for the farm during these handful of months.

Connecting Through Seeds

While on vacation to Thailand in the fall, Jonathan and I came across many open-air markets – the heirloom grocery store. The produce was stunning, truly a treat for plant lovers and flavor dreamers. The rices, greens, fruits I never knew could exist, fish, meats, and at one market, we found a sweet woman selling seeds. I also brought some packets of seeds from the farm, and using only the language of seeds, we exchanged with each other not only hundreds of plants to be but a maternity for the land and a reverence for something that in the present reality is small but in the dimension we both know well was more expansive than description.

This is also the time of year to visit the farm’s seeds packed away, undisturbed in cool corners. The evolution of the farming seasons – this will be my sixth – can be quantified and represented by the size of the vessels that hold these seeds. From shoe box to tubs to the present three large Rubbermaid bins. It’s a fun ritual, spreading it all out, placing packets in the future fields. These seeds will tell the story of this season. They will feed the CSA customers, the Farmers Market patrons, local restaurants, and grocery stores. These seeds will thrive under the elements and farmer and will also die off from these two roots.

Saved seed lots from 2014 were tested for germination and packaged up to feed locals in a different way – these packets of seeds that will travel to homes to be planted out in backyards and containers, sowing future family meals and opening the storybook of connection with seed, food, and our culture of agriculture. Throughout the seasons, chapters may even be added to this book or rekindled, as this is the story of our ancestors. It is a story we all already carry. We are the story of seed, and seeds are a story of who we are.

Honoring the Seed’s Story

A burgeoning revolution is here. Not the hijacked tone of the Green Revolution, an honest uprising of a trinity of voices – our ancestors, the seeds, and ourselves. The conversations about food are abundant. The education is saturating the lexicon of knowledge, and the desire for more knowledge is increasing. People are curious to know if the food is local, non-spray, or organic, and every once in a while, I hear what I feel is the gem: “Is this a Torpedo onion? Is this Red Russian kale? Is this Genovese basil?”

And here is why, to my farming ears, to my ears that have a deep love for education and the passing on of stories – this is a gem. People are getting to know their food. In German, there are two meanings for the word “know.” One “know” is the verb “wissen” – wissen is if you know where the closest bookstore is. And then there’s “kennen” – the verb “kennen” is used when you know someone or something personally. You know their energy, their feel. Kennen is knowing beyond knowledge, the realm of the brain. Kennen is that you know something in your heart.

When someone asks me the specific variety of a vegetable, they are knowing, “kennen,” their food by heart. My desire in this revolution is that we start to ask deeper. To ask where our food is grown and the practices by which it was grown, to call food by its name, to ask the story of the seed, the story of the variety. To ask who grew the seed, how was the seed grown, and what’s the story map of the seed. It is the time of year to open the book, to read the seed story, our story, and to learn. To sit with the seed, to be, be still, to be anchored, to know when to rise up and authentically stretch out in growth.

Weaving the Tapestry

I fell in love with seeds in the patchwork fields of 480 varieties of rice, seeds in the caring, work-leathered hands of humble women, wise seeds cradled by wise women, their bond authentically and intrinsically connected, woven with sweat, soil, sun, while chanting prayers of generations upon generations. The textile weave of earth’s patterns in rice, in women, in seeds pulled at a string deep inside of my heart, hands, womb. A tapestry inside me that was braided long ago, a tapestry that lives in all of us.

Seeds have continued to make me think and feel deep beyond our connection in weave. I’ve often found myself pondering their psychology. There’s a sense of personification when thinking of seed psyche, human emotions shed onto the plant community. However, the more I dissect seed-to-seed fundamentals, I find myself truly feeling each plant’s fierce desire to grow strong for the sake of their seeds. They gauge their resources in weather, soil, water, and conductive pollen with a foundation of how to best live in order to produce the most successful offspring – to keep their genetics alive, to procreate, to continue and be reborn into this world generation after generation, every seed containing within its world the potential to replicate exponentially.

Is this plan diabolical or the sincere desire to hold on to and nurture what we hold most dear? Last year’s growing efforts were partly inspired by the cry of an overflowing bag of seeds – “plant us!” Fourteen months later, a legitimate chorus can be heard echoing out of two bins of seeds. Next year, I may need earplugs.

Sharing the Bounty

And so the story goes – if you have seeds and love growing plants out to seed, you gather a band of talented loved ones to help create a packet design and then make these special varieties available to growers everywhere. Yep, that’s the story, and I present you with Homeward Bounty Seeds. A shout out to dear Ashley Mersereau of Roots and Wings Jewelry who has created the very beautiful graphics, as well as my Aunt Cathy O’Brien who laid out and organized the design.

Sow seeds and grow. Find that tapestry inside, and let it pull you.

A Vibrant Future

Thornapple CSA is a place where this tapestry of flavor, this weaving of heirloom varieties, and the stories they hold come to life. As a community-supported agriculture (CSA) service, they are committed to cultivating a diverse bounty that nourishes the body, mind, and spirit. By embracing the unique histories and characteristics of heirloom crops, Thornapple CSA invites you to embark on a culinary adventure, discovering the rich tapestry of flavors that have sustained communities for generations.

Join Thornapple CSA and experience the joy of reconnecting with the roots of your food, while supporting a vibrant, resilient local food system. Together, let’s weave the tapestry of flavor, honoring the seeds that hold the stories of our past and nurturing the seeds of a bountiful future.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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