Tuesday, November 15, 2011

there’s rice in them thar hills

A sheaf of rice from Breezy Meadows Orchard showed up at an autumn farmers' market

It is another glorious November day and in the afternoon the phone finally rings. It is Meadow calling me to say she is “at home” if I would care to come up.

Meadow is Meadow Squire who, with her partner, Josh Brill, is farming land up in Tinmouth on plus or minus 70 acres that Meadow’s parents, Marshall and Melody, bought back-in-the-day and on which they built a log cabin to house a burgeoning family.

I’ll be there in twenty minutes, I told Meadow, and drove up 140, then up to their farm on a rough, two-track one-mile driveway, over boulders and through water-filled ruts in the heavy hard-pan or clay – the same stuff that comprises their growing fields. Given lemons they make lemonade; given clay – which does a good job holding water – they’re making paddies. Rice paddies, that is, right here on the side of a Vermont mountain, with a glorious southwestern view, and that steep mountainside acreage to complicate things. 

They also grow veggies, and  fruit, to feed themselves and sell at the Rutland Farmers’ Market,  on what they have named Breezy Meadows Orchards. And what that means is that they have instituted wildly innovative improvements to their soil. And the soil responds, gradually.

But Josh and Meadow, beginning again, are strong and energetic and young – Meadow is 21 and Josh is 27. He thinks.

But, if he can’t quite remember how old he is, he knows a tremendous amount about permaculture and rice paddies. Permaculture is the idea of nestling under Mother Nature’s ample breast and instituting agricultural practices without her knowing, without making her miserable or angry.  I think of it as cunning non-interference.

For instance, large piles of wood chips, Josh explains to me, are laced with tubing, the stack is soaked, covered, and left to decompose. When water is run through the pipes it is warmed by the heat put off by the decomposing chips and that water will be used to warm the greenhouses in winter and spring. When I ask what the piles of litre plastic bottles are for, he explains that when filled with water in the winter, allowed to freeze, and then stacked to line the mega-insulated walk-in cooler that they built, they will provide cooling well into the summer for the produce they take to the Rutland Farmers’ Market.

The 50’x20’ plastic coated high-tunnel greenhouse? Josh and his father bent the metal poles and coated them with sheet plastic. Its shape is slightly gothic so that the snow doesn’t pile up on it, and it can be moved to cover, in thirds, 150 linear feet of garden space. Another one is in the works for next year. The garden rows in that 150 feet are rounded raised beds – logs, trimmed trees, are laid down, those are covered with brush, the brush with manure and  compost, that with that clayey soil that we spoke off. The rows are planted, then covered with straw, and as the brush and logs begin their decomposition they give off heat to the soil and attract earthworms which continue to lighten the soil. The rows that were constructed first are nicely turning that clay into a wonderful lightened humousy soil.
The traveling high tunnel covers 150' in 50' intervals. Josh and his dad put it together.

Josh Brill: Works well with Mother Nature

It’s rough up there in spite of the solitude and the beautiful day and the view. It’s steep. Every movement seems to be up or down. All the hard work that is called for makes taming the wilderness – combing and whacking and giving it a spit and a polish – seem extraneous. But there’s energy in the air. These two young people are totally at home in their kingdom.

Meadow calls the mother pig to her. She is named Regina, with a hard g. A beautiful spotted white Tamworth/Berkshire cross, she comes running out of the foresty scrub where she’s been rummaging for roots and grubs, and flops herself down to get a stomach scratch. Meadow pets her until she melts down into slothful experience (Regina, I mean), and when another pig comes running he is soon lying as blissfully under Meadow’s hands. Their ears flop down, porcine grins grace their faces. I mean, there’s Meadow with two contented hogs blissfully stretched out as if bacon at her feet. This woman has power! Meadow, I mean.
During her high school career I saw Meadow in many theatrical productions and she was marvelous.
She is just as marvelous as Daisy Mae. And Regina and Bacon are in porcine heaven.

Two beautiful brown Oberhasli goats from Consider Bardwell prance and amuse themselves – as only goats can do – in another paddock. One turned out to be pregnant when they got her. Meadow milks them and looks forward to a small herd of milking goats for yogurt, milk, and cheese. The chickens are “mutts” says Meadow, and they are the most gorgeous assortment of half-wild fowl – they’re roosting in treetops and fencetops – I’ve ever seen. They will be laying “at the end of next week,” the couple agrees. They seem to have everything planned out. Meadow and Josh, I mean.

Including the paddies. This year’s rice paddy is a rich little pocket dug into the clayey soil, about 10 or 12 feet square, the stems of the harvested rice rising in small symmetrical clumps out of a reddish mix of azolla, a water plant similar to duckweed. It’s edible, high protein, and it will not go to waste but will be fed to the animals. It suppresses weeds and forms a physical barrier between the water and mosquitoes so their eggs can’t hatch. Watercress is the third plant, also edible, of course, and can be harvested as a salad green. The waters also attract salamanders and frogs, as well as dragonflys and damselflys, all of whom eat lots of insects, and they are considering adding some fish, such as Tilapia. How about crawfish?  “What,” they wonder, “would happen if farmers planted rice paddies as a riparian buffer along rivers?” Hmmm. Lots of food for thought here.

This is the azolla, and it is that that gives the paddies their reddish hue -- their fall colors. It sets nitrogen in the water,
all the better to provide nutrients to the rice.

Rice seed is very difficult to get. They started this year with a handful of Haruka, a Northern Japanese hybrid. With the seed they produced this year, and money from a Kickstarter project, they will plant nearly an acre of paddies next summer, starting the seeds in late winter, early spring, and transplant them in the paddies in mid-May.

Hooray! There should be Vermont rice at the Farmers’ Market by next fall! Please go to their Kickstarter web page (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/840980225/growing-rice-in-vermont) and look at the cute video they made. And wish them good luck, even send them a buck or two if you can afford it. Check out their web page to get more detail on their projects at http://breezymeadowsorchards.com/
Josh and Meadow at one of the first of this summer's Farmers' Markets -- I don't think they missed a Saturday.
And look how handsome it is.

For those of you who don’t know, the Co-op’s own Peter McGann has been selling his wares at the Market. In the summer he started out with hand-chopped salsa and guacamole, which was very nice, but in the Winter Market at the Co-op he’s branched out dramatically. I bought a container of his lovely Red Cascabel Chili Salsa, as well as several potato and chorizo taquitos (small tacos). I mean! What a treat! You can’t get this stuff anywhere else. I spooned that salsa over some Hutterite beans from Yoder Farms – they are firm and flavorful – that I’d cooked up with a couple of beef shanks from Spotted Dog Farm. Sprinkled Breezy Meadow Orchard’s Cilantro over the whole thing. Yum.

And on a tragic note, our hearts and best thoughts go out to the family of Gary Miller of Castleton and the Miller Farmstand. He was killed in a tractor accident two weeks ago. He had set up his booth at the Farmers’ Market that very day from which he would have sold fresh herbs and my favorite horseradish. It was a sad day for the Market. We will all miss Gary.

1 comment:

connee's corner said...

As always; interesting, insightful,thoughtful...love reading your words!