A Homegrown Apothecary

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I first became fascinated by the idea of homegrown, natural medicine a couple of years ago when I learned it was even a thing. Growing simple herbs--like spearmint, lemon balm, catnip, chamomile--in a small kitchen garden, and then transforming them into herbal teas and tinctures that can heal common ailments seemed revolutionary to me. Of course, mothers have been growing and transforming kitchen herbs for centuries to heal and comfort and soothe, but somehow all of that wisdom--that deep understanding of the earth and its natural cures--has been lost in the last century as mothers began to rely more on factories than farms.

This maddens me. While I am ecstatic to now be learning about herbs and their healing properties and watching them grow and flourish in my tiny garden, I can't help but be frustrated that I have to learn all of this from scratch, from books and websites, when my ancestors would have possessed this primal knowledge and passed it along effortlessly to their children. The Industrial Revolution led to many conveniences and life-saving technologies, but it also unfortunately destroyed much of our connection with nature and earth, instinct and maternal wisdom.

Still, it is deeply satisfying to be able to reclaim this folk wisdom and regain these heirloom skills that sustained generations of families. It is even more satisfying to be able to have my daughter at my side, watching me learn and read and try, knowing that she will grow up with these skills and this knowledge to pass along to her own children, should she choose. 

There is something powerful and uplifting about reconnecting with the natural world and all its wonders--about reconnecting with the past and sharing it with the future.


My favorite books for an introduction to homemade herbal remedies are Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, by Rosemary Gladstar, and (for children), Walking the World in Wonder: A Children's Herbal, by Ellen Evert Hopman.


Friday, July 24, 2015

We were very disappointed to hear that our favorite Vermont organic farm lost half of its blueberry harvest this year due to an unexpected late frost in May. They closed their pick-your-own patch, leaving us wondering where to pick these gems of July. We all know it wouldn't be summer without blueberry picking, and we want to stock our freezer with as many berries as possible to enjoy the tastes of summer in the heart of winter.

As I was researching other farms to visit, my eight-year-old ran to our home's small blueberry patch tucked away in a distant corner of the yard. She hollered to me, breathlessly shouting that there were tons of berries to pick! Usually gobbled by birds and deer before we can gather any fruit, this year's bushes are robust and thriving.

While our handful of bushes won't stock our freezer, they will fill our bellies while we plan a trip to another nearby berry farm. Oh, July!

:: summer's paradox ::

Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer days are funny, aren't they? Sometimes they can seem so long, so full, it can be hard to catch my breath. Awake with one of my littles before six most mornings, not in bed till the last one is asleep long after dark, and so much summering happening in those middle hours, summer days can feel never-ending.

And yet, here we are at July 20th. July 20th! Already one month into the season, September not so far away, and I wonder: how is summer going so fast?! 

So there is summer's paradox: long days, short weeks. Too soon it will all be over, the boundless energy and spirit of summer that can seem almost too much at times, quickly give way to the shorter, cooler, indoor days of fall. 

Sometimes I just need that reminder of how fleeting summer is to remember to savor these beautiful, full days with my favorite people.

For just like this season, these days with young children are also fleeting, quickly giving way to adolescence and adulthood. If I look closely, I can already see it with my oldest, so skilled and resourceful, confident and creative. Before I know it, I will wake up to still summer days, with children all grown up and off on their own adventures. It will happen in a blink. Because even though the days can be long, the years are oh so very short. 

The Language of the Farm

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Oh my! This week we enjoyed our annual Vermont farm-stay vacation at a 100-acre working farm in the lower Champlain Valley. It was spectacular! Milking the cows, feeding the goats, collecting the eggs, picking wild blackberries, enjoying fresh, real milk and pastured meat right from the farm, slopping the pigs, hiking through the meandering trails of the sprawling pasture: these are the simple pleasures that keep us coming back to this special spot year after year. Trips like these are not only wonderful markers of the passage of time and the growth of my little ones, they also bring us so much closer to the important values of life: food, farm, and family.

It occurred to me on this trip how regretful--in fact dangerous--it is that the language of the farm is steadily disappearing. Only a bit over a century ago, most people would have known the language of the farm fluently. They would have known with certainty from where their food came, how it was produced, the effort and labor and whims of nature that would have contributed to its existence. They would have known the sacrifice of both farmer and animal, leading to a deep gratitude and appreciation for the fare that would nourish their own bodies. They would have known the vernacular: why first-cut hay is so important and how a pop-up thunderstorm can instantly jeopardize its quality for the months ahead; why goats giving birth should for the most part be left alone rather than interfered with by human hands, which can impact bonding and feeding and care; why feeding grain to cows and removing them from sunshine and pasture make them sick and us sick; how rabbit poop is a natural miracle concoction that can be placed untreated in any garden bed to enrich the soil better than any industrial fertilizer. 

Not that long ago, almost everyone would have known all of this, and so much more. They would have known intimately the language of the farm--of soil and sustenance and sacrifice and survival. Today, this language creeps up on Latin's fate, reserved for textbooks, and history lessons, and a few knowing scholars and practitioners who keep alive the language of the farm--of sustainable, time-honored farming and not its modern, factory-contrived imposter. 

This growing disconnect between humans and their food--this removal from soil and sacrifice and sustenance--is deeply disturbing. It threatens our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, as well as our global destiny. 

I want to learn the essential and threatened language of the farm. I want to speak it and understand it proficiently. I want to make certain that my children know this language and its legacy. Although I've been studying for a few years now I am still just a novice; but I know enough to appreciate the value of this important language, to travel to places that allow for true immersion, to seek people who know more, and to always, always keep learning.

Learning to Swim Naturally

:: Five Favorite Things ::

Sunday, June 28, 2015

* Fields of strawberries we just had to visit again.

* Farms and farmers who sustainably grow chemical-free, wholesome, delicious food.

* Fingers (and countertops!) colored pink with berry juice.

* Fresh eggs just laid by free-range chickens.

* Friends with whom to share a happy Sunday breakfast on a rainy weekend day.

Hoping your weekend is filling with your favorite things!

The Lure of the Farm

Thursday, June 25, 2015

At about this time every year, I dream about living on a farm. Don't you?

Summer lures us to the soil, compels us to connect more deeply with food and farm and all the goodness coming from the earth on these bright, warm days. Maybe it's the contrast of city and country that makes the farm all the more intoxicating at this time every year: the lushness and sweetness and wide-openness of the farm contrasted against the city's concrete. 

Whenever we can, wherever we are, I try to make time to visit local, sustainable farms. Especially in summer. This week, while visiting family near Cape Cod, we spent some time at Bay End Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Buzzards Bay -- with CSA delivery to Cambridge!

Just being at the farm--walking along the trails, marveling at the bounty rising from the land--brings a certain peacefulness, a certain connectedness, a certain clarity of our place in nature's chain.

In nature's chain.

That line from David Mallett's "Garden Song" always stands out to me:

Grain for grain, sun and rain,
I'll find my way in nature's chain,
I tune my body and my brain,
To the music of the land.

This is that very special season when we find our way in nature's chain -- and vow to keep the music humming all through the year.

What about you? Do you feel the draw to the farm in summer? Or maybe you already live on a farm and feel its special power at this time of year.