The second week at Yokna Bottoms Farm was as expected – we worked throughout the weekday mornings, and the rest of the time ate, relaxed, and explored our surroundings in beautiful northern Mississippi.
There was more deja vu from our time here last year, as we dug drainage ditches and continued the pine-tree clearing project (with a new and improved chain rig that Jeff put together), and plenty of hay mulching.
The dogs, of course, are loving it here … although the Yokna Dog Pack lost one member since last year (Nathan moved out with his dog Ella), it gained a new one unofficially – “Grey Dog,” the neighbor’s year-old giant puppy – plus, there is a stray that sometimes hands out with us by the field, which brings the total up to eight … plus four cats and a shifting cast of primates …
We have less than a week to go here before we strike out westward toward new territory … time is flying!
When we originally planned our winter journey, we did not plan on returning to any of the same farms we WWOOFed at last year – we’d enjoyed all three, but thought we’d get more from the trip if we did all-new places – meeting all new people, learning entirely new ways of farming, etc.
However, when we looked at a map of the planned route, we realized that Yokna Bottoms Farm in Oxford, Mississippi, was right in the middle of the long stretch of road between my sister’s in northern Illinois, and a farm that had agreed to host us in New Orleans.
It turned out they were accepting WWOOFers again at the time we would be coming through – so we wound up returning this year – once again, we’d kick the trip off as members of the Yokna dog pack.
So, we took turns driving south for 5 hours apiece, stopping twice for gas, watching the sun rise and fall and the vans thermometer creep steadily upward, until it was about 30 degrees warmer than when we’d left that morning and we were pulling into the familiar gravel driveway of Farmer Doug’s house.
We arrived just days after the season’s last farmer’s market, and the final CSA boxes had been delivered.
We were here two months earlier in the year than we had been last time through, so there was still a lot of cold-hardy produce growing in the fields – herbs, kale, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, collards, brussel sprouts, and more, in amounts well beyond what we grow back home in our acre or so of cultivated field.
Although the markets and CSA were finished, the farm was selling produce to several local restaurants, which we harvested with Farm Manager Jeff whenever necessary.
When not harvesting, we worked on other projects – which wound up giving us deja vu.
Finally, we raised a sunken corner of the chicken coop, and patched up gaps that could let predators in.
Widget did the Rat Terrier Thing and caught mice and rats as they scattered out of the shed while we cleaned.
In our downtime, we even got Farmer Doug out on a longboard again! He still doesn’t feel safe on one, but he pushed around carefully a bit until Kristin and I got our fill of zooming around a parking lot, turning gyrations into momentum and basking in the sunshine.
In one of the final Yokna posts from last winter, I said that ” it seems impossible that I may not see (Yokna Bottoms Farm) again” – and it turned out I was right It is great to be back – we’d missed the dogs (Merton, Shivas, Missy, WhatDog), the cats (Faith, Hoobilly, Jack), and the people (Doug, Jeff, Betsey), and it felt like home immediately.
It’s been both educational and interesting to see the restaurant sales side of Yokna’s operations – we just started to do so for the first time last year, on a small scale, and both feel we have much to learn. And like learning a language, it’s ideal to learn by immersion, where all the many complexities and how they interrelated are experienecd directly, not translated up and down through lossy words. Working with people, you pick up so much more than you even realize – not just facts, but processes, ways of thinking about and seeing and solving things, general principles, handy shortcuts, things to avoid, sparks that trigger new ideas … not things you can plan for, organize, or predict – things you get by embracing the “que sera, sera” and simply being open and grateful for what does come into life, surfing from day to day, season to season, always more in the Now than in thoughts of any future plan. Valuable things that come in abundance with WWOOFing!
Saturday, February 22nd
Oak Hill, FL
We’d already packed up a lot of our stuff the evening before, predicting rain that would make it hard to get in and out of the trailer, so our last morning at the Green Flamingo was nice and relaxing.
The rain came with a fury just as we loaded into the car, dumping bathtubs of rain down as we bumped through the muddy rutted road out. The highway traffic was slow, with minor flash floods causing hydroplaning, and terrible visibility leading people to pull off onto the shoulder beneath bridges to wait out the storm.
We just muscled through toward the south, and it wasn’t long before we broke free from the weather system that would be deluging GFO for the next several days, and came back out into the sunny blue skies and waving palms.
We were headed for the Florida Keys, where we’d first be meeting Gabe’s dad and stepmom in Key Largo, at the house they’d rented to flee from the winter wasteland of northwestern Minnesota.
Kristin’s parents would be meeting us there as well, and then driving with us down further south to Marathon Key, where they had a dog-friendly house rented for a week, right on the ocean. They’d just flown in from the insanely frozen subzero hell that Minnesota had been all winter long … a day later than planned, due to a missed flight due to a blizzard that trapped them in their homes, with heavy wet snow up over their bumper in their unplowed street.
(Kristin and I had been missing one of the most unrelentingly brutal winters in Minnesota/Wisconsin history, with highs below zero and snows above waists.)
The last hour of the drive to the Keys was psychologically dangerous. We were fatigued, sick of driving, tired of being in the van … and stuck in stop and go traffic, just short of Key Largo. We bounced around and chanted and sang ridiculous songs in an effort to avoid losing our minds completely (“Om Shanti Shanti OMG” was a particularly fun one).
Eventually the traffic jam opened up, and we arrived.
It was 90 degrees warmer in the Florida Keys than it was back home on the Farm.
Instead of having to do farm chores, we had to drink delicious margaritas.
We’d have a week of vacation to float in the ocean, sleep in real beds, and sleep in late if we want to … with laundry machines, running water, electricity, air conditioning … all the conveniences of modern life, without any of the hassles of the real world.
Thursday, February 20th
Green Flamingo Organics
Oak Hill, FL
The main chicken coop door had been left open overnight; the electric fence was back online, so there was no harm to no fowl. However, today was the day we were to pull down the fence and move it to a new area for the hens to forage in.
This meant that all the chickens had to get back inside their coop so we could work. Heh.
(The previous week, Dawn and Erykah had learned how hard it is to get them all inside, when they’d attempted to round them all up to close the coop for nighttime. They were new to chickens and chicken-duty, and no one had told them that you could simply wait until the sun was going down, and the chickens would all go inside on their own … so they spent an hour running, grabbing, falling, laughing, and cursing before finally giving up on the last half dozen or so that evaded the pre-dusk round-up.)
We had more people this time, but the chickens were just out for the morning, and had zero interest in going inside. Meredith baited a large group of them in by putting their morning feed in the coop, but at least a third remained outside, avoiding us warily.
We were going to have to chase them down, and get them into the coop door – without letting any of the ones already inside escape.
This was a recipe for hilarity and hijinks.
So I ran and grabbed Kristin’s phone (which got internet service), cranked the volume up to the max, and quickly went to YouTube for the best thing ever in these circumstances:
This is the song that comes into my head every single time I see a person chasing a chicken for some reason, and it always makes me laugh … so this scene and soundtrack was a highlight of the trip.
It played on repeat as we dashed after the chickens, caught them, lost them, stuck them in the door, grabbed at the ones that would escape … I think it went through on repeat three times before we finally captured the final fowl.
The new roof hadn’t kept the Greenhouse Cardinal from his routine of sneaking in somehow during the evening, lured by the trays of sunflower sprouts, and then needing to be let out the door in the morning – flying around frantically apparently unable to locate or exit through whatever his entrance hole was.
Then it was harvest time.
Kristin and I had been doing a lot of arugula, so we got to work on the total 8 white crates necessary for the day – there had been a lot of demand for arugula lately between the salad mix, restaurant orders, and CSA needs, so the rows had been getting pretty picked over.
It took attention, skill, and patience to get 8 pounds of decent leaves from the various patches throughout the garden, but we were getting pretty good at it.
For lunch we all ate the rump roast we’d gotten from the wild pig, shot by the landowner and cleaned and dressed by Liz and Gary. We accompanied it with rice, carrot and beet salad, and sauteed beet greens. It was delicious, easily the tastiest lunch any of us had at the GFO.
After lunch, we tore down a garden of old okra stalks so Liz could run the tractor tiller over the patch and prepare it for new planting.
The first batch of marmalade had turned out a bit overly thick and chewy – we made a second batch with refined recipe and techniques.
This batch came out perfect – delicious orange candy spread, sweet and bitter in perfect proportion.
The warm nights had the local nocturnal wildlife much more active – there were frogs making crazy, scary choruses in the woods all night long (at first we thought they were raccoons), and the two Trailer Frogs started coming out of the closet, hopping around the interior walls and windows – where they seemed to like to lay in wait for bugs, which worked great for us.
They stayed out of the bed – unlike the little green lizard that tickled my thigh and sent me yelping out of the sheets with visions of a giant spider …