an interview; a growing labor of love; an appeal for help, updated

A year ago this summer I first visited Excelsior Farm where James was interning. Jeremy (center, above*) was engaged to Ashli (left), and they were in the busy, happy zone of preparation for building a life together. Their farm, launched by the owner of Eugene's Excelsior Inn, was a dream, barely germinated, of providing the Inn's restaurant with "the freshest selection of ingredients found in the Willamette Valley." Jeremy had been hired to manage and, as soon as possible, become owner of the farm business. I could sense Jeremy and Ashli were on their way.



Now it's November a year on. Jeremy and Ashli got hitched in July, and James has been working for them as often as their budget allows. While I ponder soil (see last post) and tuck soft blankets over my legs on cold evenings, they are out there, the next generation, knee deep in care for the soil's provision

Ashli and Jeremy are well into a Kickstarter project**, raising funds for a new, larger greenhouse. The Kickstarter website is a platform for creative endeavors of all sorts. It's an all-or-nothing deal, where participants set a money goal and ask for backers.

The additional greenhouse would give Ashli and Jeremy space to grow produce all year. They introduce themselves in an artistic video (follow link; you'll enjoy James's video work).

Recently I asked Ashli a few questions. The idea of launching a marriage by meeting the demands of even a small, organic farm like Excelsior boggles me. Ashli gave me a snapshot of their world:
Sometimes our days move like clockwork, but they can also vary a lot. A few days of the week are dedicated to harvesting for our Harvest Baskets (a "community supported agriculture" or CSA program) as well as restaurant and wholesale accounts. Those days are usually taken up by harvesting. Other days are given to cultivation, starting seeds, and planting. Some times of year see us tearing out spent crops, like at the end of summer. The barn and pack out areas get kind of messy, so we spend time cleaning up. I’d say daily life is just a lot of doing what needs to be done at the time.

A typical harvest day in summer, from my perspective: We arrive at the farm around 7:30 or 8 am and survey what needs to be harvested. If it’s a CSA harvest day, we make a list of eight items that are ready in sufficient quantities for our subscribers. This list, or alternatively wholesale and restaurant orders, is clipped on a clipboard and hung in the pack out (where we wash and pack produce) for reference. Then we divide tasks, and get to work harvesting, washing, packing, and labeling until all is finished! I mostly do harvesting; if Jeremy were to give you a sample day, he could really fill it out with all the little and large tasks which he has to accomplish in a given day.
Ashli blogs at The Excelsior Farm Chronicle. She posts recipes and sometimes introduces to farm partners (like me) such non-ordinary produce as  kohlrabi and celeriac. Her knowledge has made me wonder if she grew up in exotic places, studying plants and foods. She answered:
I have spent my whole life in Oregon except for the two years I lived in New York while getting my Master’s degree. It is a great privilege to grow up with the natural beauty of this state; each portion is breathtaking and in strikingly different ways. I grew up very conscious of Oregon’s diverse landscapes, which are in many places still quite rural, as well as our unpredictable weather (at least in western Oregon, which is where I have mostly lived). This kind of “wildness” left its impression on me at a young age, and I always wanted to be out in it.

My childhood was largely suburban, and as I grew older I increasingly wanted to live a more rural life. I never planned on being a farmer, exactly, but I’m glad that I get to spend so much time working outside now!
 
My family did not really keep a vegetable garden, but I did grow up near some local family farms and spent lots of time berry picking. I was always enchanted by the thought of fresh, local food, of eating seasonally.
Next I wondered if the idea of farming with Jeremy took some getting used to. Ashli responded:
I believe farming has always been part of the vision of our life together. When we met, Jeremy was already running a small garden and planning on pursuing farming as his occupation. I was planning on pursuing a Master’s degree and exploring a future in education, but beyond that I had not really fleshed out a vision of what kind of life I wanted to have. Jeremy explained his plans of farming to me at the start of our relationship, and I was on board. I could easily see us having that kind of life together, and the idea did not initially take any getting used to.

It has taken more getting used to since we’ve actually been farming together. I just had no idea what farming would entail--otherwise I might not have been so enthusiastic about it! It is a wonderful life that we’re very thankful for, but it’s a lot of hard work. Not only is it a lot of physical labor; it does not really stop. It’s not the kind of job that you can leave behind you when you go home. The responsibilities and tasks are ever present, and there’s always more to do.
The most important thing to know about Jeremy and Ashli's Kickstarter Project?
We only have until Monday, November 17 to meet our goal, and we’re just over halfway there. Help us build this greenhouse! Any help in reaching our goal would be most appreciated!


*Photo credit: Shirley Chan

**Update: Thanks to lots of friends helping, they made it! The project ended in success, and now Ashli and Jeremy will be busy building a greenhouse.

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