This post will not include photos of breakfast sandwiches

Today was one of the sorts of days no farmer really talks about—at least to non-farmers. Especially farmers don’t blog about it or take photos of it or share it on social media.

 On a farm, there are ten thousand annoying, frightening, boring, frustrating, infuriating, screaming moments in a season. Yes, people write about the hard times—hail storms, crop failures, death of animals. Somehow I think sharing this and all the thousands of rosy, sunny days is so much easier. But you know something, I want to see more people saying, “Man, I just had a bull shit day.”

 I just had one of those days. I weigh carefully what to write about, what to share, what to crack a joke about. There’s a strange pressure I think we farmers feel to present the most beautiful, moving, and challenging moments and not to complain because there is an image of our lifestyle to uphold for the masses working in the office cubicles many of us left behind. Yes, I love being outdoors, doing physical work, being around beautiful flowers. But I deal with my fair share of stress and disappointments—and most of it isn’t romantic.

 Today I brought some parts from my irrigation in to be fixed. Thought it was fixed. It wasn’t. I wasted a whole day to have nothing solved. Its not the guys at the shop’s fault. It’s not mine. It’s faulty parts and who knows what. I also am fighting with a computer slower than my desktop from the 90s. Oh and recently I had a really shitty auto repair bill and my car insurance bill came just came in.

 Boring and sorta annoying right? But that’s my life—at least today.

 There’s few things that get my goat: people not being considerate or not listening, feeling stuck and wasting time. Those are some of the top ones—and spinning my wheels, especially dealing with things I don’t fully understand—auto, irrigation, machinery, technology—really tests my patience.

And sometimes my patience fails. I have enough to give it a good ol’ girl scout try, but there comes a time when I say, screw this and this day, I’m going home. I am done.

 Today was one of those days. I came home. I made myself breakfast for dinner. I wrote. I am going to watch Netflix and try to get up the enthusiasm to seed some flats. My life today.

 And you know what? I want to see more people’s days like mine. All the sunshine, flowers, and perfection is too much for me after a while. It used to stress me out—why didn’t my farm look so perfect, the flowers so long? Why are the farmers always so clean and I am covered in filth? Why were all their posts about how much work they accomplished that day and why did I feel so behind? Beware this social media pitfalls my fellow farming friends. Social media helps people construct the image they want to project. That’s cool, but I want some more brutal honesty without a moral in the end of it or a positive spin. I want more farmers to stand up and say “this sucks!” and end it there. Because that’s how it is sometimes. That’s real life. I don’t want to hide it any more.

 So enjoy this, social media, and no, you don’t get a photo of the delicious breakfast sandwich. I ate it all already. So there.

Bursting! Exciting News!

I've been sitting on this one for a while now waiting for a green light. It is a lesson in patience, sitting, waiting at a red lights when you can see the open road ahead. But now I can speed on ahead to the next chapter with Sweet Gale Gardens with confidence.

I'm moving and expanding! I'll be saying a fond farewell to my dear farming comrades at Fresh City and hello to the folks at Earth-To-Table Farm in Flamborough, ON. Tristan and I already found the loveliest of apartments with--wait for it--2 bedrooms! for our offices and loads more room for growing more seedlings indoors. Tristan doesn't know yet, but I've been holding back from buying houseplants for years--he doesn't know yet, but we will be living in a verdant jungle soon. 

But back to the farm! Earth-To-Table is an incubator farm run by FarmStart, a organization dedicated to educating and supporting new farmers. They really don't get it yet, but I've been one of their biggest fans since I moved to Ontario. Like Fresh City, there are multiple farmers on the property, all running their own operations and sharing the fields, facilities, etc. But there, I'll have an acre to test my farming grit on. I am nervous, but I do laugh manically when I look at all the seeds I bought and dream about the flowers growing there. It will be a transitional year, with I guarantee some set backs and frustrations, but I feel like it's time. I am ready. It will be my first season as a full-time farmer. Without juggling other positions, I'm hoping I can really dig deep, so to speak. And don't worry, I'll stay be coming back to Toronto with flowers, all the while trying to hunt down some new flower friends in Hamilton.

I wanted to also take a moment in this post to share there's a new gallery, "Offerings at the Flower Alter"  up in the "Gallery" tab. It doesn't have any photos yet, but it is part of a new project I am trying out for myself this season--to cultivate some creativity and mindfulness amongst the chaos of the season. Keep an eye out.

Lastly, I have some other exciting news I'm sitting on and a journal post to go with it. I have some creative collaborations coming down the pipe, but not quite ready to reveal. Stay tuned.

Lastly, all the seeds are in and some slow pokes like lisianthus, foxglove and others have all been started. It is so nice to be doing propagation work again.

Spring is on its way folks, keep thinking of the flowers, waiting for the sun to hit their faces and to wake once again! 

Fitting yourself to the paint

“You adapt yourself, Paul Klee said, to the contents of the paintbox…[the painter] fits himself to the paint.”

For the last month, I read snippets of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, trying to drum up insight and inspiration for my own attempt to construct a writer’s life in my non-farming hours.

This summer, we did this photo shoot. We planned it for creative respite in the middle of our busy season. We worked with a talented and fun loving crew of ladies and very generous friends-turned-models. The night before the shoot, I had a vision about the bouquet I wanted to construct—how the colors would interact, the way it would lay in my friend’s arms. I made it the next day.

Photography by Celine Kim

Photography by Celine Kim

Since the shoot, the strangest thing is, I swear, I see colors better. The subtle tones of the flowers, how they play off of one another, how combinations affect the mood—I can see it now like I couldn’t before.

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

The last two weddings we have done, we were gifted something very special by the couples: carte blanche. With very little instruction, we were told to run with it and we were trusted to produce things of beauty. We did what we promised. We used the very best of our flowers with the very best of talents. These things combined with artistic freedom, I believe we created striking arrangements.

We fit ourselves to the paint.

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

I believe in growing, selling, and arranging with local flowers because I believe that I can grow them in ecologically responsible way and that local flowers are another important part of our economy—and our lives. I could write a treatise on this.

However, I struggle to convey the subtle ways that local flowers can rise to the form of art—and how their beauty can be transformative.

Photo by Celin Kim

Photo by Celin Kim

Photo by Celine Kim2

Photo by Celine Kim2

I spend a lot of time around my flowers. I start them as seeds—so much potential in a small package. I watch them grow. Observe their needs and habits. When they begin to blossom, I note the spectrum of subtle color differences even amongst one variety. I am intrigued by what insects visit them. I arrange with them—noting how each one collaborates or conflicts with others. I take them home, notice how they look different in the morning light in my kitchen window. I watch the cut arrangements fade out and decay. I notice how the plants slow this time of year or speed up, trying so desperately to create new life, new seed. I see the frost wipe them out. I observe how the plants are broken down and go back into the soil.

This is the thing I am beginning to believe: the flowers are my paint and my paintbrush and in my own small way, I too am an artist.

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

My husband is a man of science through and through. In many ways, I am too. But I am the strangest hybrid—one foot in each world of science and art. He and I often discuss things like what is art, why does it matter, what is its purpose/what does it do. It is a discussion I know we will have the rest of our lives.

Art can do many things. It comforts, it enrages, it challenges, it tells stories, it celebrates, it mourns, it attempts to unlock the very same secrets of this world that science also is trying to unveil.

For me, my heart loves art when it attempts to capture, understand, and share beauty.

There is a quote I often turn over in my head by D. H. Lawrence “The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread.”

And what are flowers but beauty bound in vegetative form?

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

I have questioned at times the relevance of growing flowers in a world where people are living without even the barest necessities, like food. It was my fellow ardent vegetable farmers at Fresh City that confirmed to me that yes, what I do is something nourishing. At a recent group meeting the other farmers told me how they had been converted to flowers—how they could not imagine the farm without them anymore.

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

On my website I used to have a little slogan: “I believe that beauty found and cultivated can change our hearts and world.” I took it off after a while, feeling it silly and untrue. I didn’t believe in the strength in it.

I don’t think flowers can change the world. But then again, I believe nothing can—in the sense that not one thing has the ability to be that singularly transformative. The greatest issues our world face will not be settled by one grand idea. Problems will be solved by many creative and intelligent ideas. And when it comes to our hearts, we need to find the things that move our own. For me it is a poem by Mary Oliver, knowing how photosynthesis works, walking amidst beautiful places, observing the dragonfly perched on my shoulder, and flowers, of course, flowers.

Photo by Celine Kim

Photo by Celine Kim

Update: Please go to the gallery tab for more photos from this day and to find out about the lovely creative crew involved.

A vote of confidence

These last few weeks have been the proverbial roller coaster. Threw out my back--twice. Expanded my florist customers. Got through the late spring deluge. Tried a new market--and sorta bombed it. Got the biggest weddings out of the way--with success. Got away for a long weekend. Worked now 12 days straight. Collaborated on an incredibly beautiful first photo shoot. And more.

Here's a confession: when I am out in my fields, amongst the flowers, working and sweating and running about I am certain, in my bones sure, that I am supposed to continue farming flowers. When I create a flower arrangement that in the arms of my friend modeling brings tears to my eyes, I believe I am an artist. When I sell out of all my flowers to smiling customers or deliver buckets to appreciative florists, I know I am becoming a better business woman.

But as quick as you flip a switch, it can be over and I feel crushed by doubt, worry, stress, and end up questioning that this is the direction I should continue to take.

I wasn't always this way. I have a curious mind and I was unafraid of trying new ideas for size and either keeping or discarding them or failing at them. "I ride by the seat of my pants," was a familiar phrase to me. Yes, I felt stress. Yes, I felt doubt. But I didn't become crippled from it.

Lately I have. And really I have been for the last 3 years.

Something happened, which I believe happens to many young adults as they leave university. In school, there is a space and support for your ideas. Yes you have to work at them, defend them, honor them, but the energy is there in the university system.

The "real world", I have discovered, is more fickle. And being a recent grad with a lot of good ideas, but not a lot of experience I believe isn't really being valued by our economy. I have watched countless friends labor to bring their ideas and energy forward--and either find little interest, support, and a great deal of stress--and not many jobs. And then there's money. Let's not even get into that. Although its the elephant in the room.

I've watched friends succeed and fail. And be very very stressed. Like me.

Farming in particular, I should share, has an array of stresses beyond the norm. Market prices, yes. Possibly of injury, yes. Oh and how about climate change. Regular irregular weather patterns weren't enough. West coast drought. East coast flood. And so many extreme weather conditions besides.

So I often contemplate another life, one where I don't farm. Where maybe I work in an office. Maybe I'll better utilize my degrees. I get as steady a paycheck that any 20 something can hope to achieve.

And truthfully, I am researching and pursuing additional ideas. Back up plans, something I can cultivate on the side and turn to perhaps later on down the road. I am still figuring out the viability of these ideas.

When I hurt my back the second time, I laid on the floor and cried. I thought, this really could be it. The story I'll tell that ended my farming days. I felt a light go out inside me. I was not ready to end this yet.

Two weeks ago, my two best friends told me they were sending me something. They reminded me that I may not see my little flower business as a big deal, but they did. They were sending me a vote of confidence. It arrived today.

It is a small thing but a tangible thing. Wood, rubber, ink. It isn't a flower that fades and decays. It isn't a website full of words trailing away. I wanted to order a rubber stamp for myself, a ways back, but didn't. What would I do with it if my business changed or I full out quit? There was something real about it that I shied away from.

Now I have it in my hands. A little something for me to hold onto and confidence to carry me through.

My friends, you give a great gift.

After the rain

It’s been a dry spring in Toronto and most of Ontario. I don’t know officially if we were in a drought, but I know that May days looked more like August days—clear blue skies, dried out lawns, unhappy flowers failing to thrive.

To the rest of the world, it was the perfect spring weather—every single day: blue skies, unstoppable sun, and heat.

I on the other hand was trying to ruin everyone else’s fun and prayed daily for rain. Well, I don’t really pray, but I wished hard, repeating it over and over again, “please, please, please” and cursed the sun.

During the summer growing up, I lived beside the sea. Every day I was so blessed to roll out of bed, into a bathing suit and often by 10 was on the beach until dragged away to dinner. The very best of days. Sun, waves, wind. Perfection.

But I had a soft spot in my heart for the days when I woke up to rain drumming on my windows, clouds darkening the sky, and a quiet house where everyone slept in a little later than usual. Those days were quiet and different from our sunny day routines. Maybe we’d do chores, go to a museum, look through stores, or poke around the dust covered closets filled with old family things. My favorite thing would be to curl up with a book and no one would bother me or try to get me to run about. Rainy days were for quiet and contemplation.

I also grew up in rainy and overcast country in New York. There is something about a spring with slate blue clouds that makes the vegetation iridescent green. Those days I like to walk aimlessly, drive slowly.

My mind needs a rainy day just like the plants and soils.

Slow down, a rainy day says to me. Watch. Listen. 

Grow. But do it slowly please.

Community

I have been thinking about this post for the last few weeks, turning it over in my head, trying to think about what images to include.

It was supposed to be a heartfelt homage to the folks I farm with and generally up-beat. However, can't have the good without some misfortune.

I wanted to write about how I found fantastic community in the urban farming scene in Toronto. How inspired I was recently at a community meeting with some hard working urban ag leaders. How one of my fellow farmers helped me fix an irrigation problem the other week and afterwards gave me his adjustable wrench and I literally burst into tears after receiving such kind and generous assistance.

But its hard this morning for me to stir up the warm and fuzzies after the news this weekend. I'm hoping writing and sharing will help.

Saturday morning I noticed 3 flats of seedlings missing. I'm a bit harried this time of year and so are so many around me, I figured it was a mistake but I was worried. The seedlings weren't mine. I was plant-sitting and ultimately they were supposed to go to community gardens in the city.

Then I realized the bikes were missing.

And this morning: a phone call from my friend saying someone cut a hole in the side of the greenhouse, stole all the wheelbarrows, a bunch of harvest knives, the weedwacker, and so many random things we figure its a bunch of kids up to no good.

I'm relieved the didn't steal more expensive equipment or trash the place. But I have to admit, my spirits are really low.

Downsview Park is a strange, strange park. Federally owned, run by multiple corporations that the bureaucracy will make your head spin, and then a bunch a renters, like me, and on the ground staff. The surrounding area has its rough neighborhoods. I don't feel particularly safe on my own there in the evening. However, I thought things were going better with our neighbors. Less theft, more people stopping by to talk and ask questions, and we're hoping to run farm gate sales this year.

But stuff like this gets me seriously down and makes me wonder what we should be doing better or can we do anything better to create better relationships and community.

At the farm, amongst our member farmers, we have really been trying to foster interdependence, independence, good communication, fairness, understanding and trust. We've also been trying harder to improve the ecological community at the farm: planting for pollinators, improving our treatment of the soil, etc. But I wonder in focusing so much these last few years on our own small community, we've shied the greater one around us. Because frankly, its a much more complex and difficult one to engage with.

Urban farms and urban farmers are often transient. Available land in cities is only waiting for a new purchaser. Our farmers move according to job opportunities or adventures. I myself will be seeking larger fields at the end of this year.

I think that's why I am so deeply sad. I know I shouldn't but I take this theft personal. Not that I'm angry at the people who stole, but angry at myself that in my time at the farm, I didn't engage more boldly with the surrounding community.

I have some ideas, small ones that I will try to get moving in my short tenure left. I know its not all on me, but I should do my part. Reorient, reorganize, and try to make of the best of my time left.
 

Update: Over the course of the 2015, there were over 4 break-ins at the greenhouse. Work continues to discourage these acts and to foster community and communication in and around the park.

Pay attention to what fades into the background

Coming home today from the farm, I looked out the window as High Park slid by my window. The trees looked like they were draped with diamonds with all of the rain drops refracting this afternoon's light. As I walked up my street and to my apartment, I stopped to look at the drops that had gathered on the crocuses. 

If you haven't noticed, in the last few posts in the blog, I have been presenting a series of flower stories. It's part of a larger piece of writing I'm mulling over and trying out. I enjoy researching the history, use, and meanings behind flowers. Today, drawn in by the ultraviolet crocuses, I knew I found my muse. However, today I thought I might take a different tack. Today I want to share my flower story, relating to the crocus.

I may have mentioned this on the blog before, but when I was growing up, I literally believed sometimes that spring might never come, that winter would have won in the fight of seasons.

My Mom planted gardens all around my home growing up. Many of my memories are of her, outside, with a giant floppy hat and an old Syracuse University rugby shirt she stole from my Dad (you may or may not find me sporting the same outfit around Downsview Park these days-photo flashback to 2013!). My Mom was forever at war with the deer, especially when it came to the tulips. One perfect bud would form, start to crack and color and then--SNIP! Here today, gone tomorrow. But daffodils and crocuses seem immune to the critters.

Every spring they never fail to arrive and to me, they are my harbinger of spring, my little bit of hope at the end of the long winter.

April is a special month to me. April 22nd, Earth Day, is truly a sacred and special holiday to me. I know its made up and people should think about the environment everyday, but I like having a special day to celebrate. April 23rd is my favorite day of the year because its my Mom's birthday. These are linked in my mind--celebrating and remembering the Earth, everyone's mother and my own. The first all around me and the second taken far too early from me. Its bittersweet, but that's spring. As we rejoice over all the new flowers, birds, and all things new, we can't help but remember those we lost in the long winter.

Crocuses are a simple, nothing special flower. They are not the focal flower in the arrangement. They are the backdrop in a wallpaper. But to me, they are much bigger than they appear.