Recently, one of my uncles came for a visit. Over dinner, he told us that there are legitimate programs in which a person, usually a city-dweller, will pay a farmer to come and work as a farm hand for a set period of time. The participants do this in order to fulfill a (most likely) misinformed fantasy of picking vegetables in bare feet with wicker baskets and petting furry farm animals. My husband was skeptical that such a thing exists. Who would want to sweat their balls off in the hot summer sun for 12 hours? And not only that, actually pay to do such difficult work? The only reason that information struck me as odd was that I now know what it's like to work on a farm. But five years ago, I would have probably looked into a program like that for myself. In fact I was doing a tame version of that program by volunteering for a couple of hours a week at Tait Farm in exchange for vegetables when I met my husband.
The call to farm life came in the form of a farmer much later down the line, and with only a fantasy of rural life to prepare me. Today, farm life is just regular life, and I think there's a degree of separation required to properly fangirl something. But I still fangirl on the inside sometimes, it's just a little different now. Fantasizing about living on a farm is the only curious obsession that has outlived all the others that I've entertained over the years. I grew up wanting to become an artist, a dream that I carried with me through high school and that finally lost steam at the end of my college career. I remember showing my work in well-respected galleries in both Cleveland and New Jersey and thinking to myself, "I don't belong here." I recall vividly the realization that my whole life I had merely been in love with the idea of being an artist; I was never truly possessed by the relentless need to actually make work. The most surprising thing about living on a farm is how much I feel that I do belong here, despite all of my prior education and experience working against me in a sense. Living on a working farm has had a profound affect on my lifestyle, certainly, but more importantly on my mind and psychological state. It has succeeded in surfacing all of my faults and insisting I face them. It is a daily exercise in mental fitness.
To the urban girl that I was, and will probably always be at heart, farm work promised to be something healing and restorative. I was sure it would be an empowering experience. But farm work is far more humbling than I imagined. The spring, summer and fall of 2016 were my first "real" taste of field work. And this winter has been my first "real" introduction to all the complicated planning, prepping, budgeting and researching aspects of farming (aka "downtime"). Not once in my former single city life did I ever sit down with an attorney or an accountant and I certainly never met with sales representatives from seed companies or equipment purveyors. Farming, like many occupations, is wonderfully imperfect behind the scenes. Everything I once fantasized about has been proven wrong in all the right ways. I love that farming is actually dirty. Like, not just dirt-dirty...it's shitty. There's literally shit everywhere all the time. And I love that it is complicated, confusing, even repetitive - there is relief in not holding something up on a pedestal all of the time. I think too often when we hold a person or a lifestyle in such high esteem, it takes too much out of us. It's like going through a normal day of tasks all while holding the lit Olympic torch. Sometimes high expectations can impede appreciation.
My brother Tom just sowed oats the other day and the tomatoes have been planted in the greenhouse. Soon we'll move all of our starts outside and begin planting in the fields. If you listen closely you can hear the revving of our engines. The deep breath before the dive is nigh. In honor of our new oat fields, I thought I'd share a recipe for granola with you today. Granola is one of those snacks that can be deceptive. Many granola mixes on the market are just vehicles for sugar. But if you make it yourself, you can control that a bit more. It's a natural pairing with yogurt, but eating it like cereal doused in milk is my favorite way. Tweak this recipe to your heart's content and then fill your belly full. Here's to spring!
Maple + Olive Oil Granola
Makes about 18-19 ounces
Adapted from Chowhound
3 cup old fashioned oats (10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup nuts or seeds (2 1/2 - 3 ounces)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil (1 3/4 ounces)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried fruit (2 - 2 1/2 ounces)
Preheat a conventional oven to 300 F and place a rack in the center. Lightly grease a half sheet pan.
Toss the oats, nuts or seeds, cinnamon and salt together on the greased tray. Pour the maple syrup, olive oil and vanilla extract over the oat mixture and stir well until everything is coated. Shake the tray gently so the granola is in an even layer.
Bake the granola for 15-20 minutes. Remove the tray and carefully stir the mixture around, then shake to distribute back into an even layer. Return the tray to the oven and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the granola is golden brown.
Remove the tray and let it cool. When the granola is room temperature, add any dried fruit that you like. Store the granola in a sealed container for 3 weeks at room temperature.