News From the Farm | October 16, 2017

Last week Judith wrote a brief thanks for all who participated in this year’s Hoes Down Harvest festival. I would like to start this week’s Beet with a bit more if you can bear with me.  After a week of picking up the last of the remnants of the festival and putting them all away, there is a lingering sweetness for all of us here about the whole experience.  For those of you who attended, perhaps you have your own best moment, but there are a few for me that I would like to share.

The Hayfort….

We have been doing this structure for nearly all 30 years of the festival. Every year the builders request more straw bales- this year nearly 600 bales of straw were arranged safely to provide tunnels, climbing and scrambling, pirate lookouts, interior dark places and tight squeezes- designed to be too small for big folks- in fact parents aren’t allowed inside- it is a place to be brave and fearless- always remarkable for me how we as a species like to climb to the top, how we are explorers at heart and how our children have such stout hearts to navigate dark passages.

The fort is a collective effort with Jeff Main- farmer-Good Humus Produce, Tom Lilly and 20 volunteers designing on the fly-  everyone learning the lessons of design for stability in strawbale stacking. The structure is one of my favorite parts of the event- a collaborative effort to build, creating a hive of small hoes downers who swarm over the structure all day- nervous parents on the perimeter.

The Square dance…

Remarkable is the good cheer of dancing together. Remarkable the smiles when swinging ones partner- new or old in a pattern of doe see does and star left and right. I feel that the earthworms of the farm are feeling the vibrations of dancing feet and recognize their essential connections to human step, running hoof, or native American dance here long ago -a rhythm of life fed and feeling. Your gift of dancing here is to make the vibrations that resonate in this vessel of a farm. Thanks to you….

The effort… 

Potlatch was a tradition of many Pacific Northwest Native American Tribes where the giving away was the act that demonstrated ones relationship to the whole community. There are many who make this day amazing and successful. This year Claire Main, Hannah Muller and Jordan Dixon (the next gen) joined forces with Dru Rivers, Judith Redmond, and a wonderfully regular group of committed volunteers and some 500-day of the festival volunteers to make the day happen.

Hoes Down is changing into a community event where increasingly many show up to do a job – many doing the same task over many years – often these are thank less tasks- like main gate, washing dishes, cutting vegetables, cleaning bathrooms, serving food or beverages, herding animal pet-ers into the animals, helping to paint gourds, dish out breakfast, set up or take down, making tortillas or spinning a yarn. Thanks to all who gave a part of their time to make it work.  We are all enriched by your give away.

The wreath room and its beauty…

Here we are uncovering artists among our farms workers. These women of the farm, given the opportunity for expression, reveal their genius and creativity. The room represents the whole process of planting, nurturing, watering, and bringing the blooms to dry and be arranged. We know that we are readily seduced here by color and texture- flowers trick to help us do their bidding to propagate. Sharing this room and process of showing alluring floral wreaths was the original impulse for making a festival. The room still dazzles those who visit, showing work of the farm from a year of gathering and arranging.

Watermelon eating…

This years contest was won by Andrew of the Peach Jamboree Farm near Oroville. This farmer had his farm burn to the ground in an earlier fire this year. He and his partner were the recipients of special shout out- the proceeds from tips and contributions of hoes downers became a $3000 fundraiser to help rebuild their farm. An indomitable spirit, Andrew had the determination to chow down a big slice of full belly red watermelon faster than the rest. Dru’s watermelon eating contest was innocent competition and delicious speed eating- no time to spit the seeds.

The Circus Bella…

This is the 8th year that Circus Bella has come to the Hoes Down. They arrive on Thursday evening for a farm spaghetti dinner, perform a whole district show for the Esparto School District – 300 children from kindergartners to seniors in high school are entertained with live performance of circus… magical – 3 shows at the festival and a packed crowd for each. They are wonderful folks who understand the simple act of performance in an old format- displaying strength, grace, clowning, juggling, multigenerational art and skill and twirling children on ones feet. 

Farm tours and workshops…

Finally, bringing folks to a farm- even on a festival day -is the opportunity to teach and share- to bridge gaps in understanding and to make a farm intimate to all. The Hoes Down started as a celebration of rural living- demonstrating a different world inhabited by your country cousins – the urban/rural divide needs bridges. I am convinced that we understand much more clearly when we set our feet firmly on a piece of soil and see the processes and feel the work that is needed to bring flower, fruit, meat, or green to our tables.

The work of circumventing fear and bringing forth beauty and joy is a task that needs new legions of those generous and sure…. that we are fundamentally remembering who we are….  and that we share our need for the basic expressions of humanity.

Thank you to all who helped and to all who came to the festival- your very presence inspires through the year.

Finally we pray for those displaced and overwhelmed by winds, flame and the power of those elements delivered together. But for fate/chance any one of us could be there. We share their grief and may we all reach out to help in any way we can.

Blessings on your meals.

–Paul Muller

Photos by: Kodiak Drewry