Essential Work

Essential Work

It’s March 30th - my daughter has been home two weeks now from her shuttered college and our state-wide shelter in place order is on day eleven.  Time drips by as we await good news of a vaccine but otherwise, if we focus on day-to-day farm life, very little has changed for us and the days pass in work and quiet just as they did before.  I’ve always been one to make sure the pantry and other supplies are full-up, so we have had no panic dashes to the store to stock up on essentials. Our list of projects has definitely shifted from prepping for the guest and wedding season to 100% focusing on growing food, which was our plan all along, but now is of course front and center in our minds.  

There have been some disappointments, mild in comparison to what so many in the world are dealing with right now, so I feel silly even mentioning them.  We finally got into a very cool, very big fair in San Francisco after trying for a few years, and were due to be selling our products the first week of April.  I had such a long list of things to make and find and prepare for this event that although the loss of income will be hard to deal with, I am almost relieved to have more time to prepare. It has been rescheduled to the fall - we are all being optimistic in putting things off till the fall -  it will be a very busy time if we are safe by then! 

At the beginning of February, I was feeling stressed and harried - so much to do in the next months and so many deadlines to meet.  The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny and it felt like summer had arrived, skipping completely over spring. I wrote about my longing for a longer winter, and desire for more time to be quiet, slow, and do behind-the-scenes prep for all the big things that were coming our way in 2020.  If the adage, “Careful What You Wish For” could be any more true than now, I don’t know when.  Even the weather has cooperated with my now unwished for wish.  Cold, grey and wet for a couple of weeks now, it has afforded us a less running-to-the finish line panic over the warming weather and quickly approaching high season.

We’ve been sleeping in, having leisurely breakfasts, going to bed early, taking care of ourselves and being so very quiet.  With no Airbnb guests, I’ve had no pillowcases to wrestle, and the rain has done the irrigating for us on all the new trees we planted last month.  The farmstand is doing well - folks seem to appreciate not having to go to the large supermarkets in town for their fresh vegetables, and we so appreciate that they are loyal to us even though we really only have chard and kale to offer.  

Farm work these days, as I mentioned, is focused on growing food.  We already had it in our plans to build a hoophouse and expand our market garden by tenfold, but now, we are seeding quick-to-maturity plants, as well as our normally planned slate of fruits and veggies for the summer season.  With the hoophouse complete, I have been seeding flats every day and tomorrow will direct sow some early spinach, radishes and carrots. I don’t really know what to expect in the coming months and how much to plant and have ready.  Will the lack of weekenders hurt our farmstand business or will the distaste for going to big, crowded stores keep folks coming to us more and more? It’s a gamble expanding our market garden this year now that so much is uncertain, but perhaps we can use this as our “practice year” and learn and make mistakes when the stakes might be lower (or higher?).   If we grow more than we can sell, well, then there is always the chest freezer to fill and my pickling and preserving skills to use.

It took me a few days to decide whether I should plant cut-flowers this year.  It may be that we spend the entire summer alone here on the farm, so no one would be here to enjoy the field of flowers but us, and folks might be struggling to buy food if the shut-downs last, so bouquets would be a luxury.  Speaking with my Mom, she had the smart suggestions that 1.Flowers are a thing of beauty and much needed when times are hard to cheer one up, and 2. If indeed the local economy has taken such a blow that anything beyond food is not affordable, let’s give bouquets of flowers away to our customers as a gift of thanks for their continued support.  So I have several flats of flowers I am hopefully waiting on to sprout and will plant even more in the coming weeks. So glad.

I think many of us are thinking about what it must have been like for those at home during WWII - the waiting for news from the front must have been so agonizing with sons, husbands and friends overseas.  We all wake up and check the news every morning to see if some miracle cure has been discovered and will soon be available to us. I read this morning that this is the first time in human history that the entire globe is unified like this together - and the solidarity we are showing our immune-compromised brothers and sisters by staying at home is a beautiful thing - so different than the fractured world we have been experiencing.  This beautiful sentiment doesn’t take into account the inhumane and unjust fact that there are two hospital beds for every 100,000 Palestinians, that many poor, rural counties in the US do not have ICU units, and that many are not safe in their own homes as they shelter in place. The disenfranchised will be hurt so terribly by this plague. Please remember them.  

Today, Simon drove to our nearest larger town and got several weeks worth of groceries and some needed building supplies for our spring projects (a wash station for the market garden and some benches for the hoophouse among other things).  It took us a day to plan out his big adventure with much thought given to all the protocols he should follow to stay as safe as possible. When he got home, we created a human chain - Simon remaining outside the house and handing me an item to spray and wipe down with a bleach solution, Sahara in the house putting the items away.  Hopefully this method, and Simon immediately showering and washing all his clothes he wore out, kept the virus out of the house. After the tiring hours of shopping and being anxious, we sat down and had tea and home-made squash muffins and Simon told me what he had seen in town. It really reminded me of a chapter from the “Little House on the Prairie” books when Pa would drive into town, which might have taken a day or two, to bring back supplies and tell of the world outside their little homestead.  Simon talked about seeing a woman lick her fingers to open a product bag in the supermarket (no!), of guys hanging out together in the parking lot around their trucks, and apartment buildings whose carports were all full -everyone home. We imagined the life so many people must be living right now, stuck inside in small spaces with thin walls, neighbor’s voices and TV’s heard day and night.

Looking out the window at the misty clouds hanging over the volcano, the sky full of blackbirds and our new hoophouse glowing with potential, we both were struck again at our incredible luck and good fortune to be here on our farm.  Granted, we aren’t doing puzzles, trying out new recipes, having happy hours with friends or cleaning out closets like the rest of the country as we don’t have any new-found spare time. Farm life demands our full attention and chickens need feeding at 7am regardless of what else is happening in the world.  A friend said that farming was the original Work From Home. True!

I’ve heard there’s been a run on seeds, chickens, and other farmsteading supplies.  This life-choice we made three years ago makes even more sense now, for us and for our community here - the work of growing food for others is deemed “essential” and we are so incredibly glad to be growing fresh food for the folks here.  I know that in many parts of the country, there has already been a keen interest in small-scale farming and sourcing food locally. I’m hoping this crisis opens more eyes to the importance of this endeavor - creating more local food sources across the country - within big cities and in suburbs.  It’s great that folks want to start Victory Gardens and grow their own food. Jean Martin Fortier, Canadian farmer and hero to us in the farming world, talks a lot about how micro-farms are the future. Meanwhile, we are so glad to be doing “essential work”.  


  • Melinda

    Hi Elaine,

    You can find the directions for growing saffron at home on our homepage and also under the Benefits and Uses menu. Here is the link:


  • Elaine Rankin

    Martha Stewart magazine reported you would tell how to grow a pot of Crocus for our own saffron!

    Thank you for your help! Elaine

  • Janell Pekkain

    Just discovered your website after a search for lavender. I love what you wrote and what you’re doing. We bought some acres in Kelseyville 5 years ago and although haven’t taken the full leap into homesteading, we are slowing putting out our toes, feet in the water. I look forward to visiting your farmstead soon. Stay healthy and happy.

  • Athena Demetrios

    What a wonderful way to start my day. Visiting your site and reading your words,
    I could feel the “soul” of your farm. Such a heartfelt visual.
    Peace and Plenty is the perfect name.🌈

    Athena Demetrios

  • Corinne

    Just discovered you online. Beautiful writing. I look forward to visiting your farm some day. Love that you have saffron. – C

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