We Pause for Flowers, We Work for Home, We Plan(t) for Spring

Sister Wagner and I ventured out into Philadelphia last weekend to look at an apartment (for her), eat some delicious Blackbird Pizza and hit up the Philadelphia Flower Show.

jess flower

Even though it was exceptionally crowded and the second week of the show (read: some of those plants were pretty parched), it was still beautiful. Movie themed exhibits, bright, bright colors, and all the green.

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I adore those little picture windows and mini displays – artisans utilizing plant materials to make these teeny tiny creations really gets me ridiculously jazzed.

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Little, couple-inch tall displays suspended in window boxes. It gives me excited goosebumps just thinking about it. #plantnerd

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Yes yes. Once a year I post a bunch of beautiful flower pictures from somewhere. But you should know by now that that’s how it works.

Rodale homages in the Barnes and Noble.

Rodale homages in the Barnes and Noble.

I moved back to the Lehigh Valley in 2013 to start the farm. The previous year, I operated at a farm and market where it seemed almost everybody was food-savvy and juicing and asking us how close we were for the drive we were making. It’s been wonderful to see that happening here – we have so many new folks signed up for the CSA this year, and nearly a dozen of them are from right where I grew up. They’ve heard about the farm through my part-time job or friends, neighbors or other local businesses, and they want to give this whole farm share idea a try.

That feels really, really good. I’m so excited to be a part of their venture. I want people to feel good and knowledgeable about the food they are putting into their bodies and to be excited about the community we are all building together.

Meanwhile, the snow is finally starting to melt. We’re trucking along in the greenhouse, but I’m really looking forward to dry socks and warm feet. But the snow has been beautiful (if nothing else), and the puppy has enjoyed frolicking in it.

Dad surveys the fields and wishes for less snow.

Dad surveys the fields and wishes for less snow.

Arya, meanwhile, wants to live in the Arctic tundra and dig for smelly things forever.

Arya, meanwhile, wants to live in the Arctic tundra and dig for smelly things forever.

More seeding over the next couple days. Then we’ll have to refill that solar bunker, get to the Philadelphia L&I office to have the scale licensed, buy a handful of remaining supplies and some other needed farm tasks. But most of the paperwork stuff is done, and that is always an incredible relief.

This year we’ll be delivering shares to St. Luke University’s Health Network in Quakertown to over a dozen staff members there. I’m excited to expand our CSA network, and I love that offices and businesses are starting to offer these sorts of initiatives to their staff. Soon I’ll be speaking at an office closer to the farm as part of a “learn and lunch” about the benefits of buying local foods and how they can get more involved in these processes. I’m a little nervous – it’s been awhile since I’ve had to make a PowerPoint for anything – but I’m excited to promote on behalf of food producers in the Lehigh Valley.

There’s still time to sign up for the CSA! If you want a food adventure (and another reason to see me from time to time), I highly recommend it.

Also, if you have some old Venetian blinds, you can bring those my way. Found some neat tips to reuse materials for tray markers.

And after my wandering winter life, I’m finally living in my house. I don’t know when the brain transition from “living alone is a little spooky,” to “Oh my God, living alone is amazing – you mean I can dance around in the middle of the night AND burn sandalwood incense in the living room AND play Vampire Weekend on repeat?” happened, but I’m stoked it did. I’ve been slowly putting the tools and paint away in the basement and moving in furniture from Reclinercize. Sure, I still need to hang blinds in the living room. Sure, my water isn’t potable. But I’m getting there.

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Over the last couple of years the humming of the Universe started up again. It drove me mad as a kid – this feeling that I was just on the cusp of something incredible, but repeatedly unable to figure out what the something was. It felt exciting, but more so frustrating and a little lonely. But as my dear friend and yoga teacher Sharon told me last year, “Stay true to yourself and your tribe will find you,” and that started happening at a wild pace as soon as I started doing what I should have been doing the whole time. And not just with the agriculture – the whole demeanor of my life has shifted, and the people who have appeared in it (or reappeared, which is another beautiful happening), are some of the most industrious, brilliant and affirmative presences I’ve had the privilege to meet.

And so we wait. For the snow to melt, for the sun to come, for the plants to grow, for the new and exciting humans ahead.

baby thyme

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Home is Wherever I’m With You, Part I: Coming Back

12/30/12, 7:30am (Most of this was written in real time as I wandered through Philly yesterday)

I am sitting in Chapterhouse, a coffee shop in South Philadelphia, drinking a Dominican Mocha and eating pizzelles from Sarcone’s Bakery, and my brain is have this strange, double life, mashed up meeting of worlds hemorrhage.

I finally got to see The Silver Linings Playbook last night, which is a move that is particularly dear to me because the author of the book, Matt Quick, was a Collegian editor, writing man from La Salle whom I’ve met with his writer wife before. I wrote a book review of Sorta Like a Rock Star, his kick ass young adult book that came out a couple years back. This couple gives me hope and brings me home to the a place that was so defining to me as an adult, and seeing the Philly skyline on the movie screen may mean nothing to everyone else, but it got me, right down in the pit of my little college girl, writer, big dreamer heart.

So I got up at six this morning, dressed in the dark, and drove down. As I rounded the bend on 76 and the skyline came into view, even on a gray, unassuming morning like today, something in my brain stilled. Some part of me that was and is always moving in high gear just…calmed down. It was weird, but it was most welcome.

I searched for free parking down off Washington and began my trek through my old lands. I haven’t been here for some time, and I guess overall I did spend a lot of time in New York City over the past eight months. But Philly is the one that feels like my city.

But I know I have been gone. I went searching for Benna’s coffee shop – the dream of one of their Open Fire steamers hasn’t left me since last May – but the storefront appears to be a young, hip website design company now (unless I got lost and went to the wrong intersection, which is highly possible. Even when I lived here I was always losing track of Benna’s). I walked through the Italian market, mouthwatering at all the cheap produce the vendors were setting up, and laughing at the burning trash cans they always set up in winter. Derek loved the thought of a farmer’s market full of smoky burn barrels. I hope he has the chance to come see them and get a good laugh.

But I feel like I have one foot in the city and one still stretched out across the state lines at Keith’s farm. I ripped open the bag of pizzelles before the door to Sarcone’s closed behind me, and as soon as the mild taste of anise hit my tongue a dozen memories flashed into my brain. Hanging out in the herb beds up in the 09 field in my first couple weeks, planting anise, the smell and taste of its purple flowers.

This has been happening constantly. And most of the time, it’s okay. I keep walking past stores in the Italian market with garlic in my bag and a half sheet about Keith’s farm and the garlic and my forthcoming farm, but I keep panicking and walking past. I am sitting in my old coffee shops but instead of working on papers or trying to write mediocre fiction or working on something for Child Advocates, I’m researching tax-exempt status forms and IRS paperwork for new farms. I haven’t adjusted to not seeing my farmers constantly and continue to have some pathetic minor dialogue with them in my head when I make a joke no one gets or the like.

And then Sara walks in.

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Sara has known me for longer than almost anyone at this point in my life. We met at the PA Governor’s School for the Arts, RIP, the summer before my senior year of high school. I was a scared little fiction writer who from the country who had never left town, and she was the Philly artist since the day she was born. She has been with me and supported me through the toughest, most defining moments of my life, and she is the person who sees my best self. Because that is who she is. She lights up the room, or the coffee shop, or the subway station, and then she lights you up, and you want to be that smiley, playful, loving person she draws out of you. She was the first person to show me this – back when I was 17 and awash with kid emotions – and she does it now, still. I can tell her anything and she can assess and process me and my next tentative moves about men, about my family, about my farm and about myself, in a way that is as efficient as a seasoned therapist with as much love as anyone who has ever loved me – which is why she is and has always been my wife.

She is an incredibly grounding, beautiful person. When I am lonely or upset or ecstatic and in love with my life, I just want to talk to her. So that is what I did. And things that have been so very hazy for me in my personal world for the past few months have sharpened in clarity. The one foot stuck in Keith’s farm is slowly rising to join the rest of me back here, in this new era of my life.

Sara is also an artist in the whole sense of the word. I am writing this portion of this post lying in her bed (I loiter here a lot. Her family tolerates me, to the point that they all asked about the farm when I walked in, and I love them for it), which has an instant, calming effect on me. Her walls are painted with sunflowers and trees and poetry, every nook holds a plant or a candle or an old air conditioner or a guitar or a clay sculpture. And we have this thing about her shoes. When I start new chapters of my life, Sara retires a pair of her worn, paint-covered Converse and bestows them upon me, sometimes filled with hand-sewn dolls and teddy bears, or, as in the case this holiday season, with a pot of basil to plant in them. This is a weird, quirky thing that we do as strange, silly women, but it is impossible to articulate what this means to me since the last pair six years ago. This is the ending of so much, and a shiny new start on even more. And she has almost more excited for Wagner Farmstead than I have since its outset, and that feels good.

I leave Sara’s and catch a ride around the block with Jess, who drove in for lunch, aka bottomless mimosas.

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This Jess is a gal I met about a year and a half ago, right as I was starting adulthood in Philly, whose presence and attitude also helped change the course of my future. I was just starting to work at Child Advocates and looking for some new scenes when I signed up to run with Back on My Feet (and if you read back to the very beginning of this blog, you will see how this program made me who I am), and Jess and Sarah and Scott and Erin and Caitlin and all the runner guys I met helped me become this confident, loving person I had forgotten about during a college. And running with these guys gave me the strength to take the plunge on this whole adventure in the first place.

Scott and Sarah, my other lovely farmer/runner friends who grew up near the farm.

Scott and Sarah, my other lovely farmer/runner friends who grew up near the farm.

Jess is hilarious and sweet and interesting and interested and practical, and a million other great things. It was great to see her and catch up.

And then I arrived at the home of my old, dear friend Nate Adams. We watched some West Wing, grabbed some dinner and then headed off to see The Hold Steady, who may once again be my favorite band of life. If you like rock music, and guitars, and positive jams and narrative stories about druggie kids in the Midwest, you would and will love The Hold Steady. Watch this, and this, and this, and then you will understand. Craig Finn is the happiest frontman in rock music, and this kick ass rock has been a part of my history and growth for six years now. The show was awesome, and it was great to share it with someone who has always been on the ground floor of my life and has supported me and this insane endeavor from the start.

Do you need a best man? Rock star? Great friend? Secret agent? Constant chore? Here he is.

Do you need a best man? Rock star? Great friend? Secret agent? Constant chore? Here he is.

To come back to this city and see this band and spend time with such excellent and admirable people was the perfect real beginning to my time back in Pennsylvania. And tomorrow, in Philly Part II: The New Year’s Sequel, it will continue again with Olivia Biagi, my college love of my life and the girl who wrote an article for the La Salle alumni magazine about my farm adventures.

And here is that hilarious nugget, for those without Facebook.

And here is that hilarious nugget, for those without Facebook.

In the new year I know I will have to knuckle down and start my planning. These things aren’t just going to fall into place. But for these few brief days, just to rehash the Keith’s farm experience with the people who matter and dream big dreams with the people who care about the adventure is all that I could ask for.

-Farmer Liz

Needed a farm picture in here somewhere. Cutting watercress at runner Sarah's childhood home.

Needed a farm picture in here somewhere. Cutting watercress at runner Sarah’s childhood home.