Harvesting emails and Gram's garden.

“Write about ‘Meyer’ lemons.”

“CA poppies touched my butt.” 

“Smelling the roses in front of Mary at Mission Basilica.”

_

 

I have a folder in my email titled, write. It’s mostly filled with emails from myself with one or two hastily written sentences of writing ideas. In the moment, these ideas seem fantastic, and I am sure that I will remember exactly what I meant when I wrote them. 

One email says, “each leaf of tea.” 

Another says, “that goat that time.” 

I have the best of intentions to follow these sentences on a winding path to a great novel or personal essay or something that the NY Times would die to publish. Human interest stories about plants - what could be better? Mostly though, these emails stay in their folder and when I visit them on the rare occasion, I have no clue what the fuck I was talking about. “Write about ‘Meyer’ lemons” - Hmm, that doesn’t narrow it down. Should I write about how to grow them, the origin, a few recipes? I guess what pops up in my mind the most when I think of ‘Meyer’ lemons, is my Grandma Lee, who had a huge lemon tree in her back garden in San Francisco. It was planted back in the early 50’s, and by the time I was old enough to fall in love with it (around 5 years old), it was 1987 and the tree was enormous, with thick branches and bushels of foliage. My Grandpa Charles (pronounced, “Challles” with that old-fashioned native SF drawl, especially after a drink or two) pruned the tree in a uninspired rectangle, like most of the shrubs on the property. He was a good gardener, but not exactly a visionary when it came to design. I used to sit and watch him spray the shit out of the back orchard, filling the air with pesticides while I opened and closed the old brass spigot, watching the thick stream of water hit the pathway and bounce in different directions. I distinctly remember thinking, these chemicals are bad, as he sprayed the plum, apple and guava trees. But, a la The Godfather, I just sat and watched him, enamored with the visual and tactile delights of gardening. He wore a white tank top with slacks, and he smelled like church. 

When winter came, the tree was filled with heaping clusters of fragrant lemons and virile bright green leaves. The garden was a traditional postage stamp-size, outlined by a thin concrete pathway, leading in a rectangular round-about, through the garden. The lemon was on the left, but it dominated the garden. We all loved that tree; grabbing lemons off of it almost year round. Pulling at the branches and gathering the citrus in outstretched clothing at the waist, letting them weigh down our t-shirts or hoodies. The soot from the city often covered the outer growing lemons and leaves, so I would go under the tree, harvesting from the middle. My grandma told us a story once of a tortoise that lived under the tree for many years. Every time I butt-scooted under it for a lemon, I’d secretly hope to find that tortoise. I never did - and still don’t really know the full story of why my grandparents had a giant tortoise in their city garden. 

Originating in China, the ‘Meyer’ lemon was introduced to the US in 1908, and continues to grow excellently in the Bay Area - and in my opinion needs to be in every single garden. Beyond it’s great taste and medicinal qualities, it makes a lovely companion, planted along side of anything from succulents to roses. There’s little pretense with a tree like this, you just grow it and enjoy. 

The lemon tree is still there, long after my grandparents passed away. Another owner is living in the house and I have always wanted to knock on the door and visit the garden again to see that tree. 

The feeling of ‘Meyer’ lemons is what sticks with me the most. Origin is irrelevant. Recipes bore me. I want to spend time feeling like a little girl again - remembering what the blossoms smelled like for the first time and feeling the soft weight of harvesting lemon after lemon. Oils on the hands and green stains on our clothes.

“Write about 'Meyer' lemons”. One email down.

 

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In community.

 

"Jenny, get in. I have an idea."  

This is just one of the many memorable, albeit abrupt, requests I'd get from Carl over the years. I would be watering or tending to my garden in front of my house on Johnston Street, and he would drive by heading to or from Feed & Fuel. If he had a landscaping idea or a plant question - I'd get swooped up and we'd check it out together. We would race down HWY 1 headed to his ranch, with speed I was hesitant to acknowledge. Conversation about tractors and (his favorite) passion vine flowers had a nice ability to distract as I white-knuckled the seat belt. 

You see, I started to get to know Carl back when I was about 16 years old, planning my gardening business, Wildflower Farms. I would buy seed or hay from the feed shop and bounce ideas or questions off of him. If he was in a generous mood, he'd give me tips and resources that would otherwise have taken me years to compile. If he was busy, I'd get the fuck off look, and... well, I'd fuck off and come back another day. Ultimately, he told me when I was ready (subtext - get your shit together, get a business license and checking account) he would give me a small line of credit within the shop. When I was 18 years old, I went in and got that line of credit - consisting of a small index card in a rolodex of sorts, with my name on it and the date. I couldn't have been more proud - and it facilitated my buying a wheel barrow, shovels and seed. He reminded me to not let it get too big and that I needed to pay it off each month. And I did, religiously.

You didn't fuck with Carl. 

Even as he continued to call me "Jenny" - despite my name being Jenn, I didn't correct him. Call it fear, disinterest or... fear - Carl could call me whatever variation of Jennifer he wanted. I always felt happy to be in conversation with someone as knowledgable, generous and fiery as he was. From a young age, he helped inspired me to be in business and stay in the agriculture industry. 

Years later when the little retail space at 329 Main Street opened up, I walked in and inquired about it. "You want to open up a little flower shop, Jenny?" Well - something like that, I explained. He was generous with rent, my weird requests and improvements, and helped me get going in my new retail venture. Once Garden Apothecary opened, he came in and said he didn't know what the hell I was selling, but he liked the colors and how I decorated. Through the 4 years I've rented from Carl, he was nothing but generous, moody, kind, brutally honest, creative and fiercely helpful (like that time he yelled at the health department for me).

It was clear he wanted me to succeed. 

Carl was a mentor and someone in this community I felt grateful to work with and grow up in front of - in the same company as Bev Cunha, John & Eda Muller, Naomi Partridge, Ron Bongard and many others. I've been in business in Half Moon Bay more than half of my life, with some years being very challenging. The loyalty, helpfulness and influence of our Coastside matriarchs and patriarchs is felt daily, and I believe integral to younger companies thriving locally. They are our advocates when times are tough, and a critical eye when (we think) we are successful.

As the Coastside slowly grows and changes, I find it increasingly important to take note of the folks here that have rooted down, brought business, thanklessly helped others and positively influence generations of Coastsiders. Carl Hoffman is among the ranks, and will be deeply missed. 

We are all a connected, woven tapestry in this weird little farm town - and a loss is felt when someone leaves us. 

Don't worry Carl, us at Garden Apothecary will continue to tell tourists to stay the hell off the big plastic cow, we will take shots at Feed & Fuel during December, and we will help keep the passion vine growing on the fence.

Thanks for everything, Carl. 

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Start. And continue.

Sparing you the details of a horrendous yet amazing eight weeks, I'll start by sharing some life stuff. I recently became single, started taking an intense weekly Japanese Taiko drumming class, and even more recently completed the Stanford University's Cultivating Compassion Training (CCT). Cultivating Compassion Training are basically fancy words that say for eight weeks, I meditated. I'm sure I'll be writing more about this, but for now my biggest take-away was on our last night, where our professor shared three simple words:

Start. And continue. 

Take this as you'd like, but for me and for today's post, this relates to farming... ish.

~

The long driveway of my property is going through my least favorite stage of the year, with puddles from this week's rain, giant gopher holes and the gravel I spent my savings on (back in 2002 and multiple times since) disappearing into nowhere. The gopher holes mock me and my efforts to thwart their continued swiss-cheese impact on my beautiful driveway. I walk, and with every two feet or so, softly mutter the holy prayer all farmers say, "Fucking assholes."

 The short walk to where the fields start is still lovely, with wind-bend hemlock smelling sweet with the remembrance of warmer days in the fall. I get to the rows of saffron (Crocus sativus), to survey what has recently bloomed. This is a perennial crop that needs tending to just a few months out of the year, with the time before harvest being the most important. Since I was consumed by something less savory during that time, the saffron were completely neglected. This year's harvest is definitely lower then expected (hoped, needed, wished), but it's more then sufficient for our purposes with the Higher Ground serum. (We have lots of perfect saffron threads being popped into new serum bottles as we speak, a winter 2017 batch that will be available well before christmas. Check out this awesome article including our products, from Alicia Silverstone.)  

Coming home from harvest, I pile the little heads of purple saffron in a heap on my kitchen table. Methodically, I work through the pile, pulling the narrow petals away from the stigma and stamen. The saffron (stigma) is laid flat to dry for the next two weeks. I haven't figured out a good use for the petals, other then burying my face in them for the rest of the evening. The buds that haven't fully opened are my favorite to process, twirling open with a simple movement and easily releasing the bright rust red saffron. 

My evenings have been spent tending to these tiny flowers, allowing me to spend time on a sweeter focus in these short winter days. 

Start. And continue. 

The plan is to plant more next fall and restore this current crop. Onward. 

 

 

To order a bottle of our new batch of Higher Ground serum, click here or visit the shop

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Farm gate.

 

Full disclosure; I'm going to complain for a minute. 

Today I went to the farm early to unload an ungodly amount of shit out of my truck. Old sandbags (like 20), bags of wet manure, tools and green waste needed to be organized and composted at the farm. I was not looking forward to doing it alone, but my employee (Hey Juan Carlos!) flaked on work at the last minute, and it needed to be out of my truck. *Juan Carlos works his ass off and is normally reliable, so I wasn't annoyed at him - just that my back hurt and I didn't feel like doing the work. Plus, I had a million other things to do that morning. 

Setting my petty frustration aside, I arrived early, pulling up to the dirt driveway with rising excitement because I remembered my gate was finally fixed. For the past 4 years I have opened and closed this fucked up, broken gate, instead of paying someone to fix it. It has not been a priority to spend time and money on, yet is super annoying to drag open or closed. You have to use your body to open it, with spider webs, debris and god knows what else clinging to your shoulder and side. Rust gets on your clothes and finger tips. I chase myself in circles to try to find ticks on me from this gate. 

Plus, (did I mention?), it's fucking annoying. 

The other day it got repaired. Swinging freely open and closed, it was something that made me unspeakably giddy. The gate is fixed and all is right with the world again!

This gate is a symbol of a thousand little things in business that go wrong, that can be so minor, but so effecting. I've had a number of challenges in business this year, as growing pains are rearing their ugly heads from time to time. Employees decide they don't want to do their jobs, it rains for 6 months, things break, things get stolen, people yell racial slurs at me on job sites, customers complain about roses that don't bloom "fast enough", and I get my period at job sites - like every month.

Life is not always #instafabulous . 

This tightened-up-moving-freely gate was my win for the week. Hell, the month! I could... nay, would, ride high on this accomplishment for a long time. 

So this morning I pulled my truck up to the farm and with a smile on my face, opened the gate with a mere push of my finger tips. 

It swung freely... for about 6 inches - then dragged to a stop.

"Yaaaay... oh."

I tried again, another 6 inches or so. 

"Yaaaay... oh." Again. "Yaaaay... oh."

The fucker dragged and stopped about five times within three feet before I finally lifted it up the rest of the way to get it fully opened. The rest of the day, my nail beds remained rusty and smelling of metal.

In conclusion I'd like to personally thank the person who invented the tetanus shot - and I'd like this gate to be fixed. 

Ease has to be just around the corner, right?

I actually do well in mild chaos and with challenges, because I find it gives a needed opportunity to change gears and shift into a better vibe. This podcast touched on that today on her recent post. Uprooting the weeds is good for the garden (and sometimes I'm the weed). 

I hope your business or life or kids or goats are providing you with ease, grace and fun this summer. Meanwhile, if you see a farm gate on fire, just look away. 

 

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Farm Workshop #001 - recap

What a pure delight to have a gathering at the farm the other week!

It was a surly Friday evening, with clouds coming and going - until about 7pm, when the sky opened up and the setting sun shown through the back drop of our 100+ year old Cypress trees. If it sounds too dreamy, you're right. It was...

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