What makes an organic farm go?
The idealist might say peace and love. The practical-minded, compost and manure. Sometimes, if I’m feeling sassy, I’ll answer, money.
But the real answer? The sun.
At its root, a farm is a device for collecting and storing sunlight. Farms convert solar energy into calories to feed their farmers and animals, ideally with enough surplus to fuel the rest of civilization. Even the tractor runs on sunlight, albeit gathered three-hundred-million years ago during the Carboniferous Period.
The longer I farm, the more attention I pay to the sun—its passage through the sky and through the year and how that affects the farm.
Around the beginning of this past February, I was out and about in the early evening and was struck by how the sky had traded winter’s gray-blue tones for the blue-pink tints of spring. And I was taken by how light it was so relatively late.
None of that should have surprised me, of course. Groundhog Day (astronomically the day about midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox) is the tipping point, when January’s unrelenting darkness finally yields to the strengthening sun. I sure feel it. I think the earth feels it also—the world seems more lively, somehow, despite its blanket of snow.
The chickens surely notice it as well. While flower bulbs break dormancy in response to soil temperature, and trees to air temperature, chickens are truly sun worshippers: Day length affects how many eggs they lay. All this past winter I gathered just a couple of eggs a day, but throughout February that increased to the point that I can now count on over a dozen.
So we’ve moved from dormancy through expectancy to preparation and now action. The seeds have arrived. The potting soil, too. And the first of those seeds were sown into that soil last week, to start taking advantage of all this growing solar power.
The world spins on toward spring. Here on the farm, we spin with it.