Friday, April 15, 2016

A Day at Ayers Creek Farm

For the past few years I've had the privilege of occasional visits with Carol and Anthony Boutard at their farm outside of Gaston, spending a few hours helping with various chores. While not the most efficient worker, I hope that my enthusiasm for this wonderful place makes up for any lack of skill.

It starts with the alarm going off. I'm in the middle of a dream, but it disperses into steamy wisps when I open my eyes. As soon as I move dogs are tumbling off the bed and rolling on the floor like the demented dwarves that they are. Making my way to the bathroom I gingerly step over them, trying not to begin the day with a major injury. Ablutions done, contact lenses poked in my eyes, Walker leads me down the stairs with Kitty, as always, bringing up the rear (they somehow arrived at this arrangement soon after she joined the family and it's been that way ever since.)

Garlic, before weeding.

They dance around my feet as I put shoes on and untangle their leashes, Kitty barking in her hoarse but insistent voice, Walker whining and moaning to please-please-hurry-I-gotta-go. And out we do go, then in we come again, and while the coffee drips I feed them breakfast. I fill my water jug and pile up boots and coats for all the kinds of weather the day might bring, the fields wet and dripping or dry and dusty.

I pull up in front of Linda's house pretty much on time, her dogs begging for attention after a thorough sniffing to suss out who I've been with lately (at least four or five other dogs on this pair of jeans). Lunch at the farm today, as always, will be brought by Linda, who's planned a sprouted barley and beef soup with a cardoon salad tossed with an anchovy and lemon vinaigrette. I slap my forehead as I realize I've forgotten the loaf of Ayers Creek-grown barley bread that Dave made, so we'll have to "make do"—a gross misstatement of the facts—with Anthony's weekly allotment of Nostrana's wood oven-baked bread.

Garlic, after weeding.

The route from our Northeast neighborhood is a quick dash over the Fremont Bridge, out the Sunset Highway to Forest Grove then south to Gaston, but from Linda's home in Southeast it's easier to cross the river at Ross Island, heading out Highway 10 through Beaverton, then over Bald Peak to Springhill Road. It's a slower, albeit much more scenic, route, especially at the point you leave the suburbs behind, and I pull Chili up to the house before ten. Opening the front door sets off the Tito alarm, and he must be held and adored before any discussion of schedules can begin.

Anthony harvesting a cardoon.

By the time we head out to the fields Carol's sister, Sylvia, has arrived, and Carol introduces us to the "scuffle hoe," a stirrup-shaped scraper that basically uproots shallow weeds and cuts off deeper-rooted weeds when dragged over the surface of the soil. It's a fairly unsubtle instrument and can…ahem…also cut off the young plants if you try to get too close. (Note: I only beheaded two, Carol, honest!)

Cardoon salad.

Our task is to weed the tops and sides of a 100-foot row of garlic and a parallel 100-foot row of tarragon, thyme and sorrel. Linda (top photo, demonstrating proper technique) and I work the garlic while Carol and Sylvia tackle the other row, and we chat about books and movies and kids and laugh, sharing our experiences as I imagine farm workers have done for millenia.

When the rows are cleared it's time to head in for lunch where Anthony joins us—he's been off working on other projects all morning—and we dig into the hearty bowls of beef, sprouted barley, carrots and vegetables while thick slices of bread are slathered with butter and the cardoon salad is devoured.

The wicked euphorbia.

After lunch we head off to help Carol weed a section of her garden that was infested by an invasive form of euphorbia. What makes it worse, to her mind, is knowing that this calamity was self-inflicted. She bought the "cute little plant" at the garden store and within a couple of years it had wound itself around the daylilies, daffodil bulbs, lavender and shrubs in the bed, all of which have to be pulled out and disentangled from its grip.

Tea and cookies are our reward after this heroic rescue, and then it's time to jump in Chili and climb back over Bald Peak and home, a good day's labor behind us and, at least for me, a nice cocktail waiting to ease my tired muscles.

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