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A Reflective Practitioner

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

As a teacher, the idea of being a reflective practitioner is ingrained as an obvious part of the job. If you introduce a new project to a classroom and one of your thirty students goes to hide under a desk clearly giving you the sign that he'd rather die than do what you are proposing, you immediately know you need to take action. You ask yourself and the boy, "Why is this making you so upset? What can I do to help? Would you like it if...?" You begin to adjust, adapt and make changes so that the boy can participate in learning in a way best suited to his needs while still accomplishing the requirements of the classroom. Sometimes this negotiation process is pretty straight forward, but sometimes it takes an enormous amount of creativity, testing and patience to figure out what will work. Teachers carry these students in their hearts, because it is these students who make teaching most gratifying. If everything is easy, we are bored. If everything goes smoothly, we become irritable, if everything in life is pain free, we are miserable. It is through struggle and hardship that happiness results.

I always forget that notion. I've been irritated by troubles, and trying to find the lessons, silver linings and ah hahs!

Living in the country compared to the city can be a huge pain in the ass. I sometimes feel like I can't do a damn thing by myself out here. Country life is full of peace, natural beauty and often joy, but it can be hard, especially for a wimp with no machinery.

I love perennial gardens, and since I have an enormous yard, it has been quite easy to get the tractor driver to dig a long bed here, put an arced garden there and pop in a couple of small rounds here and there. William made the mistake of buying me a tiller, so the number of garden beds at the Dirt Farm has easily doubled in the last couple of years. I have so many plants in the established gardens that I can divide them to fill new beds quite easily, and two of my neighbors often gift me sweet specimens to add variety to what I already have.

The pain in the butt comes when it's time to weed and mulch. When I lived in the city on a postage-size lot, a few bags of hardware store mulch every spring would usually do the trick. Once in awhile, we would get a full yard of mulch in the back of our truck from the landscape center and spread that around our garden beds. Since I have been living in the country, my mulch needs are like COVID - growing at an exponential rate! And, for me alone to collect the amount of mulch the gardens need is impossible.

The second year I owned the Dirt Farm, we had started enough gardens that I ordered a semi load of mulch - 80 yards, and most years since then, I have needed between 20 and 40 yards to cover the gardens. The easy way to get this much mulch is to order it delivered, but for some reason, I never think I need that much, so have to beg friends with dump trailers, or hope the husband will have a moment between planting to take me to Schmitt Timber in the dump truck. Since I have been with William, finding a moment in the spring when the gardener and the farmer have time together to get mulch has been nearly impossible, so the gardens have been partly neglected for a few years. Fortunately, they fill in so fast, that in some cases, the weeds don't have much of a chance, but there are a few beds that have been overrun with crabgrass. If I lived in the city with all that "keeping up with the Joneses" pressure, I would be mortified with the state of these gardens, so thankfully I don't have that added social pressure.

Last year it suddenly dawned on me that I could just as easily mulch in late Autumn as I can in the Spring, so I left a note in my farm journal on the first November page to pester William to help me get mulch for the gardens. By late November, he's usually done with the harvest and has time for other projects. This morning I asked if he would be able to take me on a hot date in the dump truck to fetch mulch. He agreed, and in his classic, never in a hurry style, took me to Schmitts on all the winding scenic backroads. Lovely.

Now, once this humongous pile of mulch gets dumped, it used to be that I would hand fork it into a wheelbarrow to get it to its new home on the garden beds. The summer we ordered a semi, I moved mulch EVERY DAY ...for the entire hand! Remember, a dirt farmer doesn't work with mechanization. But, a dirt farmer gets tired, so a few years later we finally bought a fancy sub-compact John Deere tractor/mower with a loader attachment.

After the delivery guy demonstrated how easy it was to attach and detach the loader, I knew immediately that no matter my feminist attitudes and ideals, I simply do not have enough upper body strength for that "quick release" system. Once, out of desperation, I managed to detach the loader, but it wasn't without conjuring up some sort of banshee labor scream and push from the depths of hell that I could get that coupling to separate. F^#*ers. Easy. Not. So, when I need the loader to move mulch, more pestering is needed for help from the muscles. Fortunately, once the loader is attached, it is miraculously easy to move yard after yard after yard of mulch from a gigantic pile to its new home on the perennial gardens.

Problem solved! Get mulch in the Fall. I have been so frustrated the last couple of years not being able to tend to the gardens the way I like. I have been irritated (although not to the point of hiding under the desk) that there are just some things out here in the country I cannot do myself, so to finally solve the dilemma, I can walk away feeling pretty sassy and ready for Spring gardening. My garden beds will start off the summer looking tidy and gorgeous with weeds smothered under a deep layer of mulch, and instead of worrying about needing to take forty trips to Menards for bags, I can spend my gardening time dividing some of the gigantic perennial clumps to make a new flower bed for the bees and butterflies.

I'm sure I should probably learn to garden without mulch. Or make my own. Or find a home-property-locally-sourced replacement material. But, I'm just not there yet. I like the look of mulch.

Hopefully none of you is going to tell me mulching in the almost winter will suffocate your perennials, or grow molds so terrible you won't be able to breathe while tending the plants or that a new species of slug will be born from all that moisture! I guess that would just give me a new problem to solve and the resulting happiness that comes from adapting, fixing or stopping a pain. Once a reflective practitioner...always grumpy about something!


Over the last two weekends our bird seed SOLD OUT except for a couple of the small bags still in the store. That was a popular item, but we want to make sure we have enough seeds for oil to get through the store's 2021 culinary needs, so will no longer be selling the 50 pound bags. Also almost sold out is our 2019 bottled oil. There are a few bottles still on the store shelf, but we will not press more until we are ready to reopen in March or April as we like it to be freshly pressed. In case you didn't know, our last day to be open this year is December 6th.

We will be open for the next three weekends, including Thanksgiving Day and weekend. Considering that many of us will be celebrating with a very small group for Thanksgiving, I will have Thanksgiving grab and go (first come, first served) ready for you next Thursday, November 26th. There will be Roast Turkey, Garlic Gravy, Smashed Potatoes, Ginger Glazed Carrots and Sage Stuffing. Each dish will be individually packaged to mix and match and will serve two. Also available, Brandied Cranberry & Fig Jam and Cranberry Vinaigrette for salad. Get some good bread and a pie from Sandra at the Smiling Pelican and you have a simply delicious Thanksgiving!


This will be a great weekend for a little holiday shopping at our store. We have Maple Syrup in half pints on sale for $6. Our CBD line of oils, balms, and lotions is stocked. Especially fun for gifting is our pretty imprinted Lotion Bar for that someone who enjoys natural moisturizers to tackle winter's dry air. And, for that eccentric gardener, one of William's metal sculptures would be great! We have small bundles of firewood for $5, curly willow sticks ($3 each) for decorating your winter pots, and a variety of from-our-gardens spice blends and tea. And, yes, there will be soup. We have an Italian Parmesan & Chickpea (GF) and a Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice (NOT gluten free).

Enjoy your projects, your good reads, and your favorite radio station! These are our companions during this pandemic.

Sending love from the farms,

Sarah Brenner

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