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August Newsletter: Catching Our Breath
How Farmers Run Marathons
Quiet Summer Days
August is a quiet time on the farm. We weed. We water. We wait the endless waiting that makes up so much of farming. A hour east, the vineyard is sleepy, unbothered. Veraison creeps over the grapes. Tendrilling vines bob quietly in the wind. Deer meander along the fence, hoping for a gap to slip through. They love to munch on young leaves and ripening fruit. In the dawn hours before we dayfolk brew our coffee, they wander like ghosts through the morning fog. We envy their initiative.
The days begin to shorten, an imperceptible shift towards autumn. Each, a bucolic turning of day to night, steamy with late summer haze. Our countertops are a riot of CSA rejects: split tomatoes, cracked melons, dented eggplants. A litany of carboys and tanks stands, freshly cleaned, in the corner of the winery. It looks like the beginnings of a séance, or the endings of a season. They feel the same.
All is lazy, beautiful, full. It’s a pleasant time to farm, to live. August feels like a held breath. September looks like a stormfront.
Our second round of botanical wines will be ready to bottle in just over a month, if all goes well. Our grape harvest begins in mid-September, overlapping the tail-end of our wine bottling. We bottle by hand, one bottle at a time. Labor is our greatest time sink. A temporary, if frustrating, circumstance.
In late September, we harvest the last of summer: peppers, eggplants, and melons. Winter squash and sweet potato ripen for curing. Late summer through early autumn is an ongoing game of tetris between the harvest and our undersized walk-in. The winery is much the same. Mismatched tanks, all on dollies, carted here and there to make room for this or that. A mobile fermentory, of sorts.
November promises relief, but true to form, brings none. In early November, we plant next year’s garlic and release our CSA Thanksgiving prep course. It’s a special month-long feature dedicated to helping our CSA members navigate what for many is the year’s most intense cooking extravaganza. November is also prime time for holiday events. Farming by day, schmoozing by night. Our specialty.
Through it all, there’s also our annual magazine, Nostos Recordings, to finalize and publish in time for the holidays. By mid-November, you can find us blearily putting our gardens to sleep for the winter. In early December, the CSA ends. We rest for about two weeks. Sanity rises on the horizon like the mirage that it is. Then the winter CSA begins.
How do you run a marathon? One step, crop, bottle, code, page, and gift box at a time.
Navigating a Stormfront
When it comes to navigating stormfronts and marathons, the best thing we can do is break things into parts. In his book, Anatomy of a Breakthrough: How to Get Unstuck When It Matters Most, author Adam Alter introduces us to a variety of techniques for avoiding becoming “stuck.” The human brain isn’t very good at judging progress. According to Alter, we feel the most motivated at the beginning and the end of a venture. The middle is where we falter. Deep into our travels but with no shore in sight, progress can feel a lot like drudgery.
Alters outlines three approaches for unsticking ourselves: Heart, Head, and Habit. Each offers their own frame of reference for dismantling stuckness:
Heart: Learning to accept that being stuck is a universal experience and mastering your emotional response to feeling stuck.
Head: Developing mental scripts to identify opportunities and maintain momentum.
Habit: Cultivating healthy fallback behaviors to lean on when we’re feeling stuck.
Even before reading Alter’s work, we followed a similar methodology. When the stormfront sets anchor, we navigate with our hearts, heads, and habits. We assign goalposts near and far for our growth as a business. We problem solve with conversation and brainstorming. We practice, above everything, patience in the face of adversity.
Finding Solace in Calabria
Let’s come back to August for a moment. Our CSA recipe theme this month is Calabria, a fitting feature for a late-summer harvest. Located in the south of Italy, Calabrian cuisine features the best that our summer harvest has to offer. Think tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil, and melons. All a joy to harvest and even more to eat.
One of our running jokes here on the farm is that in a past life, Andrew was an Italian nonna. His love of Italian food and wine and dedication to learning Italian suggests something benignly occult at work. Needless to say, this month was Andrew’s time to shine. Finding little moments of joy, like the pleasure of cooking Calabrian food on a hot summer’s day, brings meaning to our days.
What We’re Thinking About
This is our second season producing wine, but our first working with a wine distributor, and the question of how to grow is always on our minds. This is a kind of perennial topic between us, but now that our brand has some level of legitimacy, it feels more tangible.
There’s a saying in the wine industry: How do you make a million dollars in the wine? You start with two. Starting a wine business is expensive. Plenty of wineries compensate by remaking themselves into event venues. Entertainment is a timeless moneymaker. The appeal is obvious, but in our minds, it can never come at the expense of craft.
Instead, we build our production, slowly and carefully. Our motto on the farm is poco a poco, Spanish for “little by little.” Kelly picked it up from her viticulture mentor years ago. Scale too quickly, and the ship capsizes. Too slowly, and momentum lags. A new piece of equipment. An upgraded building. A small venue. A bigger venue. Etc.
What We’re Eating
I really love eggplants. There’s something about their silky, smokey, indulgent nature that I find endlessly satisfying. August is eggplant season on our farm, and we made no short use of them in this month’s CSA recipe theme. My favorite recipe of the month was our Eggplant Antipasto. It comes together in a flash and looks stunning in an antipasti lineup.
Nothing speaks more to the season than a pot of fresh tomatoes, eggplant, and herbs. So Salsa alla Norma is the perfect fit. While over pasta is the classic venue, I’ve enjoyed it over steak, toast, grits, and even green beans this month.
What We’re Drinking
The mainstream bar is a troubled place. There are some big name standbys in the market that are, quite frankly, a little boring. If I’m not feeling challenged by a cocktail, I’m not interested. One of my favorite ways to break the mold is to focus on local producers. I’m sure to encounter novel flavor profiles, and I won’t have the luxury of a Google search spitting out prefabricated recipes.
This month, we made a variation on a Puccini spritz using Sperryville-local Wild Roots Apothecary’s Orange & Fennel Botanical Syrup. We aptly named it a Fennel Puccini. It’s infinitely more intriguing than the original, and it supports the local economy, to boot!
For me, summer is the time of the spritz. A little something bitter, a little something sweet, and bubbles. While the chemically-colored Aperol may lead in the world of the spritz these days, we find solace in a number of bitter aperitivi made by the Cappelletti family. Their Americano Aperitivo Rosso is a go-to for me, and the base for our Anti-Aperol Spritz.
Minimalistic and pointedly philosophical, this short volume is a comparative exploration of humanity’s quest to achieve sustainable self-governance. From ascetic egalitarianism, to classist consumerism, to absolute totalitarianism, Le Guin takes us on a journey to reconnect with what’s most important amidst varying forms of human corruption.
In this interview with author Johann Hari, neuroscientist Gloria Mark, and writer Gretchen Rubin, Jonathan explores the impact of social media, multitasking, and habit formation on our capacity to focus. From the time cost of rapidly switching between tasks, to the inability to maintain mental flow states, Jonathan outlines what we lose when we can’t focus, and how we can fix it.
More of an update than a cover, Fall Out Boy has replaced the historical references of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire with events since the original was released. There are so many things I love about this, beyond the rhyming of “Crimean Peninsula” with “Cambridge Analytica”.
First, I remember when I was a kid the Billy Joel version being listed on MTV as one of the worst songs of its time. But the irony that history inflicts upon things we do and don’t value is what both versions of this song is, in part, about; and with MTV gone by the wayside and these gatekeeper’s lists feeling ever-dated today, such a memory feels so very apt.
Second, in the current era especially after the Trump presidency and COVID-19 pandemic, the sense of the the world being on fire figuratively, and the world being literally on fire makes the frenetic intensity of this song feel more real and cathartic than Joel’s did in 1989. This time it’s more zeitgeist than retrospective.
But most of all, the thing I love about this song is that it is absolutely in dialogue with the original. Covers when homages are dull; when reinventions, interesting; but when they actively engage and respond to the original, the work sets its own note in cultural history while also elevating its mirror. We can only hope that in or around 2058, another artist picks up the torch and continues the conversation.
Why can’t we just turn the empty offices into apartments? by PJ Vogt of Search Engine
As a long-ago listener of Reply All, I’m happy to see that PJ Vogt has begun a new project. This episode on housing and how we (as a culture) build things showcases something that I love about this approach to reporting, where, after a long journey through the nuances of a subject, we are left with both a deeper understanding, but not conclusions — instead we have more questions. This kind of prompting of curiosity and awareness is truly valuable and something I think we need more of in this world.
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