Living in Harmony
By Lesley S. King
At Harmony Farm’s booth, erected next to an old school bus painted with hippie flowers and vegetables, Nora Rodli and her partner, Richard Bélanger, set out their produce—red peppers, spinach, purple kale, onions, eggplant and Russian banana fingerling potatoes. Some of the most brilliant and flavorful produce in the market, its quality derives from the name of the farm: Harmony.
In order to create “harmony,” Nora and Richard, along with their team of helpers, lovingly orchestrate all the various parts of the growing process, working in concert with nature. At an early age Nora began learning how to do this in River Falls, Wisconsin, where she helped her family tend their large garden. In high school, she picked strawberries on an organic farm, and then she heard the call of the high desert and came to northern New Mexico. She worked for many years as an apprentice near Cochiti Pueblo. When she met Richard, they began farming together and have done so for nine years.
Their farm sits among chalk-colored hills in Abiquiu, the land Georgia O’Keeffe so poetically set to canvas. There, surrounded by sunflowers and cosmos, ripening pumpkins and chickens pecking in a coop, Nora crunches on a green bean while she plucks one from the plant and describes what it means to her to grow organically. “We focus on the health of the soil,” she says. “That’s the core of translating the health to the food.” They aid the soil in a variety of ways. First they use “local materials” for composting, rather than any kind of synthetics, which means plant matter and composted cow manure. They also use various “successions” of cover crops, which they grow and then turn back into the soil. “They release microbes,” she says. Buckwheat, for example, adds phosphorous.
Another part of their organic plan involves working with the insects. In Abiquiu, the most abundant ones are squash bugs, flea beetles, coddling moths and Mexican bean beetles, to name a few. At Harmony, they have a multifaceted strategy for living with them. “We think about when we’re planting and when the plant would be most vulnerable to the insects,” she says. As an example, they plant squash a little late so it’s not vulnerable to the squash bug at the height of its strength. They also set up “hedge rows” between crops in which they plant grasses and flowers that attract beneficial insects. “It creates a buffer zone,” she says. Ladybugs, for example, are attracted to grasses and they eat aphids. “It doesn’t stamp out the aphid problem, but it’s an attempt at creating a holistic system.”
And the final part of the bug strategy involves attitude. “You do a lot of planting so that if one crop fails, you’ll be all right,” she says. “We never really fight them.” Instead, if the bugs attack a crop, she and Richard surrender it to them, or they turn it under and start again. “There’s always a balance.”
The final part of their process involves selling their abundant produce with care. To hold the vegetables, they use big wicker baskets adorned with hand painted signs—a wash of orange and yellow whimsically printed with names: rose apple finn potatoes, dragon tongue beans, and patty pan squash. The bounty of the final result is part of the draw for Nora: “Anything I want I can make,” she says. But this life has an even stronger allure: “The opportunity at any time of day to be in the garden, to be around plants and insects—it’s so alive and awake. It allows me to connect with something bigger.”