Field of Greens

Farmers are always a season ahead. While most of Marin slogs through a wild and wooly winter, with trees and power lines proving yet again that what goes up will, given enough wind, eventually come down, the western farmlands prepare for spring.

The shorn stubble of harvest is plowed under. Greenhouses shelter racks of seeds ready for the soil. Topsoil, weary from feeding nutrients all summer and fall to rows of vegetables, reverses roles and replenishes for the work ahead with a nurturing fix of nitrogen from a cover crop.

Cover crops — things like bell bean, vetch (not to be confused with kvetch) and mustard — are comfort food for dirt. They restore fertility, fight off weeds and attract critters that eat insects. In the world of organic farming — and that means Marin — cover crops are green manure.

Amid the gray of winter, the bright patch of a cover crop stands out, catching the eye. There’s just such a spot on Nicasio Valley Road. Rising toward the sky arches a flowing curve of green and yellow mustard. The field smells musty, pungent with new life. And, if you’re still, you’ll catch a whisper on the wind. Listen closely; it’s the soil, saying “yummm.”

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt"  —  Margaret Atwood