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Slow down this Winter Solstice, learn to love winter like the farmer

Sunset behind evergreen trees on a snowy banked river

“How I hate to hear winter cursed. Winter is bad; summer is good. Cold, bad; warmth, good. January in Illinois, heaven forbid! January in Florida, paradise. Bah, I say, humbug! Winter is not to escape; it is to embrace… I go upstairs to warm my hands in front of the wood stove and gaze into the flames, pondering the sublime slowness of time as measured by the heavens.” 

In Solstices and Equinoxes: A Farmer’s Meditations, the operator of Henry’s Farm, Henry Brockman, finds rest in an unpopular season. In a few short days, the Winter Solstice will arrive – the shortest day of the year and a new season of winter. Many are generally receptive to the season of winter… for about two weeks. Once the holidays are over, it can be easy to wish away winter and hope for an early spring.  

Illinois farmers, who bring three seasons of agricultural bounty to market, give thanks for the season of rest. As the Winter Solstice approaches, they are bone-tired and ready for a winter rejuvenation. They have a reverence for this time of year that most do not. Perhaps this could change through exploration of their unique perspectives. 

“With the ground frozen and the days short, we regroup, work at an even pace, reconsider abandoned projects, clean forgotten places and things, sleep soundly, indulge in long-cooked foods and warm drinks, and draw lessons from one year into the next. It is truly our only month to enact something like hibernation. During it, we rest and drink heartily from the well of gratitude.”  

– Jeff Hake and Katie Funk. Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains, McLean County. 

“We still send weekly deliveries during the winter solstice season. And there are still chores, though fewer. But now is the time when we do our crop planning, order seeds and supplies, and do research for what to do, and how to do it, for the next growing season. We also work on projects around the house we didn’t have time for earlier in the year – like finishing our kitchen remodeling!”  

– Beth and Doug Rinkenberger. Garden Gate Farm, Livingston County. 

Besides cooking great food and restarting abandoned projects, other common slow-time tasks for Illinois growers include sharpening tools and maintaining equipment, perusing seed catalogs, and researching how to do things better next time. Though these are all technically business tasks, they're typically done in the company of loved ones, in a warm location, at a sustainable pace. 

Hobby gardeners can take part in all these tasks as well. However, intentionally participating in other rejuvenating activities can help to bank energy for the coming year. Taking a bundled-up winter walk at the local forest preserve, reading a book at a coffee shop, spending time with friends and family after the holidays (but with no agenda!), playing board games with the kids, these are all excellent ways to acknowledge and celebrate the Winter Solstice season. Don’t forget to refill the bird feeders, too.  

This Winter Solstice, study and internalize the way local small farmers treat the season of darkness. “Ah, winter! A time for pondering and wandering and wondering, a time for reading and writing, a time of revitalization and rejuvenation for both the soil and the soul,” says Brockman.  

Photo Credit: Winter Solstice Sunset along the Gibbon River by YellowstoneNPS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a B.A. with a double major of Political Science and Spanish and a M.S. in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers’ market-style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Oregon.