Thursday, April 7, 2011
Today was my first day of work on Boulder Knoll Farm. After having followed the farm’s CSA (Crop Share Association) program since its inception three years ago, Bryan and I finally decided to join. Our own vegetable garden has, for the past few years, been an exercise in frustration: each spring we turn the soil, clear the beds, plant the seeds, fix the fence, wait for the harvest, and then watch as our beans, peas, tomatoes, and other vegetables and herbs are ravaged by deer, moles, Japanese beetles, and a host of other insects and mammals.
So this year we decided to learn something about successful gardening by participating in a work-intensive CSA program. In exchange for 30 hours of work on the farm, and a small sum of money, we will take home a share of the crops every few weeks from June until October. Even more exciting than the booty, however, is the opportunity to participate in a community agricultural program. Today, before starting work, I looked at the rows of empty beds, at the folks working in various corners of the field, and thought about how great it would be to document, day by day, the subtle changes, changes wrought, in large part, by the hands of a small group of dedicated workers.
But before that, I was sitting in my dining room, reading freshman essays and sighing anxiously, working my way through the paper pile and pausing to consider other piles—laundry, dishes, clothes to be sorted through for spring. I looked at the clock and swore, wishing I hadn’t chosen today—a day I really needed to use for catching up on work—to volunteer on the farm.
At 11:20, I headed over to the farm. My first task was to harvest some parsnips that had “over-wintered.” I had help from two other women, both of whom were delighted by the surprise crop of vegetables. Who knew we’d take home a share on day one? Even more amazing was the fact that these hearty roots had survived the weight of this year’s unusually harsh winter. So many of them, too. And they hadn’t just survived; they had thrived! I dug the pitchfork into the ground, and it took all of my weight to break the roots from the dirt. They clung to the soil, secure in their subterranean shelter. I reached down and pulled, gently but firmly, and was surprised by the girth of these hearty vegetables. The other workers were awestruck, and at the end of a half an hour, we had filled a laundry tub with parsnips. We all agreed that this was a positive omen: an unexpected harvest on the first official day of the season.
I spent the next ninety minutes lopping dead flower stems and pulling out roots to make way for new seeds. It wasn’t intellectual work, and it wasn’t overly physical, but there was a supreme satisfaction in pausing to look at what I was able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time. In my own work, my school work, there is rarely a sense of completion. I hack away, perpetually behind in my grading, my reading, my prep, and always feeling as though I could be doing more, or doing something better. On the farm, my task was simple, and I could easily set a reasonable goal. Pull parsnips. Clear four beds. Dump the debris in the compost pile. Write the time in the log.
“This is a wonderful place,” said one of the other workers who passed by me as I pulled roots. “It’s amazing to stand here and look at these fields and know that, in three months, everything will have blossomed as a result of our work.”
Though he was right, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead at the moment. I wasn’t thinking about much of anything, in fact. The sun was dancing in and out of the clouds, my fingernails were dirtier than they had ever been, and the work pile on my dining room table was, for the moment, a matter of little consequence.
Roasted parsnips, anyone?