Taller, Straighter, Prouder
The picture above isn’t from our farm. Obviously we didn’t take it – our lovely friend Nancy did. But I LOVE this photo. It perfectly illustrates this period in my family’s life – hands, heart and son – all in the soil.
This photo is especially precious because we haven’t been taking many pictures ourselves these days. That’s due entirely to one number:
That is the number of plants we’ve put in the ground since the doldrums of our last post. I can’t quite wrap my head around it simply because of the time and required just to plant one: kneel, punch the soil with the trowel, place the seedling and cover over with soil, crawl to the next. Repeat 13,000 times. It is also hard to believe that 13,000 plants later, I still look out over our steadily filling beds with unshakable anxiety, “Will it be enough?”
In less than one week, we will begin to find out.
We’ve come a long way. Our field is transformed, resembling less of an unbroken prairie and more of… well… a ‘real’ farm. We’ve hung two rows of 7,000-volt deer fencing to discourage unwanted visitors to the new neighborhood salad bar. Tens of thousands of feet of irrigation hose snake from a nearby pond through the rows and now we control the rain. We built a 10 x 8 shed so that I no longer have to share my overworked red truck with piles of transient shovels and hoes. Bees fly constant sorties from two bright new hives. Our beautiful two-acre plot is now divided into four neatly tilled sections. And the rows we’ve planted are have gone from snake-like swaths to laser-straight beds of onions, chard and parsley. Each day, we walk between the plants and admire – and allow ourselves a second to feel a little proud. But then it’s right back to work.
Like a jilted lover, the winter has been slow to move on and release us into the arms of summer. This cool wet weather means that the soil, the engine of plants’ growth, has been slow to wake up. A number of our crops are lagging behind their projected harvest date. And the lack of warmth below our feet has also left an unusually long window for pests (such as the awful-sounding, yet appropriately-named cabbage root maggot) to snack on our bok choi and cabbage. Many farmers don’t even bother planting cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, kale etc.) in the spring because the pest pressure is far too intense. But a June without rubbed kale salads is no spring for us, so into battle we continue to march.
Thankfully, the cavalry has arrived. If this farm were a Hollywood production, the crawl of credits at the end would stretch as long as the latest Spiderman flick. Apprentices (whom I’ll introduce soon), family members, friends, former Farm School colleagues and CSA members have all descended on the farm and washed over our field in waves of can-do energy. From installing our beehives and transplanting scads of tomatoes to hand-prepping endless stretches of soil with a single bed rake, they’ve tackle each job with good cheer. And now, our rapidly expanding workload feels less like a zeppelin bursting into flames and more like a slightly oversized balloon on a windy day.
That this is all happening – finally – feels remarkable. After a day’s work, I sometimes catch my dirty and bearded reflection in the window of the truck as I load up tools. On the drive home, I marvel at the changes in my once-smooth photographer’s hands, now squared, callused and frayed. I can’t believe that’s me in there. For a long time, there’s been part of me that feels like I’ve just been playing at this dream, putting on a farmer’s clothes and pretending. But with more than forty families to feed starting next week, this identity I’ve assumed feels more real now.
And despite the challenges of the last few months, I think it is safe to say now – there will be food! Next Saturday, rain or shine, Dina, Wendell and I will be standing behind a table spread with kale, chard and lettuce, eager to feed our neighbors and nurture the ties that bind us all together.
PS – Our little guy turned one year old this week!