I’m a Farmer Now

Photograph of small farm on river bend

I got weed juice seemingly permanently rubbed into my fingers, dirt under my fingernails, my first case of “hoe-neck,” scratches all over my arm from the squash plants, a little back ache, a mild sunburn… When I proudly mentioned this litany to my friend, she said:

– “Honey! You’re a gardener now.”

I raised my hand to stop her and said, as seriously as I’ve ever said anything in my life:

– “Correction: I’m a farmer now.”

Then we laughed, of course.

I’m not a farmer yet, by a long shot (or even a gardener), but I have made a beginning. Volunteering at a farm – offering physical labor for experience – was a longstanding plan of mine, and after some paperwork and a couple of interviews, it finally came together. I am now an agricultural volunteer at Drumlin Farm in lovely Lincoln, Massachusetts! In fact, I have been so for over a month, though I’ve only been able to spend about 15 hours.

  • Nothing but hands and hard work

On the forms and during the interviews, I was repeatedly asked what I could contribute to the farm. I was always honest: nothing but the strength of my body. I made it clear that I have no special skills, no experience, no expertise, and very little book knowledge. 

But, I said, I have these great tools: my hands. And enthusiasm, curiosity and no problem with hard physical labor.

That was, apparently, sufficient. And it was great, showing up on the first day and having nothing expected of me other than hard work.

  • My farming so far

I saved the cosmos (flower), from the purslane (and lamented the fate of said purslane, as it is chock-full of omega-3s and we just threw it on the compost pile) , I weeded and hoed the carrot, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli and squash fields. I also trellissed tomatoes. The work is simple, hard, hot and repetitive, and I don’t mind it at all.

  • Lonely work

It’s also lonely, as I come at times when most workers have left for the farmstand at the Farmer’s Market. One of the apprentices apologized for leaving me alone in the fields, with no one to talk to, and another suggested I come on Sundays, when the members of their CSA come in and there are more people and opportunities to chat.

But I like the loneliness of it, the intense concentration on the plants, and once in a while standing up and being surprised by how suddenly the sky changed.

  • Learning

To be honest I haven’t learned much by way of “farm facts”, not much of the whys and wherefors of decisions and actions. I just do what the crop’s manager asks. I should be more assertive in asking questions, which the apprentices and crop’s manager  would gladly answer. I’ll slowly start doing that, as more opportunities arise. For now, I’m just there, in the moment.

I have gained experience, most importantly of my feeling of responsibility for the crops. I get to take some at the end of the day, so the carrot I save from the weed may be mine to take home in a week or two. But I am also repsonsible in a more general way. That is what I am there to do: to relearn the skills of growing food, which I have come to think of as a responsibility we all have.

I’m taking it easy. I want to feel at home on the farm first, before I start learning for serious.

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