Waltham Fields Community Farm promotes local agriculture and food access through our farming operations and educational programs, using practices that are socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable. We encourage healthy relationships between people, their food supply, and the land from which it grows. Check out our website for more information.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Notes from the Field: the Gratitude of Nothing Lacking

This one was a tough week.  It was hot, hot, hot, and dry, dry, dry.  The lettuce, in an unirrigated field, turned bitter and went to flower.  Our storage onions, in the same field, don't seem to be amounting to anything but big scallions.  The beets, kale, and napa cabbage just sat there, seemingly getting smaller.  It was difficult for the weed crew to weed, since the crops wilted as they pulled the weeds out from among the plants.  It was difficult to transplant, since even our robust Brussels sprout and cauliflower transplants wilted as soon as they touched the powdery-dry, 100+ degree soil. 

We sweated all day, every day, in the rain boots we were wearing so that we wouldn't get our feet soaked by the irrigation.  The disease we found in the pick-your-own tomato plants was confirmed to be late blight, so overhead watering the tomato and tomatillo patches was out of the question, as water spreads the disease.  We watched tomatilloes and beans, planted between rows of tomatoes, shrivel up as the week went on.  The field crew moved pipe, flushed pipe, irrigated, moved pipe again, up and down the fields, all day long.  We had to irrigate empty fields in order to help the previous crop residue decompose so that we could plant a second crop there.  We drip irrigated sweet potatoes and field tomatoes, eggplant and cucumbers and peppers, for literally days at a time.  I spent most of one day on the tractor, spraying copper on the tomatoes to try to protect them from late blight, racing the thunderstorms that finally delivered an inch of rain to us on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, we picked thousands of pounds of squash and cucumbers from our new field at Gateways Farm in Weston.  Our outreach market, which provides organic produce to low-income community members for free with a voucher or for $5 a bag, opened on Tuesday evening.  It was very well attended despite its move to a shady new location; Dan, Sutton, Katie and Martha distributed over 70 bags of produce in one two-hour session.  Our garlic dried down beautifully in the greenhouse, with no sign of mold or disease.  The tomatoes kept growing, kept flowering, and began, slowly, to set fruit and ripen.  We fertilized, irrigated, and hoed the kale and Swiss chard, and they began to slowly rebound.  By Friday morning, after a week of work and an inch of rain, the color and texture of the plants was completely different.  The field crew planted thousands of scallions, broccoli, cabbage, beets, lettuce, fennel and kohlrabi for fall harvest.  We seeded more cilantro, dill, and a round of edamame for harvest around Labor Day.  There was no sign of the Spotted Wing Drosophila (yet) as our raspberries began the run up to their autumn harvest.

Most of the time, when things are going well on the farm, we don't mind working hard.  We are grateful for the chance to do work we love, work with a purpose and a result that can be measured in pounds, row feet, the beauty of a working landscape that we know like the backs of our dirty hands.  When things are not going well, on the other hand, this work can feel like that classic definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.  Irrigating again, despite the crops that keep wilting.  Spraying the tomatoes again, knowing that the best tools in our organic belt really only give us about two weeks of additional harvest time once late blight takes hold.  Praying for rain for the crops.  Praying for no rain for the tomatoes.  Trying to remember that there are other crops on the farm besides tomatoes.  Trying to remember that there are other tasks on the farm besides weeding.  Continuing to do hard physical work in uncomfortable conditions, wondering why we didn't get a real job in a climate-controlled environment. 

Using our brains and our bodies as hard as we know how, doing our best to work with nature instead of opposing it, even as the rules that we once counted on seem to be changing, can feel a little crazy when the rewards are so uncertain.  After all this -- planting and fertilizing and staking and tying and tying again and watering and fertilizing and spraying and spraying and spraying -- we still might not get any tomatoes.  We might lose a crop -- or more than one -- in the field that desperately needs some irrigation next season.  We might not quite be able to keep up with the weeds despite all of our efforts.  These losses, like our successes, can be counted in pounds, row feet, sleepless nights, empty hands.  They can gnaw at you if you let them.  They can whittle away at your endurance until you are numb, unmotivated, uninspired, thinking about that real job.  That job job.  

After the rain last Wednesday night and a long day of harvesting and distributing food on Thursday, I had a moment of remembering how to feel the gratitude that, most days, keeps me going.  It was a perfect summer evening, with a few shareholders still wandering through the beans and basil.  There was plenty of food in the fields.  There was a little moisture in the soil, a bouquet of flowers on the table, a chance to stop and take a breath and drink it in before I raced home to my waiting children.  There it was -- nothing lacking.  Nothing wanting.  Not everything in its place, the way I would want it -- nature is too wild and unpredictable for that.  But everything in its place, the way it is.  And us -- us in our place too.  

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for the farm crew


Images by Rebekah Carter (2012).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the hard work you, and all farmers do. Blessings.

Ellen Landrum said...

Such a wonderful post, Amanda. Especially the end- thanks to you and everyone at WFCF for keeping us fed and inspired.