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Waltham Fields Community Farm (incorporated as Community Farms Outreach, Inc.) is a nonprofit farming organization focusing on sustainable food production, fresh food assistance, and on-farm education. For more information about Waltham Fields check out our website!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Notes from the Field: Gratitude

Greenhouse seeding plan in April
For many people in New England, spring is the most joyful time of the year. It's a time of rebirth, a spell of blooming, a return to verdant beauty after a season of stark simplicity. After winter, many of us are yearning to eat ice cream, have a picnic in the sunshine, or simply shed layers and appear in the world less muffled, laid bare.

For farmers, it's a little more complicated than that. Spring is a sea change in our sleepy winter state, the cozy time when our farm fields are perfect in our imaginations and our main tasks are selecting varieties from the multicolored, appetizing pages of seed catalogs, planning what new tools to buy and sprucing up our fleet of equipment for the upcoming season. Spring drags us kicking and screaming into the lengthening days, blinking like woodchucks on Ground Hog Day and cringing at the sight of our shadows, the meaning of which is clear: Get To Work.

Don't get me wrong. Growing food is work we love. It is work that we have chosen (or that chose us) and that we feel unendingly fortunate to choose again each spring. It's just that spring is so unpredictable, so up and down, and our moods, tasks, and physical bodies are yanked so abruptly from winter's comfortable tranquility into spring, that capricious trickster of a season. One day it's a balmy 70 degrees out, crops are growing, birds are singing, and you are feeling like you might finally have this spring thing down. Then you open up your tractor to change the hydraulic fluid and four large pieces of metal fall out into your hand. This is not a good thing. Your heart sinks. Your pulse rises. The beautiful day and all your long-term plans are forgotten in a new moment of shifting priorities, crisis management, and alternate arrangements. The amazing fact that the tractor turns out not to be destroying itself from the inside out does not take away from the emotional turmoil of the few days in which it seemed like it might be.

Or you spend two days making, fertilizing, and laying expensive biodegradable, corn-based 'plastic' mulch on beds destined to be planted with onions and leeks. The beds look beautiful. You feel on top of it. Then, for the next two weeks, cold, dry winds blow from the west, the east, the north and the south until all the soil that had been piled up on the edges of the plastic blows away and, bed by bed, the mulch begins to peel away. You get out the shovel. A few feet here, half a bed there, and suddenly you are spending four or five hours a week shoveling soil out of the pathways to try to keep the mulch down until you can plant the crops. After a few weeks of this, with no sign of any lessening of the wind, you finally decide that the constant shoveling is not time well spent and pull up all the mulch by hand, leaving the soil exposed and the weeds growing, and all the time in between lost.

Or you are finishing up a morning of disking a beautiful new field for eggplant and peppers when suddenly you notice a strong and distinct smell of sugar, and just as suddenly, the intense feeling of liquid spraying all over the back of the tractor and the disk from the broken valve stem of the loaded rear tractor tire. As the tractor sinks on one side, you scramble to drive it to a safe spot, check the damage, and figure out what the substance from inside the tire is that is now all over your tractor, your disk, your field and your self. Your relief at the discovery that the tractor tire was loaded with a biodegradable molasses-based filler is tempered by the loss of the tractor for more than a week at a busy time of year.

This is spring on the farm.

For all its beauty, spring is a turbulent season, and some of that natural turbulence inevitably rubs off on the farm and the farmers. No wonder we sometimes want to go back to sleep for another six weeks.

But we are fortunate farmers. We have irrigation at all three of our fields, thanks to the brand-new system we just installed at the Lyman Estate. We have tremendous agricultural soils. We have a good, solid crop plan to grow a lot of food, enough space to grow it on, and a dedicated, thoughtful team of people who farm with us and support us in every possible way.

Zannah scorches weeds (2012)
We are windburned, sunburned, achy as we start using those farming muscles again, tired to the bone (try watching a movie with us some evening and you'll see), brain-fatigued, never happy with the weather, and yes: grateful. The moments when we sit in the greenhouse on a warm, rainy spring day, planting seeds that will grow into food that will nourish folks we love, or look back on a straight row of onions that volunteers planted with us, or take weary pride in a cultivating job well done, are the moments when spring's intensity, like the never-ending wind, lets up for a moment and lets our gratitude shine through.

Spring is touch-and-go, stop-and-start, back and forth, hot and cold, but its ultimate, inevitable trajectory is summer, and the harvest. We'll get there if we can get our spring sea-legs to ride out the rough patches, and keep our eye on the distant horizon. And every once in a while, pause in our racing back and forth from field to greenhouse, tractor to truck, to admire a newly blooming tree, the song of the oriole, the persistent call of the killdeer, the return of nettles and other tasty wild treats in the edges and borders of the fields. This is spring on the farm too, and we are lucky to be here again to see it.


Amanda, for the farm crew

1 comment:

Abram and Sarah said...

Amazing. Keep it up, Amanda! (When is your book coming out?)