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Saturday, November 17, 2012

On Farming

My internship at Skarsgard Organic Farm is wrapping up and my final week starts on Monday. I have been fortunate to have many new experiences while working on the farm and I have a new-found appreciation for how hard farming really is. I also feel much more connected to my food, having nurtured and cared for the plants that I eat, from seed to my plate. As I move on, and I am no longer farming everyday, I think the connectedness to my food will linger. I feel like I now know these plants and even if I did not plant the kale that I am eating, I know every step of growing kale and the other vegetables that I have cared for over the last four months.

I have thought about farming like a deep stretch in yoga. In the beginning, an intense pose is uncomfortable and I naturally resist it, maybe by tensing opposing muscles or by thinking negatively about the pose, but if practiced enough, eventually I can relax into the pose, surrendering to it, and that is when I can finally find comfort and attain the benefits of the pose. At first farming was really, really hard - harder than I ever expected. For the first two months, I was often limping by the end of the day and when I got home, I was exhausted and in a lot of pain. In order to get through it, I took more ibu profen than I have since I had a stress fracture in my foot, soaked in epsom salt baths, and rubbed arnica gel on my lower back every chance I got. Despite all my home remedies, my lower back hurt too much to do many of the things I usually love doing. I was too sore and tired to run or go to yoga. I was pretty much in too much pain and too tired to do anything but eat, sleep, and then get up and go back to the farm. I resented the farm because the work was sapping joy away from other parts of my life. I felt angry when I was at work because I was hurting; I was not able to focus on the meditativeness of the work or enjoy being outside because all I could think of was my lower back. Whenever I heard that we were headed to the green chile field, I cringed and mentally prepared for a long day of misery. There are some tasks on the farm that are not actually farming, like picking up the milk order from the local dairy and driving it to the warehouse or spending the day filling 1lb. bags of roasted green chile, that I looked forward to as a welcome reprieve from bending to harvest or plant. For a while, I only looked forward to time spent away from the farm.

Sometime in the last two months, either the work got a lot easier or my body finally adjusted to farming and I started enjoying my time at the farm. It is true that the harvest changed; we are harvesting beets, carrots, turnips, kale, chard, kohlrabi, radishes, and lettuce now instead of tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and green chile. The root vegetables and leafy greens need to be washed, so usually we will harvest for half a day and then spend the other half of the day washing veggies at the warehouse. The tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers did not need to be washed, so we would harvest for almost a full eight hours and then send a truck full of vegetables up to the warehouse at the last minute to be covered and put in the walk-in cooler. So, perhaps the shift in my feelings toward the farm is due to more variety in the tasks and less strenuous harvesting, but I think I have also experienced deeper change in mind and body. I am much stronger now; I can lift things I never could before and my biceps have a strange new density to them that I haven't felt before. As the painful ache in my back has receded, I have been able to happily run after work again and no longer feel like the farm is stealing from other parts of my life. I have begun to feel very lucky while I am at the farm. Sometimes I look around at the open sky and can't imagine working inside again. I feel so happy when I eat something that I know I started from seed and cared for along the way. I feel like I am part of something good, I am producing healthy food for people.

I feel a certain sense of sadness as I prepare for my departure from the farm. I often experience this same type of sadness when leaving a position; I find that I am just starting to settle in and beginning to feel comfortable, like I finally have the hang of it, right when it is time to leave. I felt this way when teaching outdoor environmental education on Orcas Island and even with teaching middle school science last year. I have a sense that if I just had a little more time, I could be really good at what I am doing. Some of the jobs that I have not had enough time in, like on Orcas, were my choice to leave, but others have not been my choice. I was unable to sign a yearlong contract with the Middle School this year because we were supposed to move to a new base in December (we aren't anymore). And, I knew the farming internship would end at the end of November when I accepted the position. No matter why I leave, I am always left with an incomplete feeling, like I am leaving something unfinished.

I am going to continue to work-share on the farm so that I am able to keep working for my food and stay connected to the farm. A work-share can be 2.5 or 5 hours a week and awards the work-share participant with either a half price or complementary medium sized CSA box.