It was clear and bright for our first day at Blackberry Meadows Farm. Low humidity, hot sun and an intermittent breeze that saved the day! Chirping crickets provided a constant backdrop, occasionally broken by Maggie’s (the loyal farm dog) barking and birds calling to one another.
Far down the dewy lane, Jen (the managing farmer) was standing in the bamboo-hoop covered bed of a pick-up, waving for us to “come-on-down”. We got there, meeting two other work sharers. Jen, creating an immediate closeness with her soft voice, got to work by showing us how to harvest the greens with a pair of scissors, being careful not to cut the new growth point off of the plant. After Jen left, we got to work, politely consulting about the growth-point issue a few times. We decided too much of the new growth had progressed higher than Jen maybe had noticed. We started cutting less stem, mostly leaves. Hopefully the greens will produce another crop.
We filled huge bins, packed tight with greens that were somewhat flea-beetle bitten, but still tasty. We learned how to cut in the direction we were moving toward, doing fifteen foot sections at a time. What seemed like an insurmountable task – small leaves needing to fill a vast basket – became relaxing and challenging. It was also this first task that taught us all to wear a belt next week! Too much time pulling shirts down – or pants up!
Across the rows of organic vegetables, Greg (Jen’s husband) and a summer intern were harvesting the purplish-red ribbed kale and starting the cabbages. The intern was from Washington State. Two other interns were expected to arrive from California and New York. The interns were studying chemistry, soil science and sustainable agriculture. Being in their company would lead to great discussions about positive ideas and brilliant innovations for shaping our nation’s policies toward conserving resources.
The greens’ bins were filled up and placed in the back of the pick-up. The greens would be washed, bagged and weighed in the barn by other work share members. By this time, five others showed up – some work shares, some volunteering for the pleasure of the outdoor work. Amongst us workers, there were poultry farmers, parents, professional gardeners, bicyclists, urban planners, nursing students, football players, waitresses, chefs, teachers, and hydrologists…what a diversity of people drawn to the farm!
We all helped with the cabbages. After Greg’s very to-the-point demonstration, we used what looked like angled plaster knives to chop the cabbage heads off parallel to the ground. The plants were massive – we were working up a sweat on this task! It was a great, rewarding exercise to squat down and wrestle a slice, then stand up with a big, wet, muddy bush. The cabbages were so big; most of us could only carry four or five at a time.
Finally the cabbage job was done and we all commenced a giant weeding project. On an organic farm, weeding is done by hand – not with chemical sprays or genetically modified plants.
We worked to free the beautiful, purple cabbage plants that were competing with thistle, plantain, smart weed, and other weeds. Huge tap roots were loosened – giving us that special feeling of satisfaction that comes with pulling out the whole, white root instead of losing the thistle battle and having it snap off, mid-dirt. Some grunts could be heard during these procedures, and everyone developed their own special technique of keeping their balance!
Kneeling to weed led to standing up and leaning over, straddling the rows between your legs; straddling after a while led to some modified squatting; squatting for a while started the whole pattern over. It was hard work, but very satisfying. For us suburbanites, weeding was reminiscent of Yoga or Pilates – with fresh air and more self-discipline and purpose mixed in.
Please follow our farm experience in: CSA Work Share, Part 3: Therapy for the 21st century