The following was written by Suzanne Cheavens Wontrobski, one of our fabulous CSA workshare members this season.
“It’s alarming how charming it is to be a-farming; How calming and balming the effect of the air…” – “Now I’m A Farmer,” Pete Townshend, The Who
I’m hot, sweaty, and filthy and every muscle aches. My skin is brown and my hair is tucked away in a disheveled knot. The bandana around my head is sweat-soaked. There’s soil in my pockets and flecks of hay stuck to my neck. I pluck a chicken feather from my sleeve and stand straight to let a cooling breeze surround me. I can’t drink enough water. I am intensely happy. I am on the farm.
For a handful of hours every week, I work at Indian Ridge Farm and Bakery in Norwood. My husband and I are charter members of this thriving CSA. This is the first year I’ve traded my labor for the weekly boxes of amazing food we receive from late May through early October. As I write, I am a little more than midway through my obligation. Initially, I thought I would knock out my hours early in the season, but I can see now that I will likely be making the drive to Norwood for nearly the entire season. As hard as it is, I realize I don’t want it to end. It has become a part of me, as much as the farm’s tender lettuces, baby beets, sweet carrots and plump little chickens infuse my very cells.
The work is often incredibly hard. The garden is large, but not large enough for seeding machines and bed shapers. We do everything by hand. I’ve become adept with pitchforks and rakes, toiling shoulder to shoulder with the farm’s apprentices and interns, Amy and Tanner. Many days, other work-trade CSA members join us in the garden. Under the broiling sun or in the close heat of the hoop houses, we wrestle with weeds, harvest crops, shape beds, lay irrigation line. We transplant young lettuces, basil, tomatoes, and cucumbers and weed some more. There is always weeding.
I am no stranger to hard work, especially of this nature. As a young girl growing up in rural Maryland, I traded work for board for my horse at a small farm just down the road. Mucking stalls, heaving hay and straw bales, helping in the kitchen garden, and caring for the horses defined my youth. Umpteen years later, I can still heft a bale, though this time, it’s sawdust for the turkey nursery Tony and I prepare in anticipation of a second batch of turkey chicks. Those chicks are now hardy enough to live outdoors and it won’t be long before they will be moved out to the pasture where they will feast on the abundant grasses and bugs. And grow.
Watching things grow never fails to amaze me. Whether it’s pea vines or potatoes, piglets or calendula sprouts, everything at Indian Ridge is bursting with life. One of the first things I did, way back in May, was drop tiny flower seeds in little pockets of rich soil in the starter flats. I labeled them with popsicle sticks and marveled how no two seeds were remotely alike. Some were miniscule, black flecks no larger then a poppy seed; others were as big as a fingernail clipping, whorled and spiny. Each will become a bright bloom that CSA members will cull from a garden row to take home and cherish.
It is no exaggeration to state that I learn something new every day. I soak up the information as if it is essential, because it is. When I am not working on the farm, I am working on a novel, one that takes place in a not-so-distant, dystopian future. My characters must learn to raise chickens and goats and grow their own food. They will starve if they do not succeed. It is no secret that I fear for today’s society. So few understand what it takes to grow a carrot from seed to plate, fewer still can wrap their minds around the lifespan of a goat or turkey. My mind absorbs every tidbit of information I derive from my hours on the farm. The knowledge goes into my book and into my own, little garden in Lawson Hill.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to lend a hand at Indian Ridge. It is righteous work. It is necessary work. It is life itself. When I get home from Norwood, I bang the soil from my shoes and toss my damp T-shirt in the hamper. My body, which has stiffened on the drive home, rejoices under the hot spray from the showerhead and dirty water wends down the drain. But I’m vibrating and deeply contented. I feel as if I have been in service to something larger than all of us. I’ve done my part to help feed people. A farm day is always a good day.
[Check out my blog at: scheavens.wordpress.com]