Tag Archives: farm-sitting

why farmers don’t vacation, part II

Farmflash:

  • New York mixes art, ag, and parties — The Times, of course, is there.
  • Sonoma County farmers weigh in on California’s Proposition Two, which would ban veal, sow, and egg operations it deems inhumane. (I’ll dive into this hot-button topic more later…)
  • In the “shrug” category, Alabama ranks #3 in the list of U.S. states with the greatest amount of foreign-owned agricultural land, behind Maine and Texas.

Foggy River Philosophy:

While I briefly mentioned the minor disasters Emmett and I faced on our first visit back to the field, I didn’t really go into the philosophy behind why they occurred. And I want to point out that our caretakers did a wonderful job — we harbor no complaints whatsoever, just immense gratitude for how well our farm was taken care of.

What, then, went wrong?

I have a theory: farming is 49% planning, and 51% reacting. So while our caretaker did a great job watering, weeding, and generally tending the patch — the planned things — he of course wouldn’t think of the tasks that Emmett and I would have undertaken, given changing situations. (E.g., when the salad wasn’t sufficiently sprouted after a week, planting a new bed. Or, when our tomato plants grew top-heavy — we pruned all runners at first but then decided to let the rest of the runners go — reversing our no-prune mandate. Or, when the beans grew too heavy for the fencing, adding in new fence supports or cutting back a few of the plants.)

Farmers work long hours in the field, but we’re not always digging, hoeing, sowing, or harvesting. In fact, Emmett and I spend a good, say, half-hour each day at the farm doing what would appear to the casual observer to be absolutely nothing. We stroll around the entire place, occasionally squatting in the middle of the row. We glance at the sky. I roll tomato leaves between my fingers; Emmett pops a Sungold cherry in his mouth. It seems like moonshine — and, okay, sometimes it is — but what we’re actually doing is observing. And observation is an important pre-req to that 51% of farming: reacting. So once a day, you’ll find us wandering around the whole farm to make sure that nothing has gone disastrously wrong — trying to catch symptoms of trouble before they turn into a disaster.

Which brings me to my final point: why farmers don’t have a weekend. Number one, at least for direct-market farmers, much of the actual, normal-people’s-weekend is devoted to the farmer’s market. (See photo above.) Since Emmett and I do two weekend markets, we work roughly 26 hours between Saturday and Sunday. By the time Monday rolls around, we’re pretty tired — but we can’t stop, because there’s simply too much to do. After all, we probably haven’t had time to stroll around the field for the past two days, which means something has probably gone wrong in the meantime and needs to be fixed. Or we’ll realize that we’ve just harvested the last of our radishes and have forgotten to plant a new crop. Or it’ll be one of one hundred other things that may not have been on our planned to-do list, but quickly jump to the top of the reactionary list. You can’t stop working, because you’re always reacting.

All that said, tonight is my farm-girl equivalent of Friday night. Ironically, I spent it the way I usually spend real Friday nights: harvesting until 9 p.m. (The beans are mad, mad I tell you! They have to be picked every day, or the next thing we know they’ll be picking fights with the grape vines.) But back to the reason why a Tuesday night is a Friday night — Emmett and I are, on a trial basis (and for the sake of my urban-girl sanity, which does not understand the concept of non-stop farmwork), taking Wednesday as our weekend. NB: we may have gone on a two-week family reunion tour, but this will be our first “actual” weekend since we started attending farmer’s markets in mid June.

It’s not going to be a perfect weekend by any means. Let’s start with the fact that, as I pointed out to Emmett, it’s only one day. “When’s our other weekend day?” I asked. Emmett responded, “We have flexible schedules. We only get one day.” (I’m still not sure what he meant about the flexibility of our schedules; sure, we can take lunch at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., but we work pretty much all the time.)

This “weekend,” we’ll still have to go to the farm to water, and we’ll probably spend much of the day doing other work — be it Emmett’s part-time job, my freelance writing attempts, or normal living things like laundry and showering (I’ve showered once since we got back from our trip… don’t ask) — but gosh darn it, I’ve been meaning to swim in the Russian River all summer.

Tomorrow, I’m going to do it.

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growin’ up

The best way to appreciate a farm, I think, is to spend three days away from it.

Emmett and I recently took a three-day weekend (not on the actual weekend, mind you, because that’s when we sell at the farmer’s market), and left someone else in charge of the veggies. I might be overstating my case here, but I think that we felt some semblance of the paranoia that new parents feel upon leaving their infant with the babysitter for the first time. While we were, occasionally, able to forget the vegetables and simply enjoy our mini-vacation, we were also prone to having worried, whispered, just-the-two-of-us conversations in the middle of a crowd. (“I wonder if anybody’s squished the diabrotica lately. Do you think the little leek seedlings are getting enough water?” “I don’t know. I was wondering if that creature dug any more holes in the salad bed.” “Yeah, what do you think it is, anyway? A rabbit?” “We’ll have to camp out in a tent overnight to figure it out for sure.” Jokes were made — by others — about veggie garden nanny-cams. I admit, I had a moment of serious consideration before laughing.)

When we got back from our Southern California mini-vacation, you can bet your bottom dollar that we didn’t go home, unpack, and crack a few beers to ease the transition from rest to reality. Nope: we headed straight to The Patch, desperate to check up on the babies.

The good news: everything was absolutely, one hundred percent fine. Better than fine, in fact. Many of our vegetables (having been planted about a month and a half ago) are now at the adolescent grow-like-weeds phase. Sure, you notice the growth when you’re out on the farm every day, but you REALLY notice it when you come back after three days sans veggies. Suddenly the beans, which only recently latched on to the wire fencing, are two feet taller. One greens bed has gone from proto-choi to healthy, hole-free baby bok choi (thanks to a crop cover). I barely recognized the quinoa, which (I swear) more than doubled in size to a small bush. The squash plants are now calf-high green monsters, crowding one another out, in dire need of thinning; even the corn is starting to look respectable, and you can almost imagine it growing up over your head in the near future. The Bright Lights chard, which we had been previously eying in a borderline-harvestable kind of way, is now totally ready for market on Sunday. The cukes are flowering in earnest. We have a few baby beets (one-inch diameter, perfect for thinning) with magnificent, tender beet greens. Heck, Emmett even thought that the week-and-a-half old radishes were ready for harvest, before realizing that, in his joyous stupor, he was getting a little ahead of himself.

So the babies, which we left with the sitter, learned a few words in our absence. Were we sad that we missed the big steps? Sure — but let’s face it, we needed the break, and there will be plenty other moments to come.

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