I often feel like I’m leaving the life of some 19th century small business owner. Family and business are intricately linked. The business flexes for family schedule and the family has to give to the business.
So, when the apprentice is out of town and dad (me) is slogging it out by himself, I call in the kids. Now we’re not so 19th century that it’s as easy as saying ‘time to work.’ I had to resort to cold hard cash today to get all three off devices and into the field to pick tomatoes and pack boxes. It’s a success when we even get Graham off his device, albeit only for about 15 minutes until the yellowjackets chased him off.
Still, the family pulled together. Willem, Sylvia, and I were are well-oiled machine packing 50 boxes so I could drive off by 2 pm. Now 44 years old, I understand why my dad took me along on odd jobs about time. It’s not the strength, but the energy and drive that makes the job so much easier. Thanks Pesch kids!
In the box:
Cantaloupe: The rain over many days caused a lot of cracking on these, so be forewared. They taste great, but do look out for the bees who are super interested in these things. I’ve gotten three stings in the past week to prove it.
Americans tell themselves two different stories about farm life.
One is a narrative about the farm as a place to escape from because it’s a dead-end workcamp that will trap you forever. This is an old story told by many an escapee and found in popular media and films. Stuck under the thumb of his tyrannical father who runs a hardscrabble operation in the hinterlands, the ambitious budding actor runs off to find fame and fortune in California and leaves hard days of labor behind. We’ve all met many a successful professional whose parents wished them a better life, having told them to flee the farm…go and make something of themselves.
The other story is a romantic one that is pulled from our Jeffersonian ideal of the proud yeoman farmer. In some ways it’s the reverse of the first story. Instead of escaping the farm, our character escapes the chaos and loneliness of the city and wage-slavery of a 9-5 job to find real freedom through his own honest work. Instead of enriching some faceless business, this proud American builds his own and joins the ranks of other hard-working, honest farmers who are the backbone of our great country.
Of course, each is an ideal that is only partially true. I tilt towards the second as it fits my own romantic ideals and sensibilities, yet I have certainly lived days where I’ve felt the first down in my bones. If I were honest with you and myself, it’s a little of both and that magic gives the farmer his or her depth and heart. Only through hardship does the farmer or farm family find the well-earned freedom or strength of spirit so lauded by Americans.
In the box:
Each day when I stop after solid a 10-hour slog in the fields, I’m able to admire the tangible work of my labor and find a satisfaction no other kind of work can provide. Yesterday, as I finished a sit-down meal on the cabin porch with my farm crew of Marissa and Maya, a familiar peaceful, tired calm drew over me. As the Two-Hearted Ale kicked in and we engaged in lively debate, the sun set over the back hill. At that moment, my only wish in the world was that more people could experiece the same camaraderie and joy.
I’m used to abandoning crops that got lost in weeds or just didn’t turn out right. This is normal for a veggie grower. But this year, a person can do everything right and end up with a bad crop. The vegetable will end up stunted or misshapen – just not good enough.
A great example, I thought that I’d have some good cauliflower in the box by now. Planted at the right time, well fertilized, well cultivated and weeded. Irrigating through drip tape didn’t overcome the drought and the darn heat overstressed the plants.
But there are times that I’m surprised like this week’s Alpine daikon radish and cucumbers. Boom! Cucumbers were just flying off the vine and into crates. The radishes sized up beautifully. Thank God for these little wins. It’s what we need to buoy our spirits, but we need to keep our eyes open to look out for them.
In the box:
Sweet Corn: It ain’t pretty 🙂 See stunted produce above.
To other farmers, produce people like me are nut-zo. Most farm operator I know are super chill, especially those that work around animals. In comparison, I’m much more hyper and intense. This may just be me, but I’ve found that us produce people are a mostly high-energy, squirrely bunch. This derives from the nature of our work. We raise dozens of crops with many small plantings, all of which have their own little quirks and needs. In contrast, for most farmers, consistency is king. Think of a dairy operator who follows the same routine day after day to the minute.
This is why I say that vegetable farming is a lot like surfing. There’s a lot of little details to attend to and a person needs to just flow with it. I dunno, maybe I’ve done too much yoga or something, if I can get into the flow mindset, it really helps me do the switching of tasks necessary in this type of business. 15 min here, 20 min there. It’s a constant back and forth between tasks and crops and activities. Certainly there are days I can’t pull it off and every single task is like a huge mountain, but there are others when I get there and it’s magical.
All told, a person can never get bored doing this work.
In the box:
A Few Beets: A mix of gold, chiogga, and regular red.
Sometimes it’s a surprise. Like last night and I was doing my usual ‘What can we get in the box for tomorrow?’
I had checked beans a few days ago and had written them off. But, when Mar suggested that I check them out just in case – Boing! – out jumped all these fully-grown beans. They didn’t actually jump out at me, but I was super surprised how many were there. So, 8 pm last night, I called an emergency picking. I sounded the alarm, “Tally-Ho, people, we’ve got to get moving!” Willem’s response was “I’m good,” which meant ‘count me out.’ Graham was little more forthright with a ‘No way – are you crazy?’ Sylvie, the stalwart gardener joined me, Maree, and Marissa and we pushed on through by 9 pm. It felt good to get done and good to get them in the box for the first time.
I’ve had this experience of surprise veggies many times before, but I found this most rewarding simply because this season of drought has not been generous. Let’s hope the land has more good surprises yet this year.
In the box:
Sweet Corn: There are a couple of varieties of bi-color corn here. I tried my best to give everyone a mix – see if you can taste a difference between one variety and another.
‘Provider’ Green Beans
Fresh Parsley Bunch: With red rubber band
‘Norland’ or ‘Austrian Crescent Fingerling’ Potatoes
Cherry Tomato Mix
‘Suyu Long’ Cucumber: OK, I know this is a weird-looking cucumber, but trust me that it’s good. We did have about 200 ‘regular’ cucumber plants in the ground, but they croaked in the frost at the end of May or I would have set you up sooner.