Of Farms and Fables combines the efforts of professional and non-professional artists by engaging artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and acting. The result will be an original performance in October of 2011 which will engage performers and audience in dialogue about local agriculture, farming, and the future of small family farms in Maine.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The ART of Picking Peas (Jennie)

“And now,” exclaims Penny, “I’m going to show you the fine art of picking peas!” I brace myself. I have been harvesting strawberries for the last three farm days, and I’m not convinced that I’m any good at it. Sure, I’ve had my moments. I’ve had fleeting feelings of efficiency and productivity. But on the whole I’ve felt . . . slow.

It’s not that I dilly-dally or that I don’t like the work. And though it doesn’t help that I’m picking with “the guys”, who as Penny says are the fastest pickers in the world, I am sure that I could be faster; I could be better at this. What’s holding me back? The decisions!

There are myriad choices to be made when harvesting strawberries. Ripe enough? Too ripe? Half-rotten? Do I put it in my box? Do I chuck it to the winds? Do I leave it to fatten on the plant? What do I do with this berry? And then – what do I do with this berry? All the way down the row, a hundred berries per plant, hundreds of plants per row. For a relatively indecisive person, it’s a nightmare.

So Penny shows me how to pick a pea. She hands me a ripe pea pod. She hands me a “flat pea”. She searches out a “bumpy pea”. She teaches me to know the difference by feel. She shows me how to flip the plant over, to access the ripe pods underneath. She tells me: “It’s visual and tactile. Visual and then tactile.” You look for the ripe pods, and if it looks ripe you feel it. If it feels right you take it. “Your brain is kind of thinking two ways, all the time”.

I begin to make my way down the row of pea plants, pondering each pod, feeling slow. I realize that I am over-thinking things. But how to stop? As I pick and ponder, ponder and pick, it occurs to me that I am not always a slow and inefficient decision-maker. When I am engaged in a creative process, choice comes naturally. It is a matter of confidence. It is a matter of active listening.

So I say to myself: this is the ART of picking peas. Turn off the brain; listen to the plant. Trust yourself.

And lo and behold, I do begin to pick up speed. I begin to have fun and to feel good about my work. Until I get stumped by a particularly in-between pea pod, or until I suddenly notice that I’m tired and it’s hot and there aren’t nearly as many peas in my bucket as there are in Miguel’s. And so for me, there is this truth: to be an effective harvester requires energy and focus. As is the case with every endeavor worth doing, there are no shortcuts. I remember the Tadashi Suzuki adage: you always have more energy, and I hunker down: listen, focus, pick peas.

And what is more worth doing, more worth my personal energy, than participation in the growth and harvest of food? What is more necessary? In our story circle with the interns at Broadturn Farm on Thursday, Briis talked about her realization: “There’s no choice really,” she said. “You have to grow your own food.” Aaron echoed her sentiment, describing his first work on a small CSA farm in 2002. “I don’t honestly think I really liked it“ he said. But he kept at it anyway because it felt essential. “Somehow I got it into my head that I had to farm, even though I didn’t like it.” Now, he says, “I like it.”

A Snippet:

“We’ve coined a new term,” says Bill Bamford, “and you can put this in your play. It’s agricultural bi-polar. You can stand here and look at this field of strawberries and the world looks full of hope and promise. Then you turn around, you're standing in the same place, you look at that field of corn . . . and you want to bury yourself.”

Oh, and . . .

Did I mention that I got to drive the truck?