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.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beauty Of The Day (Jennie)

Tuesday morning and the bees are busy at Broadturn Farm. My first day of work at Broadturn is a CSA pick-up day, and therefore a harvest day. Therefore, there are many hands at work in the fields, rapidly harvesting the last of the season’s strawberries, a few trays of peas, some chives for the “herb bouquets”. The entire farm is engaged in one great push to beat the clock, to place the bounty on the table in time for that first customer's inevitably early arrival.

In contrast, when I roll in at 5:10 am on Wednesday morning, there is a pronounced hush on the farm. Nighttime lingers still, as evidenced by Stella, the Great Pyranees guard dog, who has spread her great bulk across the width of the driveway as I pull in. It is the end of her shift. She rolls out of my way, sniffs my hand in tentative greeting, and bounds barking madly into the woods as I set out in search of Stacy.

We are preparing to plant. I am thrilled. In all of my farm visits thus far, I have never had the chance to plant. I have been feeling this gap in my understanding of The Process . . . what if I never get to plant? Never say never. Stacy hands me a glove and a bucket of fertilizer and climbs atop a freshly plowed bed with the furrower (says Sam: nice furrows! Hey Baby, I like your furrows.) I follow behind with my bucket, scattering a little extra love into the neat grooves. It is early; we work quietly. Sam begins pulling trays of cabbage and dill seedlings out of the truck. She makes her way down the rows, carefully placing each plant atop my fertilizer in eighteen inch increments. Courtney follows Sam, standing the plants upright, mounding the earth around them. We make our way through the morning this way, each person preparing the way for the next. I love the feeling that this motion I am repeatedly making, swinging my right arm to release a handful of dust, is one part of a necessary chain of events. I love being part of this process, of carefully preparing the soil to support life.

Once the beds have been prepared I jump in with Courtney, nesting seedlings into the earth. The rows are long but I don’t seek the end. I find myself wondering – what must this transition be like for them? To go from crowded trays in the warm moist greenhouse out to the open, to live under the vast sky (and on this farm, the sky is vast). To leave a world of scheduled waterings and find oneself reliant on unpredictable weather? Would it be like leaving kindergarten to attend college? Graduating junior high to start your first job in the “real world”? I want to make it smooth for them, this challenging time of change. Cover them just right, place every blessing in their path. For awhile, I whisper to each plant as I move on to the next: “good luck”.

We are four women. Moving slowly in straw hats through the rows. I am new at this work, but when Flora comes out to join us I feel as though I am a part of some timeless chain of knowledge. I listen as she follows Sam and joins in the labor; I can feel her concentration as she places each plant exactly as directed. (“This is a baby one,” she says. “A little baby one.”) We are all synchronized in some elemental understanding, some kind of female approach. Our work is harmonious: with each other, with the earth . . . and here is the next generation – observing, playing, learning.

“Well that was a good hustle,” says Stacy, just before our break for tea. “A good morning's work.” Mmm. Indeed.

I make my way across the field to the house, pulling a cart behind me. The breeze pulls my hat across my face. I can smell salt in the air, see the pines towering over our province. I am overcome by the beauty I have experienced this blessed day (the purple of the kohlrabi!). Overcome by the beauty of the day . . . and it is only ten o'clock.

Friday, July 9. It has been nine days since I pressed cabbage seedlings into fresh new beds and wished them luck. It has been nine days, and in those nine days our region has witnessed a string of record high temperatures. In nine days, there has been no rain.

I hop aboard the tailgate of John's truck with two CSA members at 8:15 in the morning; we are making our way across the road to harvest that beautiful purple kohlrabi. As we tread down the rows toward the kohlrabi, we pass the beds of cabbage and cilantro that I helped to plant. I am in the process of absorbing their flatness, their wilted pale yellow leaves fixed to the hard, dry dirt, when John indicates the plants and blithely states: "casualty of the drought". No! Casualty? But it's so final! Is there no hope? I press for more information. John says that he and Stacy watered the new crop by hand over the weekend. They had hoses running from his tractor (I can only vaguely picture this). The brussel sprouts, the cilantro, the chard - they are doing okay. But the cabbage? "Well," he doubtfully shrugs. "It's supposed to rain tomorrow. Maybe they'll come back."

And so it is a day for reflecting on the end of things, for travel to the other side of the great cycle of life. Here on the farms, one seems to get fairly cozy with the myriad expressions of that cycle, even when you only work for a day and a half each week. After harvesting kohlrabi, we moved on to the very last of the season's peas. Peas are my personal favorite of Maine's summer treasures, and it seems impossible that we must bid them goodbye again - until next year! It has been such a very short few weeks! And then the strawberries . . . we picked through the fields one last time this morning . . . it was "the last hurrah" as Stacy said. But just four weeks ago I was struggling to keep up with the strawberry harvest craze at Jordan's! How can this be? Today the berries were small, heavily enjoyed by bugs, hard to locate - it was slow going. It felt for awhile like a bad day on the 405, that notorious traffic-logged freeway of the Southland that once claimed too many of my waking hours. I looked to the left, to the right, and I could swear that traffic was moving faster everywhere but here. Over there, the berries are red, ripe, and plentiful - I can see them. Maybe I should just jump into that row? Or is it a mirage of the heat?

And so we bid these crops goodbye. For another year. Sam scrambles this afternoon to pick pick pick for her weekend strawberry jam, because tomorrow morning the entirety of the strawberry crop will be mowed flat. That's it. It's time. Time to pick up, time to move on to the next "crowd pleaser".