Tuesday, October 14, 2008


After two weeks of CSA harvest at the Farm School, here are some thoughts and observations:

A Question of Scale

The Farm School has a 150-person CSA, with two pickups, one in Cambridge and one in Watertown. Twice a week we drive the van into Boston to deliver 60+ 1/2 bushel waxed boxes full of produce. We grow on about 10 acres of cropland. The harvest is very familiar to me - a similar scale to what I did at Land's Sake. But the wash station is something new. In the lower bran, we have a walk in cooler where we store the boxes once they've been packed (the day before), a huge wash area with hoses, wash bins, root washing/draining tables, an egg processing station, and a drain system that often takes 8 hours to drain after a harvest day. It's a very efficient system, and it's been great getting to know it these past few harvest days. But it is also in the bottom of the barn, dark, dank and not exactly welcoming.

I've been thinking a lot about what I really love about farming, and I'm realizing there is something important about washing broccoli and carrots under the blue sky, huddling under the stand to wait out a storm, watching the light on a red maple reflected in the big outdoor washtub. I don't want to sacrifice those things for efficiency and production. There are a lot of different farm models that work. I certainly don't know what my future farming looks like, but I know that the question of scale is an important one. Do you want to know the names and stories of your CSA members, or do you want to drop off a stack of anonymous boxes to a pickup spot in the city? Do you want to have to wash chard and beets in the pouring rain, or do you want a mechanized, rain-proof post-harvest wash station? There isn't a right answer. I love the organization of the lower barn wash area. I enjoy packing boxes. I'm looking forward to a year of observing and participating in as many kinds of CSAs as I can.

But right now I'm learning toward a farm I know I can work myself with a hoe and a few good friends. I'm leaning toward a CSA that includes faces and stories and shared experience. I'm leaning toward washing that chard in the pouring rain, and feeling the sun on my back in the early morning as I dip kale in the wash tub, with the blue sky overhead and the fresh air in my face.

Simple Fall Work

We've spent some quality time cleaning onions and separating garlic for seed. This afternoon six of sat on hay bales near the big barn doors and worked our way through two boxes of seed garlic. The sun came in and out of the slate clouds, turning the maples in our yard a glowing red and golden. Motor, one of the farm cats, sat with us in the sun, and our two horses, April and Ruby Star looked on curiously. (And no doubt hoping we'd stop our garlic separating and get them on some fresh grass!) The talk ranged from hybrid plant varieties to the in and outs and absurdities of organic certification. I love the slow, mindless, handwork of the fall. It is a good and necessary balance to the fast-paced bustle of harvesting and packing boxes.

Just Love

When it comes down to the bottom of things, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing. I don't know what it is about this work, this delicate, wonderful, complicated, beautiful, simple, hard, satisfying work, but it sustains me. I'd rather be on my knees clipping mesclun in the misty morning, bunching winter bor kale still wet with silver due, and spraying down bins and bins of bolero carrots and purple top turnips than practically anything else I can think of. When it comes down to the bottom of things, I love every moment of it: the long harvest in the clear fall sun, the truck loaded with bins of produce, the bustle of the wash room, the stacks of full in the walk-in. This is what I want to do. Spend my life with vegetables.

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