RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— Having worked in the greenhouse, high tunnel or barn every week since early March, yesterday’s shift at the Community Supported Agriculture farm was pretty exciting— I worked in the fields for the first time. Because of the Independence Day holiday, beginning at 7 a.m., a large crew worked to get the shares ready for distribution a day early and take care of other farm work.
Four activities were mine: helping a crew of three harvest kale, harvesting, cleaning and packaging Swiss chard, making a basket of oregano for shareholders to select from, and planting a row of tomatoes with another person. Each activity provided a learning experience on how to work quickly, yet gently with the plants. In addition to that, I made a trip to the field to check on the quantity of sugar snap peas being harvested and to inspect the progress of the green beans (not ready). The work was steady, but not too hard. I appreciated the variety as my fingerprints filled deeply with soil.
The best part of the day came at the end of the shift when the crew gathered at the farm house for lunch. Thirteen of us went through the serving line set up on the kitchen island, and gathered around the table to partake of squash casserole made with Frisian Farms Gouda cheese from Oskaloosa, a slaw made with daikon radish and cabbage, and for carnivores and flexitarians, grass-fed lamb burgers raised on the farm. There was plenty of food and good conversation.
A neighbor had provided a kettle of fresh cherries. I’m not sure “kettle” is a unit of measure, but I brought back a sack of fresh cherries and made a cherry cobbler with dark brown caramelized sugar on top. I had it for dinner… and breakfast.
One of my work partners, a student from a neighboring state visiting a woman he was dating in college, had been persuaded to help out on the farm. He was bored as he dug holes for tomato seedlings. I thought of my solar powered Freeplay radio as we finished planting the long row. Maybe I should put it in the trunk of my car for times like this to assuage youth, but probably won’t. We talked instead.
Afterward, I thought of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s experience on the Blythedale commune. How he wrote in flowery language about it in The Blythedale Romance, only to find the reality of work more difficult than he expected or wanted. Hawthorne wrote of the commune,
Paradise, indeed! Nobody else in the world, I am bold to affirm—nobody, at least, in our bleak little world of New England,—had dreamed of Paradise that day except as the pole suggests the tropic. Nor, with such materials as were at hand, could the most skilful architect have constructed any better imitation of Eve’s bower than might be seen in the snow hut of an Esquimaux.
A day of work on a CSA farm may not be a trip to Eve’s bower, but it has its rewards and challenges— and plenty of hard work.