So after a couple months of re-working my “copyeditor” resume in order to attract the attention of busy editors, I got a job on a farm.

It’s temporary—just till Thanksgiving or so—as the farmers hope to be sufficiently used to running a farm with a new baby by then (their baby is due in a couple of weeks).  But till then, I’m sweating and sunburning in Corryton, on Care of the Earth Community Farm, pulling weeds from long rows of strawberries, purple hull beans, and planting longer rows of fall greens and winter squash.  This is a beautiful, chemical-free & Certified Naturally Grown” farm, started by a young couple who returned to East Tennessee—the wife’s hometown—after farming in Poughkeepsie for years.  They love what they do, and feel a call to it.  They feel a kinship to Wendell Berry and his ideas about conservation, community, and agriculture.

This is harvesting season, and I’ve been harvesting corn, okra, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, cantaloupes, and potatoes.  The potato rows are a couple hundred feet long, I guess, and after the tractor goes down them, turning over the soil, potatoes bubble up like the treasure hidden in a field.  A couple hours on my knees thrusting my hands into that dirt, looking for more, slowly crawling down the rows, makes me think the verb “to grub,” as in “grubbing around in the dirt” is really applicable to harvesting potatoes.

Tomatoes are different.  You stand in front of a row—also a couple hundred feet long—with plastic boxes, and all the heavy, red / purple / yellow tomatoes flushed with ripeness are a bit overwhelming.  You can only fit 20-30 tomatoes in one box, so there’s constant hefting of boxes and carrying them back down to the end of the row where they’ll be picked up by truck.  But it’s more fun than grubbing.  The tomatoes are sometimes so heavy and perfect that a touch will dislodge them, and there they are in your hand, wonderfully formed, formed for something very serious & important.  You must sometimes just pause and look at them, how tough their skins, how tender their flesh, the heft of them.  So, so full of water, living cells, carotenoids.  You celebrate their births in your head as you look at them.

Being the one who pulls these fruits of the earth from the earth is a big deal, to me.  I used to feel like a harvester of sorts, strolling through the produce at the grocery store, looking over all the riches and picking this or that out.  But how much labor is hidden behind those refrigerated shelves: how many long days of sun and irrigation, of roots and leaves, of pesticides and herbicides, and then of clanging machinery that harvests, sorts, packs, and the enormous trucks that haul it from California, Idaho, Mexico, Chile, etc.  It’s all obscured, so that I don’t know what a farm is, and imagine that I do, wandering around the piles of stemless Brussels sprouts and stalkless garlic.  I’m different, now.  I know more.

Now I truly harvest, and am no longer mystified by holes in potatoes: they are eaten out by ants, and little worms who live in the soil.  They like potatoes as much as we do, and panic as they are pulled out of the ground, knocked off.  Their dinner is over.

This farm isn’t a huge greenhouse, or flat Midwestern cropland dusted with chemicals.  I’m learning how very, very different small farms are from the massive crop-producing machineries of the Midwest.  Here, Megan and Lalo (sole owners & operators) have to live by the seasons, and the people who get their CSA shares every week do, in a way, too.  They can’t have tomatoes in December, or broccoli in July, or strawberries in February.  Just can’t.  Last summer, okra and watermelons abounded because of the hot, dry weather.  This summer, the wettest, coolest summer I can remember, okra (which is from sub-Saharan Africa!) just can’t thrive, nor can watermelons.  They’re a month behind in size and quantity.  But behold the riches of the tomato and cucumber vines.  I think this is beautiful.

So, that’s my new job.

I think people often gush all over Megan and Lalo, probably, about the significance and goodness of what they do at Care of the Earth.  So I try to keep a lid on my gratitude & excitement when I can.  Maybe I can harness that gratitude & excitement in a productive way, and do some writing about this place and these people.  Will be looking for opportunities…

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