Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
My diesel dad tackles the 100 degree farm: this is the reality
When it’s cold in the winter, and we are tucked safely indoors with the heat and the hot chocolate and the pretty Christmas lights, it’s easy to romanticize working on an organic farm. Isn’t it? I mean, we even do it. When we’re gazing at seed catalogues all misty-eyed, envisioning the perfect season with the perfect weather and everyone working hard in perfect harmony here in this beautiful valley.
Somehow the sweat never enters the romantic vision. Nor the back aches. It’s just human nature. Especially young human nature. Young people envision dirty smiling people posing for a group picture after accomplishing some great but difficult goal and it make our hearts sing. Yet somehow, the abusive sun and dripping sweat day after day after day remain evasive to our romantic montage.
Then we find ourselves deep in a North Carolina August haze with our muscles sore, our skin sunburned, sweat dripping into our eyes, and yet ANOTHER weed to pull and can’t remember how exactly we got here and wondering whether we should question our own sanity.
Or at least I think that’s what happens to some people. Despite the brutal sun and aching back (and feet and hips) and ALL those weeds we thought we would prevent in our romantic winter visions, I still love my job. But I’ve been around this rodeo before. Somewhere in the back of my mind, while sipping hot cider with my feet up in front of the wood stove, envisioning the perfect season blah blah blah, there’s the little cynic laughing and remembering the sometimes harsh reality that is running a farm. Even a lovely little organic farm set in a picturesque valley with a gurgling creek running through it.
Suddenly I feel like a summer annual. It’s as if summer has nearly slipped by and I haven’t done all the summer things yet and so I find myself cramming in Sunday activities like summer annuals suddenly making thousands of seeds. This Sunday was farm Olympics, next Sunday is a visit from my parents, the next Sunday is another float because not everyone got to go the first time around and we’re trying to get floated out before it’s too chilly to sit in the water for 3 hours. And suddenly, it’s going to be September. Just like that.
Maybe it feels like this for everyone, but when your summer consists of only Sunday afternoons (the rest being work time), mid-August brings this scrambling feeling. Like I just didn’t get enough lazy easy living. Not enough baseball, not enough aquatic activities, not enough porch sitting. So don’t hate me if I hope for a warm September, so I can finish all the summer activities.
This Sunday's Float
As you probably already know, one of my favorite activities is to float the river. Just ooze along wherever the lazy current takes you. You’ve made a plan, of sorts, in that you placed a vehicle at the take out and then put in somewhere up river, but you can’t do much about much except float along and enjoy yourself.
In some ways, that describes this season on the farm. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’re still bustling about trying to get all the crops planted, tended and harvested and ready for market, but by this point we’re simply putting one foot in front of the other-following the plan we made in December. We are already well down the river of 2019. We can note the flaws in the plan and hope we remember when we get off this boat in December and circle back around to begin again, but there’s not a lot we can do about it at this point.
It’s fiction season. We’re six months into the heavy workload, things are heating up, and we’re about to break. Emphasis on “about to” (we go through this every year, and we never break). But this time of year calls for some good old fantasy fiction.
You might think fantasy fiction is something like The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, but we’ve been more into Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Seriously, Amazon is going to think we’ve got an addiction to travel guides.
We read about sandy beaches and jungle covered mountains and volcanos and brightly colored birds. It’s better than the Game of Thrones! We are so immersed that we sometimes we forget we’re actually just still here working, which is, of course, the point of escapist fiction. So now you know the explanation when we reply to “jah mon!” to any questions, and you swear you catch a faint hint of the sound of steel drums.
Ice Ice baby
Our ice machine is on the fritz. It’s been on the fritz for at least a year. I know, I know, “first world problems”. It’s true. But ice is critical to my hydration. If the water isn’t cold, I don’t drink it. So an ice machine, a life goal ripened into expectation, is, somehow, important to me.
Now I try to stay on top of stuck ice cube removal, but this week it seemed to get a cube stuck after every batch of ice. So I bought some ice at the store and stuck it in the freezer where the ice machine had to stare at it.
All of a sudden, the ice machine was able to go through an entire evening's ice making without a single stuck ice cube! It felt the threat of that store bought ice and knew it had better try just a little bit harder. This is the psychology of these inanimate things.
This is pretty much what we look like
Do you remember the “sweat is sexy” commercials? There are the Hollywood faces and bodies “working out” and “sweating”. We look exactly like that. I mean, just add a little dirt, okay add a lot of dirt sticking to the sweat, and we look exactly like that. Maybe add just a tiny bit of upper lip sweat, and sweat stained clothes, but still, we look just like that. Well, maybe add a little pimple where the sweat and dirt stuck to you all day before you could get into the river or a cold shower. But we look just like that. Maybe add just a tiny bit of red face and hair plastered to heads, but we look pretty much just like that commercial. We are sexy. Because sweat is sexy. And we are sweating.
We have this sense in this country that if we just work harder, we will get ahead. It’s the essence of the American Dream. What nobody tells you is that sometimes working harder is just not enough. You have to work harder doing the right things! You have to work smarter.
See, there are only so many hours in the day. You can say that you’ll work 16 of those, but eventually, you’re going to break down. I don’t care how much you get paid to work those long hours, you can’t do that forever. Extra dollars do not make you extra human.
We feel this intensely as farmers, but I’m sure all small business owners do. It’s a constant dance of ingenuity of necessity and triage. Your mind always considering potential better/more efficient ways of doing things, and figuring out what you can leave undone.
You might notice if you visit the farm that right now it doesn’t exactly look like a country club. That’s because we’re in triage mode and mowing almost never makes a triage list. There’s no satisfaction in things left undone but there is a sort of an art.
And we practiced that art on the fourth of July—leaving things undone in order to take a half a hot day off and float the river.
Well this is a good reason for July
July has arrived in relatively good humor, but with a note of ferocity. Like it’s namesake, Julius Caesar, July threatens an unsanctioned war upon us. Every day, the weather prediction is similar: highs in the high 80s. Also every day, several degrees are added to that. July is being sneaky. Luring us (and clearly the weathermen) out with cool enough nights, then striking us down mid-day with vicious torridity.
Ahem, July, WE ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO JULIUS CAESER!
Working the most important job of their lives:)
I stop at Dunkin Donuts on my delivery route on Wednesdays. Shhhhhh. That’s just between you and me. Organic farmer at Dunkin Donuts, I know. But there’s this guy that works there on Wednesday mornings who is an inspiration.
Vicki at Café 1841 in Lenoir put it this way, “the bible says anybody could be Jesus so you had better treat everybody as if they were Jesus” (she does). So I don’t know if that’s what the guy at Dunkin Donuts is thinking or acting on—I don’t even know his name (yet)!—but this is how he approaches his work day: like it is the most important job he’s ever going to do.
Now let me assure you that every small business owner believes that their employees are doing the most important work of their lives, and to that small business owner it is! But I’m pretty sure not all employees of all small businesses believe this. Except the Dunkin Donuts guy.
That guy is having a great time, working hard, and treating every customer as if they’re the most important person to walk into the store (or drive through the drive through—yes the donut shop has a drive through!). I absolutely love watching him. And you know what? I bet he’s a genuinely happy person. I know I always leave there with a bigger smile on my face (and it’s not because I’m leaving a donut shop😊).
The land that I love is the land that I'm working
In an interview today, I was asked about my connection to the land and whether it has changed over the years. Immediately, the Old Crow Medicine Show song “Take ‘em Away” popped into my head: “…land that I love is the land that I’m workin’, but it’s hard to love it all the time when your back is a-hurtin’. 😊
While that statement is true, that’s not my answer! We live and work in a stunningly beautiful valley. Early on in our careers, we took lots of pictures, gaped in awe, etc. We were tourists in our own home, so to speak. But sometimes when you’re working hard and have your head down, you can forget to look up and notice how amazing everything is.
I am reminded of this on my delivery route on Wednesday which takes me through the country to Lenoir. As I crest a hill on highway 18, the sunrise is in my rearview mirror and the purple mountains are in front of me. It never fails to take my breath away. I’m a captive audience.
So yeah, I guess my relationship with the land that I love, the land that feeds me, has changed a bit. It has deepened in its intensity, but I can sometimes tend to take that for granted. But not today. Today I’m noticing.