Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Yesterday's rain frozen solid!
Jason and I just had this conversation about the “self righteous pitfall.” It’s when you work so hard at living a principled life that you can slip into self righteousness. Keeping that in mind, we work pretty hard at trying to live within our principles without becoming self righteous about it, but come on, slave labor? Here? In the U.S. ? Picking tomatoes? I feel myself slipping. I had heard about it once on NPR, just a little mention somewhere to tuck into the back of my brain for later perusal. But this month’s Gourmet has a whole article on the slave labor picking tomatoes in Florida every winter. They’re pretty careful to mention the “unknowing” farmers, but come on, really? Slip.
As if slave farm labor wasn’t enough, in another NPR article, the lawsuit against a Florida based tomato company that has farms in Brunswick County, NC was mentioned. It’s a pesticide poisoning lawsuit: several children of the farm workers were born with defects, the worst being born without arms and legs. Slip. Um, hold the tomatoes please?
I promise you this: though my employees and I might not be the best paid people in the world, we are willing, happy, and healthy, and so are the veggies we produce! There was an editorial in this month’s Eating Well written by a woman about to leave a five year career as a farm employee to return to grad school, which makes her grandmother ecstatic. But the author says of her farm life, “I’ve never done anything more useful in my life.” I relate. I spent some time in academia, believing that a life in academia was for me. I figured I’d go to grad school, then work overseas studying music and culture (I wanted to go to school for ethnomusicology-now that’s a mouthful), documenting, studying, writing and whatever else higher educated people do. I found it terribly interesting, but something was always missing from that: the usefulness. I don’t mean to say that studying and documenting any number of things in this world isn’t useful, but it didn’t satisfy the usefulness of my hands, my body. The use of my mind alone left me feeling a little empty. So I started gardening as a hobby and the fire was lit. A friend of mine, who is a fisherman, said simply yet sagely, “there’s just something about providing food for people.” Yes. There is just something about it.
So as I dug my fingers into that freshly tilled earth to stick in an onion plant, I felt the ground beneath me again as if for the first time. Yes. I am willing. Aching back, sore neck, still I look back over those (not so straight) rows of tiny onion plants, knowing the potent sweet tearful June they will bring and I’m happy.
Onion plants in this morning's snow!
I don’t usually admit that I sometimes go to Wal-Mart, but I went there Friday night. Wow. You know what I hate most about big box stores like Wal-Mart? It’s that I only go there when I need something specific that I can’t think of another place to buy, but when I walk through the doors I’m immediately overwhelmed by the vastness, the lights, the sense of my own insignificance, and many other things until I’ve completely forgotten what it was I came there for. It never fails. Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, they’re all the same (quite literally actually). I’ve always wanted to infiltrate the inner minds of the upper echelon of management to see what strategies they implement to induce this mind numbing effect. Personally, I think it’s the lights.
Well anyway, I, as usual, forgot what I was there for, but fortunately I was prepared for this effect with a list. The fact that there were only two items on my list doesn’t diminish its importance. I shook my head of the haze and consulted my list. Ah yes, now I remember the point of this story. I remember once in college coming out of the Red River Gorge after a week of hiking to a society we had all but forgotten. Even after only a week in the woods, we were suddenly completely socially inept. We stopped at a Dairy Queen (of all places) in search of some sustenance (not sure why we would look there) and just stared at the vast lit up menu overhead. It was like we couldn’t read, or that we could read but not fully comprehend the meaning. You know when you read that same sentence over and over in a book because you keep meaning to concentrate on understanding it but you don’t and you just keep reading it again. Like your mind is only halfway in it. Well that’s what it was. We mumbled out some semblance of an order and just piled our crumpled bills on the table, unable to comprehend or count it. The counter clerk stared at us incredulously, shook her head, and counted out the cash we owed.
This is precisely how Wal-Mart felt to me Friday night. Like my mind was only halfway in it. I knew I was amazed at the sheer number of people in there on a Friday night, but I was distracted by how they looked in the haze of the fluorescent lights, by the sounds of their voices bouncing off from all that stuff, by the way we had to weave through them. It was a totally different world than I had been occupying for the last month or so. It wasn’t a gentle re-entry, but not altogether unpleasant: just sort of hazy and interesting from a one way glass sort of place in my head.
It wasn’t entirely this strange trip to Wal-Mart that signals the re-entry into civilization that comes with the beginning of the season. There were the little green heads emerging from their little soil mothers in the greenhouse, all tender and fragile and needy. This sight snaps every farmer to attention and rarely fails to awe me. Some of the seeds are incredibly tiny, but still…out pokes a little green cotyledon, larger than life. So even though it still thinks about snowing and a fierce icy wind froze the water to the camper in the middle of the day today, I know from the sight of the tiny green sprouts that spring is near (regardless of what the ground hog sees). I suppose this means that I’ll be in need of the yet non-existent addition to the greenhouse. Yikes! At least we’ve begun.