This is an essay from one of our CSA members (and dear friends), Trilety Wade.
Squash is on the vine and I just recently hit the required 10 hours of work at Black Sheep Farms. Honestly, my intention was to have reached this goal by June or July, with mornings spent in dew decorated fields and afternoons under the frugal shade of a wide brimmed hat. But is the end of August and I have just now completed the 10th hour. Fortunately, Brian and Kelly won’t throw me off the farm if I try and rack up some more hours this fall – or so I’ve been told. And I do plan on continuing because my membership in the CSA is also a commitment to a sustainable style of farming and the farmers (also friends) who hold onto the land with the grip of roots and clay.
I’ve met a few members and missed a few members and thought I’d share my experience during my wee 10 hours on the farm.
May found me kneeling along a felled log with fungus-inoculated dowels and mallets in hand as Brian and Alvaro (?) drilled hollows into the drying crust of wood. Comet (Brian and Kelly’s youngest) and I would follow the guys, and with a swift swing of the rubber mallet we would fill the holes with a spore-soaked dowel. This was quite the hand-eye coordination task for us both. And after (300?) holes and before a nap, Comet made a new friend in Triltree – as he likes to call me. We then capped the holes with wax and. . . . now we wait. With the chicken coop shading our work I realized farming is an exercise in waiting and hoping. We wait and hope for the mushrooms to sprout next spring.
Early June and it was a girls’ day at the farm and in the greenhouse. Kelly, Kristin, Nicole and I transplanted/repotted seedling tomatoes into larger containers and prepped them for planting in the earth. We made soil from perlite, compost, and vermiculite while we talked about the burdens and joys of love and children and work and farming. The greenhouse, with its narrow pathways, packed us, and our coordinated movements together like warm eggs in a carton.
One of the next times I was out was on a Scheduled Work Party day; a day when Kelly had identified collective tasks that could be worked on by a group of members. In one of the few humid days in July, Kelly and I worked alone and together digging and drying garlic and staking up liberated limbs of tomatoes. Kelly’s optimism and positive attitude made any of my sporadic cynicism fall like rotten fruit to the earth in which we worked. We sweat and laughed and talked about the surprises of marriage and the taste of heirlooms.
And then came August. My volunteer experience of August opened my eyes to the realities and challenges of working the ground. We spent the afternoon between blighted tomatoes and tiny potatoes. The blight, that comes on the air, rotted the many tomatoes that Kelly had hoped would bring heft and color to our weekly boxes. It’s a shock when something is destroyed and you could do little to nothing to prevent it. We moved from the tomatoes to the potatoes. From the barn, Kelly dragged an implement she earlier referred to as the Potato Fork. Of course I figured it would be just that – a fork of sorts – a pitchfork type tool. And then she pulls out a tool that is almost taller than me with blades like you’d see on some piece of yellow machinery. Kelly and Ali made light work of this effective tool while I. . . well I did many fewer turns of that fork and the soil beneath. Potato harvesting is a treasure hunt for buried nightshade treasure, but as with most treasure hunts sometimes the booty isn’t so big. The fingerlings we were pulling were small, some the size of peanuts. And while on my hands and knees and looking at the dark but empty soil I asked, “So you probably won’t plant these fingerlings again huh?” And Kelly, in her most matter-of-fact-mother-farmer tone said, “Of course we’ll plant them. They taste great and they could be bigger next year. We lost all our tomatoes and we’ll plant those again next year too.” Lesson learned. We did dig up some great big onions and carrots that day. . . so maybe it’s a wash? Or maybe it’s farming.
I remember during the first gathering when Kelly & Brian explained the 10 hour volunteer requirement. That didn’t seem like much at the time. And yet, cumulatively, all our hours are equal to the work of horses and ploughs and multitudes of hardened hands. Just four of us members together make up an entire week of work. But the hours or days or weeks of work we put into Black Sheep Farms will bring an entirely different outcome from our regular jobs, it will bring food to our tables and the tables of new and old friends, it will bring stability and sustainability to Kelly and Brian, it will bring fertility to the soil and diversity to the seed, it will bring laughter to the leaves, and it will bring a sense of fulfillment of living and working and breathing one’s own ethic.