I can’t say I didn’t have a romantic idea of farming when I first became interested. I pictured myself in a bright cotton sundress flowing in the summer breeze with a big straw hat and perfectly sculpted French braids. I’d have a wicker basket brimming with freshly harvested kale and ladybugs and earthworms dancing around my feet. I would talk to my plants, make compost and sell jam. Right?
Wrong. I’ve come to terms with replacing my purse with a tool belt and heels with muck boots. (Can I get an amen Marilee Foster?) Now two weeks into my first full season apprenticeship, I am getting acquainted with the rugged reality that is full time farming. I know we are on good terms, but the relationship is about to get real and we are still getting to know each other’s annoying habits.
In the past I could come and go from part time jobs on local farms, free of the burdens of crop planning, weekend watering and daylong troubleshooting. I was there to help tie up loose ends, lighten the load of my mentors and learn. The farms were already established, beds were prepped, seeds were ordered and markets developed. I knew my teachers were jacks of all trades, but at the time I didn’t comprehend that they were also masters of each and every one.
Spring on the farm is full of seeding, tilling, planting — your usual farmy stuff. But it’s also the time of planning, clean up and building. The only hole I’ve dug so far was for a propane line. As I get to know my new teacher, (seasoned vegetable grower Kurt Ericksen), I realize he is not just a grower. He is a carpenter, engineer, designer, businessman, chicken wrangler, cultivator, delegator; the list goes on and it’s only mid April.
Within two days I had my first mind blowing, amateur farmer realization: if I want to be anything like Kurt, Teddy Bolkas of Thera Farms, or Jennifer Murray of Turtleback Farm, then I too must learn to wear all those hats. Farming is a collection of skills that requires aptitude far beyond cultivation.
I can tell you this: farming is a lifestyle and if you want to master the art of growing, you must also master the art of all craftsmanship.
The apprentices were handed drills, tape measurers, and a list of projects. “Me?” I panicked. “Build things? The uncoordinated, technologically crippled sister of a mechanic and daughter of a master carpenter and architect?” I suddenly found myself face to face with a Sawzall. “Let’s do this,” I thought.
We cut two by fours. We hauled greenhouse plastic over metal ribs. We relocated 50-pound bags of compost. We screwed together tables. We drilled metal brackets. We scanned the fields for large rocks, put them in wheelbarrows, pushed them up a hill, and made piles in the woods. (No, I’m not joking about the rocks).
I am learning if I possess the stamina, mental drive and multi-faceted skills it takes to farm successfully. Can I confidently design a greenhouse? Will I be able to move tomorrow after all this bending? If I want to use a stirrup hoe to weed a field in June, I must also know how to sharpen and oil it in the spring. Little things like this have big implications.
I can’t tell you if I fully understand the implications of designing a perfect crop rotation. I certainly can’t say I am a master carpenter. And I definitely can’t pretend I haven’t spent hours troubleshooting irrigation only to find the hose still leaking. But after missing too many nails and stripping so many screws, I can tell you this: farming is a lifestyle and if you want to master the art of growing, you must also master the art of all craftsmanship.
Read more entries in Cristina’s diary.