I got into my truck after a long day on the tractors. My left hand reached for the shifter as my right fumbled for the throttle. My tush is confused by the stillness of my seat. My hands feel heavy without the vibration of the steering wheel. My muscle memory realized by the quiet of the engine rattle that I was not driving a tractor anymore. Still the whole way home both hands and feet felt naked, accustomed to pushing and pulling on numerous pedals and levers during today’s operation. I kept thinking I had to turn around to check my implement only to find the empty bed of my truck.
I remember the first large onion transplant last May or long days spent cultivating as my clean, blistered hands adjusted to the rough handle of a hoe.
The drive home from Brookhaven is much shorter than that from Shelter Island. But something is familiar. Something triggers a memory of spring at Sylvester Manor. I remember the first large onion transplant last May or long days spent cultivating as my clean, blistered hands adjusted to the rough handle of a hoe. I inhale deeply reflecting on the knowledge I’ve gained that I never thought I would have. Aha! I recognize the nostalgic scent of soil.
All winter I’ve been wondering if I’m ready for the heat, if my back is strong enough, or my plowing straight enough. I tinkered with bolts, studied schematics and revved up the Deere. Fresh vegetables felt like a distant luxury and I got the heebie jeebies anticipating the work load to come. It was as if the comfort I found in farming had left me as quickly as I’d fallen in love with it. But now I’ve been working outside again for just a few days and I am already engulfed in the scent of spring. I must have soaked it in all day on the tractor, disking the section that will be planted with peas after the last cold spell strikes. Out of all the scents of farming that I’ve recalled to you, freshly turned spring soil is definitely the best. I feel comfortable again.
I am adjusting to my new arrangements and the larger scale of my new home away from home. The HOG Farm (formerly the Hamlet Organic Garden), owned and operated by Sean and Jill Pilger, has about 11 acres of non-certified organic vegetables in production, lots of chickens, and a jolly crew of musicians, of which I am one. In my new role I’ll be focusing on tractor work, assisting Sean in everything from primary and secondary tillage, to spreading manure and fertilizer, to seeding, cultivating and transplanting. It’s a whole new world to me; everything I learned to do by hand is done mechanically at the HOG Farm.
Though technically I am no longer an “apprentice” per se, my editor, Eileen M. Duffy, and I decided to keep the name “DOOFA.” This is the kind of field where you can never know everything. There are no formulas, no rules, and the ever-looming unpredictability of weather. There is always more to be learned, new techniques, and new crops. Farming is like a lifelong apprenticeship to nature.
As a beginner, you soon realize farmers all have their own style and while everything you know is seemingly turned upside down, concepts you never thought you’d understand reveal themselves as common themes you can recognize. I surprise myself when I successfully connect the dots. I can’t wait to learn the HOG Farm’s secrets.