Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reflections from August

August 10th, 2009

By Nicole Sugerman

When it’s my week to “bottom-line” writing the newsletter (Nina and I take turns), I usually like to write the most substantial article first. Usually, I sit down at my computer and free-write about whatever has been on my mind in the last couple weeks. Today, I sat down and stared at my computer rather blankly for close to half an hour. “That’s funny,” I thought to myself, “is there really nothing on my mind at all?” And then I realized, of course not. It’s August.

Perhaps I am being just a bit dramatic. Of course I still think in August. But I definitely think less. As a couple of us farmers were discussing over lunch today, August is the hardest month for many of us. August tests my determination, my tolerance for monotony, and my ability to keep the big picture in mind. In August, farming’s romanticism wears thin, revealing underneath dripping sweat, and endless, endless, harvests.

I think that’s really what precipitates the August lows. The harvests just keep getting bigger and bigger. Of course this is an exciting, glorious thing—to harvest vegetables is why one farms, really—but the harvests grow to an overwhelming extent. The farm’s fecundity becomes almost unmanageable. Harvest times creep earlier into our mornings and later into our afternoons, until we have maybe two or three portions of time in each week to devote to the entirety of the other farm tasks. It’s not that harvesting is an unpleasant task. Harvesting is actually really fun. Collecting and preparing the products of our labor is deeply satisfying, and big harvests are what we live for; if the harvests were not big, something would be very wrong. However, the harvest also becomes amazingly repetitive. I crave the chance to do another task—“how nice it would be to prepare the bed over there for planting,” I think, “or to weed those carrots, or those beets, or those leeks, or those rutabagas, or that chard. . .”

The entire farm, as a matter of fact, starts to have a little bit of a weed problem in August. There is this aspirational myth in organic farming of the “weed-free” organic farm. The weed-free farm is supposedly possible through the diligent, on-the-ball removal of every weed on a farm before a single one drops its seed back into the fields. If this regimen is (heroically) maintained over a long enough time, a farmer can exhaust the bank of weed seed in the soil, and effectively eliminate weeds on the farm. My farmer friends and I admiringly cite names of farmers reputed to have attained weedless status. I have yet to see such a farm, but I stubbornly hold onto the possibility of its existence. That is, until August comes each year. In August, the possibility of our farm ever attaining anything close to a weedless state is dashed, as weeds flower and spread their seeds liberally throughout the entire farm. I watch the three-foot spiny amaranth drop seed in the peppers as the perennial grasses contaminate the blackberry beds. “No time to deal with that now,” I think wistfully, “I have to harvest 200 pounds of tomatoes.” And 140 ears of corn. And all of the potatoes. It really does not stop.

Our ability to push through August, though, proves humans’ resilience and endurance, as well as farmers’ deep love for what we do. I really do think less, and let my stamina take over, carrying me through the late summer by the sheer will to farm and the mutual support of the crew. Last year, Nina and I would take turns listing off what we were thankful for and what we loved about our jobs when we felt the mid-season lows. We try to keep morale high, by taking a slightly longer lunch break, or letting one crew member get ice cream sandwiches for all. We start daydreaming about what we will do this winter.

My most successful tactic for pushing on through August is keeping the macro-picture close in my mind. Even though it seems to me like I am just picking and washing plants most of the day, I remind myself that what I am also doing is building community, fostering local self-sufficiency, and taking power from globally destructive industrialized food systems toward the creation of creative, empowering, alternatives. Plus, I get to be outside for twelve hours each day. How can I really complain? And sooner than I think, I’ll be brushing snow from the turnips as I harvest, and I’ll think excitedly toward next spring.

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