Farm School

For the past few years, I’ve been focused on learning more about food production. I read Michael Pollan, I shopped at the farmers market religiously, I went to talks on food and farming issues, and I went on farm tours to see firsthand what producing food involved. Eventually, I began working at the farmers market on occasion and this spring, I signed up for farm school to get more hands-on experience.

I loved the idea of getting to work on a farm and learning more about what it takes to farm, but I was also apprehensive. I’ve only worked in offices and in retail environments. I’ve never a job that required me to do physical labor outside all day. What if I couldn’t hack it? I knew we’d be working on farmland in the Sonoma valley where it gets very hot in the summer and I worried about whether I could really handle the heat. Would I end up with a wretched sunburn or heat stroke?  I greatly admire the people who run the farm, what if I screwed something up and hurt their business?

But my first day of farm school eased most of my fears. It was overcast and windy, so heat wasn’t a problem and despite the cold, it was fun to be outside all day.  There were no cubicles or socially awkward encounters with my coworkers on this workday. Instead, there were 27 rows waiting to be planted and 1,800 tomato, pepper, and eggplant starts that needed to get into the ground.

I spent the day digging, planting, inhaling the scent of tomato leaves — one of my very favorite smells — and talking to the other farm school students. We worked our way down each row, hearing the neighbor’s chickens clucking and crowing and every so often smelling the two cows in the field next door when they fertilized the land. Instead of watching red-tailed hawks online, I could just look up and see them soaring overhead. It was a far cry from the financial district of San Francisco.

By the end of that first day of farm school, I was windblown and dirtier than I may have ever been, but I felt satisfied by the work I’d done. There was something really rewarding about being about to point to the newly planted field and say, this is what I did today. (In fact, after sharing a celebratory strawberry milkshake at The Fremont Diner, I marched my mom and sister down to admire my work.)

The knowledge of having done something tangible with my day is something I like about working at the farmers market, too: I might start off the day unloading a van full of apples or flowers, but by the end of the day, the apple boxes are empty, the buckets of flowers are full of water and the cash box is full.

It took a few hours for the impact of a full day’s work in the field to hit me: I could hardly stay awake that Saturday evening and by Sunday, I was deeply sore from the hours I’d spent crouching in the field.

Aside from my aching legs, I didn’t think much about the farm once I was back at my office job, but by Friday, as I was logging off my work computer and getting ready to start my weekend, I suddenly thought to myself, what did I get done this week? And I wasn’t exactly sure.

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