It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m driving down a hilly dirt road not too far from my apartment to Wildflower Eco-Farm. My commitment, for the next few hours, is to help Phil and Christine Throop with farm chores. I haven’t done anything like this in years.
Last month, I was standing in the Throop’s living room writing a check for to join the farm’s CSA program. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture; it’s a bit like a farm subscription (though much more intimate). Wildflower pools the money from each purchased share and uses it to buy additional plants and supplies.
Though I wasn’t required to volunteer my time for chores, it was something I asked for. Living in an apartment, I don’t have a field or backyard to garden in. After a year of writing about real, natural, and organic food, I was antsy to get my hands dirty.
Moments after parking, Christine greets me with a smile. We’re headed to the hoop house (a large greenhouse).
Task #1: Pull a few rows of over-wintered lettuce plants and toss them into the compost heap.
While this sounds odd, Christine explains that the lettuce reached the end of its edible life cycle (after several delicious seasons). The lettuce veins begin to get prickly and thorny, indicating that the leaves will start to taste bitter. Though someone could certainly eat this, not many people would pay to do so. It’s time to say goodbye and recycle the lettuce.
Pulling the lettuce also makes room for tomato plants which were recently placed in the same rows. I’m careful to avoid disturbing the tomato stalks.
For two hours, I steadily work my way through the lettuce on hands and knees. My back begins to ache while my legs quiver: though I’m an active person, this chore require muscles I didn’t know I had. My body would still be sore days afterward.
I finish unearthing the lettuce and then pull up a row of kale before heading home. I’m dirty and exhausted after only three hours. Clean-up isn’t much better: even a long shower fails to get all the dirt off my hands.
This is what I signed up for, and even though my muscles are in agony, I feel better. I know that the first box of produce I pick up in a few weeks will taste that much better.