Sow and Behold

Photo by Jenny Jackson

“It’s like you’ve been magically transported back to 1995.”

So my sister says, after my new job at Jenny Jack Farm began back in March.

Three days a week, I’m in the field or greenhouse, with intermittent phone coverage and no internet access. And the last thing I want to do in the evening is clear spam out of the inbox, which means I typically log on only two days a week.

It’s glorious.

Even if I could respond to an email, pay a bill online or accept a meeting invitation, I wouldn’t. The frantic multitasking expected at most jobs is a non-starter in an environment where distraction can mean a hacked-off plant — or finger.

Farming, it seems, is the ultimate meditation.

I won’t lie. The transition from gardener to farmer wasn’t seamless. Our first day, we planted a couple thousand kale, broccoli and spinach seedlings. A week later, we transplanted five thousand more. Temperatures peaked at 45 degrees with gale-force gusts, the soil was muddy, and cabbage worms were already destroying plants that had only been in the ground a week. My 44-year-old body and spirit were hanging on by a thread, and I wondered how our friends Jenny and Chris, who own the farm, could have worked so tirelessly seven days a week for twelve years. 

I’d volunteered at the farm plenty over the years, so I foolishly thought I knew what to expect. But it’s a different story when you push your back, knees and hands to the limit for eight hours a day, collapse into bed, and do it all over again the next morning.

But something happened during week four. The sun began to shine a little more. The air warmed. Beneficial nematodes took care of those cabbage worms. The fields came alive, and so did I.

Heaven on — or in — earth

My stamina grew, and I found that my days off spent at the computer, taking care of business for the North Highland Farmers Market, were more physically draining than my days at work. It became clear how damaging my sedentary life had been, and I missed the farm when I wasn’t there.

A seasonal rhythm developed, like sets of waves rolling onto shore, each a little stronger than the one before, until the swell of summer washed over me from every direction with its abundance. Abundance of food. Abundance of threats to that food from army worms, fire ants and deer. Unwelcome downpours drowning entire fields. Desperate prayers for rain to relieve a drought. Neverending hours of daylight prodding you to keep harvesting and preserving for winter’s scarcity. Summer was beautifully, wholly relentless.

In August, the farm let out a collective last gasp before succumbing to heat, and as spent crops were tilled under, the weight of the days palpably lightened. Watching collard and turnip seedlings begin to sprout in the greenhouse, fall’s presence was seen, if not yet felt. It’s as if the earth knew it was getting a break.

Even the palette of the fields changed as summer’s red, blue and purple shifted to autumn’s green and orange. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins and persimmons promised months of nourishment, as if the strength that gives them long life on the shelf could be passed on to us when we eat them.

As Thanksgiving approaches and the growing season comes to a close, I’m filled with gratitude for the mornings spent harvesting with the moon still high against a metallic blue sky and pileated woodpeckers calling in the distance. For the days seeding trays of microgreens that grow to cover the greenhouse tables in a living patchwork quilt. For the thousands of strawberries planted that give me hope for the spring.

In only eight months, the cadence of the farm has become the cadence of my life, and I can even look ahead to March’s wind and rain with anticipation and a sense of renewal. I hope more time in the field will mean more time to focus on reading the land, learning how to care for it in a way that makes us both better.

Looks like email will have to wait another year.

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