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Posts Tagged ‘wassaic community farm’

Season’s End

Last year, around this time, I was tired of being a vagabond farmer. I’d spent six months on five farms in three different places. I was ready to plant some roots.

I began looking for the farm where I would settle down and spend my first full season.

The ad read: Community farm seeking third farmer, room open in our home, an old converted schoolhouse. Located 2 hours outside of New York City in a little hamlet called Wassaic.

It sounded quaint, but too far away. I was interested in urban farming, in growing food in places where rural farmers don’t sell their fresh, delicious produce.  Who would I be growing for at this farm? And where the hell was Wassaic??

Two days later, a woman named Asantewaa Harris, who inspired me at the Harlem Harvest Festival and whom I would soon adopt as one of my mentors, put a flyer in my hand for a community harvest day on some little farm that was doing amazing things. She told me this little farm was growing affordable food and herbs for communities in the South Bronx and working closely with many food justice organizations in the city to engage folks in farming and build community upstate. She said they were offering land to groups like hers to glean and grow food on so that they could distribute to their own communities. This was the kind of farm I dreamed of. I told her I would definitely be there.

As I walked out of the building and made my way to the station at 125th, I looked at the flyer in my hand. Typed at the very bottom, below all the pictures and fun activities planned, was the line that would decide my future for the next year: We can’t wait to see you at our Harvest Day on Wassaic Community Farm.

I smiled as I stepped onto the train in Harlem, envisioning what life would be like in the country.

Country life didn’t take any mercy on me. Wassaic wasn’t at all shy about introducing me to the way of life I so proudly boasted I was ready for.  She showed me who’s boss. Basically, she kicked my ass.

It started with flooding, evacuations, repairing the greenhouse and digging trenches. We pumped the fields dry, we borrowed neighbors’ greenhouses to start our early seeds, we bought sandbags. But in the midst of the chaos, we dried off and warmed up inside planning out the season. I learned about organizing extensive seed orders, budgeting, making crop plans and crop rotation calendars.

Before we knew it, it was time to start recruiting new CSA members and organizing our community workdays to get the fields ready for transplanting. But the rain didn’t stop. My feet were in a constant state of cold and wet. My amateur boots weren’t cuttin’ it.

The soil finally dried out and green began to creep into the landscape around me. I started getting excited about my decision to move to the country. The air was different here. Fresh, clean. I began to smell the soil, hear the birds. It was peaceful, beautiful. I liked living in our bright red schoolhouse.

But that was just the calm before the storm. By the short spring’s end, the easy days of starting seeds and doing construction projects around the greenhouse were just memories. The summer frenzy had begun.

It was as if overnight the barren land exploded into production – mainly of weeds. It seemed like all the seedlings we’d grown were in a never-ending waiting line to be transplanted, and the four of us couldn’t move fast enough.

Farmers’ market season started and our focus switched to harvesting, processing and packaging. On our Bronx market days, we woke up at 4am, loaded the van and began the long drive into the city in the dark, returning back to Wassaic in the dark again.

On average we worked 10-12 hour days, but market days were easily 16-17 hours. I learned a lot about everything it takes to run a farm; About how your focus is pulled into so many different directions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; About all of the risks and sacrifices farmers make to feed people; About all of the work that goes into every ounce of food people buy, and how the prices farmers charge should reflect that.

My first season farming full-time in one place was a hectic blur.  I was beyond tired. ( The farm work alone didn’t kill me so much as juggling farming with working off the farm for income, building community and food justice organizing tools by starting the Vroom Bus Collective and Freedom Food Alliance with my organizing partners, launching the Color of Food and trying to travel to a few farm conferences and community meetings.)

It was one of the hardest and most rewarding years of my life. I learned more than I could have imagined. I really grew. I made friends for life with my FARMily. Ben, Betsey, Winnie and Jalal kept me from collapsing into a defeated heap onto the compost pile. They and our larger community in both Wassaic and NYC inspired me to keep going, as did the precious moments of rest and recreation off the farm, like going for a cool summer dip in the quarry or hiking to our favorite waterfall.

This year may have kicked my ass, but I think I did a pretty good job of kicking back.

Though my season here has come to an end, my relationship with this place and the community I’ve become a part of has not.  Though I will be returning to my life as a vagabond, hitting the road at the first signs of spring to document the lives of farmers of color across the country, I will always have some roots planted in this little country hamlet called Wassaic.

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Somewhere, in the deep woods of some sleepy town, next to a frozen creek, way down under the snow…life has begun to stir.  Soil has begun waking up from its winter hibernation, lying in that dreamy haze we all know too well between the alarm and snooze button, planning out what’s next to come.  It’s begun to think about shaking off the heavy snow soon and breathing in the fresh spring air. It can almost feel what the future holds when it will open up, letting earthworms spill out into the rain, and welcoming new roots to fill itself with again…

At least that’s how I envision what’s going on beneath my boots as I crunch and slide over the packed snow on the Wassaic Community Farm.

I just arrived here on this little farm – what will now be my new home and workplace for the 2011 growing season – last Thursday night.  I made my way from the JFK Airport, through the tangle of NYC subways and subway-goers (who were clearly understanding of the fact that I was dragging my oversized piece of luggage as well as my intrusive backpack through the 1/2 inch of space that MTA leaves us all to walk through ), and out of the City to the tiny hamlet (hamlet meaning the little town that could…not quite make it as a town).  I arrived to a lovely surprise welcome dinner hosted by the sweet farmers who have added me on to their team as the third farmer and food justice/education coordinator.

Ahhh. I am instantly happy to be back up north where local, farm fresh food is much easier to come by – and incredibly good.  I also, in spite of feeling like it took me longer to get out to this Harlem Valley farm only an hour and a half from the City than it did to get from Florida to New York, am immediately relieved to find myself in the perfect balance between the country-farm life and the city that never sleeps.  I, being the girl of blended contrasts, am excited to enjoy the best of both worlds this season… that is, if I find the time or energy to leave the farm once the real work kicks in.

As my time in south Florida came to a close, I tried to savor every last drop of sunshine from my parents’ garden oasis or from my seat at the seaside with a book in my hand.  I was completely spoiled this Winter, but don’t feel one bit guilty about my overindulgence in free time and serenity because -all along I knew – the end of February would be about that time.  Time for the fun to end and for my very first full season as a for real farmer to begin.

This truth became an ice-cold reality today as my boots plunged down three feet into the melting snow, my coveralls caught on the barn fence, and my dirt-caked fingers threatened to break off like icicles as I struggled to dig our seedling tables out from under six inches of solid ice.

Sure as hell glad I soaked up that 79 degree weather last week. At least the insides of my four layers of clothes are appreciating the tan lines I worked so hard on all winter.

woot. bring it on.

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