Working on a farm is like nothing else I’ve experienced—in an incredibly striking and beautiful way. I can’t say I’ve ever had a purer connection to food—and now believe that everyone should experience at least one honest day’s work on a farm. Although Appelget Farm is a small-scale family farm, it still feels large to a newcomer like myself—who previously worked with only 5% of an acre. To begin with is the schedule. At my tiny garden weeding the onion patch, tying tomatoes and planting a few flats of brassicas seemed a sizable task for one afternoon. The efficiency of task planning makes transplanting a few thousand plants in hundred foot rows easily accomplished within the hour. Here's a look at what happens the rest of the day.
Arrive! Lori generally feeds Cinnamon the rabbit while one of us lets the chickens out of their coop and replenishes their water/feed. Kevin then comes in and updates Virginia on things like blight updates, rain received or in the forecast, etc.). With that we get a brief idea of what the day will have in store. Onto our first task, harvesting the melons. At first I thought everyone was joking when they mentioned it’ll involve catching skills. With a little practice cantaloupes are gently tossed (or in my case, walked) down the line and piled into harvest buckets. We then make our way around the delicate watermelons, turning them over to check for ripeness. A dried tendril and patch of gold on the rind indicates they’re ready to leave their winding vines.
The rest of the morning is devoted to harvesting anything with tender (shade-loving) greens….think arugula, spinach, kale, beets, lettuce. We do this in the morning to make use of the cooler temperatures and avoid wilting. After pulling the largest beets to bunch we head over to the wash tent. After rinsing —consisting of dunking for kale and a nice spray for beets—the food is packed into bins and wheeled over to cold storage where they’ll ‘chill out’ until show-time.
Some of my favorite memories so far are from snack-time. Around this time we’ll stop for ten minutes and slice into something just harvested—generally one of the split or unsavory looking cantaloupes that’s still wonderful on the inside. Not only is it the freshest food you will ever eat, but no one seems to care if the juice accidentally dribbles down your face and there’s never a reason to bother with forks. It’s messy, but that’s what makes it a moment of pure enjoyment…enjoying and respecting food in the rawest form possible, without judgment.
Pepper (sweet, ancho, jalapeño) harvesting is in full-swing! These are all small plants so we scan down the rows with green buckets, plucking the ripe ones off. Once we gather a colorful assortment we’re onto the prickly eggplants. The young half-inch Fairytales definitely win this year’s ‘most adorable vegetable’ award.
Zucchini/summer squash, cucumbers and pickles. This is our trio. Zucchini plants (as I’ve discovered) are particularly scratchy and extremely prolific. With the trailer fully loaded we drive to the garage and sort/count everything into bins. The amount of math involved in farming is pretty incredible.
We take a half-hour lunch from 12.00-12.30 which generally manifests itself as extended conversations about movies, school adventures, travel plans or—you guessed it—what we cooked that week. Between just three of us there’s an omnivore, a vegetarian and a vegan…so there’s plenty of discussion about egg replacer, cows and different ways to transform zucchini. After grabbing our pitch forks we head out and begin our favorite guessing game: Rock or Potato? We generally harvest a row (roughly two bushels worth) before weighing them out to 2.5 pounds in crisp paper bags.
Tomato time. Scrunching down to peer inside the plants, about a foot off the ground we magically find hundreds of tomatoes. For cherries we bring endearingly tiny containers that we empty out every few feet. For the larger varieties we carry a 2 foot container along, placing the tomatoes upside down to avoid bruising their delicate bottoms.
With a little over half hour to pick-up we begin set-up. Virginia drives her truck over to cold storage and we load it up with the food needed for the first half of the pick-up, then unload at the garage. We’ll go back with a wagon halfway through to re-stock, so everything stays as fresh and cold as possible. After finalizing the numbers for half and full-shares, we organize the placement, take off the lids and do one last floor sweep to tidy up.
It’s time! CSA pick-up begins, as some team members call it quits for the day. We work to re-stock and make sure everything is in place—as well as quickly peruse the fridge to see if there’s any leftover zucchini bread. As you all already know this place is magically rich in food. It is equally matched by the sheer kindness of the family that runs it, who surprise us with food on especially hot or long days.
While the CSA runs, we’re back to the wash tent to start cleaning up from the morning. Buckets are separated into harvest bins (multicolored) and storage bins (grey); both types as well as the wash-sinks are thoroughly washed and sanitized after each use.
Stop in to check on the status of the CSA veggies. After restocking it’s on to the greenhouse to start seeding lettuce; the cycle never ends! This one’s easy though…only six flats. Lettuce seeds are merely twice the size of this upcoming comma however, so making sure you place only two seeds per cell requires attention.
Time to pack up! The rest of the now-empty bins are brought to the wash station and rinsed out. There’s always some food left over (people who didn’t come, opted for only one leek instead of two) so we package that up and bring it back to cold storage.
Grab some bruised or split tomatoes from the Farmer Vegetable tray for dinner.
High-five and we’re homeward bound!