Picking green beans yesterday got me thinking about picking green beans in New Zealand which led to reminiscing about different farms I’ve worked on while traveling. The green bean farm was all about picking green beans all day and unlike my bosom buddy who was really good at it, I got bored! I ended up switching to a cabbage farm later in the week where we’d sit on these seats attached to the back of tractors, down low just above the soil: cabbage and broccoli seedlings would fall from a shoot and we’d plant them in the soil. Then we’d harvest in a different field with machetes, chopping off the extra leaves and throwing them up to folks on the truck who would pack them. At pear and apple orchards, we’d wear huge bags with draw string bottoms in front of us and climb ladders up into the branches. When your bag was full you’d waddle over to the crates and pull the strings to release the apples into the crate. I remember working with a Maori fellow and we’d rhyme away up there in the foliage, trying to come up with lyrics on the spot.
In Tanzania I was helping a community involved with Heifer Project International devise their own Natural Resource Management Plan. This afforded me the opportunity to work beside farmers in rice paddies and banana plantations and also learn a bit about slash and burn agriculture. Working with an older woman (who to this day has been one of my most influential mentors) I was staying with one day in her field, wielding machetes, the mayor came with a 5 kilo sack of sugar to offer in exchange for “a wife that can work” (a.k.a. me).
In India I remember harvesting rice in a community garden. The most poignant part was the rhythm: bundling, threshing…the repetitive actions and sounds. I’ve enjoyed those rhythms here in the states as well. At Food Bank Farm in Western Mass we would run between squash that we were harvesting in the fields, keeping a pace to our work that allowed for the harvest of enough food to feed hundreds of families and send crates of seconds to the local food banks. We’d play games to keep up our pace and bring laughter into the fields. Piling in and out of farm vehicles, there and at farms here in Maine, with their loud mufflers as they had been retired from any roadworthy status, filling bins with veggies, and returning to the washing stations. Not to mention the rhythms of lunch breaks, like the feasts at a farm up on Cape Rosier or the picnics we’d take in canoes out to a house boat at FoodBank Farm: after REALLY working, taking time to REALLY pause.
So many rhythms, so different depending on the scale, the culture, the farm crew. Spraying organic, all natural nutrient blends this week, I realized how thankful I am to be able to farm at a scale where I can walk through the garden and hand-spray each plant, check on each one and see how it is growing. And also how thankful I am to have learned from so many a farmer how they approach their land and bring their own art and nuance to their day’s work.
Leigh Tillman lives, farms, writes and facilitates meetings in Portland, Maine. She has farmed in many countries and has over the past four years in coastal Maine developed a reputation for high-quality organic produce. She and several members of her community also run Chai Wallahs of Maine.