First Winter as a Farmer

I open the gate to my field and I pause.  The past 13 hours brought with it a steady snowfall and blustery winds.  Snowdrifts climbed halfway up the 10-foot fence, just low enough for the deer to peer into the field they are forbidden to enter.  It is almost exactly a year to the day from when I first laid eyes on this field, then also dressed in frosty white snow.  From that day, until now, so much has gone into and come out of that soil, its hard to fully appreciate that here I am again, standing in the same place, looking at the same field that has taught me so many lessons, both gentle and harsh. 

 My first year of farming has given way to my second, and with that turning of page a lot of my optimistic first year assumptions have fallen away. In planning my first year, I envisioned perfectly straight, weed free rows, covered in fruit, happily hosting bees and ladybugs.  In reality, not a single straight row adorned my field, let alone a weed free one.  This time last year I thought potato beetles would buy into my mission of providing nourishing food for the community and would magically leapfrog my field, leaving my fingerlings looking fresh and spry.  The truth is that I spent a substantial amount of time each day squatting, legs straddling potato plants, making my way down the row in this penguin like funky chicken walk only familiar to small scale organic farmers, while I manually removed each hyper-sexual potato beetle from the plants.

 The snow crunches under afoot as I make my way onto the field.  I past the first acre, where the crows practiced dive-bombing my watermelons on the previous year’s hot August days.  Those days were some of the more heartbreaking for me, and passing that melon patch brings those feeling back again.  Very few things excited me as much as watching watermelons grow each day, so it was hard for me to see the melons broken open and barely eaten.  The crows, watch me now from the trees, as I curse them under my breath.  I’m hopeful that this year we can come to some form of agricultural détente.  I’m happy to provide them with their pound of organic vegetable flesh, but an all-you-can eat buffet does not seem equitable to me.

 I walk along the second acre now, the winter rye hidden by the snow, where plump tomatoes will hopefully grow this coming summer. In this manner, row-by-row, acre-by-acre, I traverse the field.  Each footprint left in virgin snow, pressing down on soil that is anything but virgin. 

 This soil has a rich history with a vibrant story to tell. It’s experienced centuries of freezing and thawing.  This patch of land has hosted many farmers. I’m just the latest in a string that must date back to when Indian’s ruled the East End.  This ground has felt the elation of seeing seeds germinate in the June sun and the panic of an early frost that brought Brandywine tomatoes to their knees.  This soil is waiting patiently for the snow to melt so it can be heard again, in harmony with the farmer when things are at there best.  I also eagerly wait for the farm to warm so I can practice all that I’ve learned this offseason.  The frozen ground lends itself to reading all the books that I couldn’t get to from March to October.

 The field is glistening stunningly as the sun warms the very top of the snow.  To others looking out over Town Lane on this day, they would appreciate a beautiful snow covered field, but part of the message would be lost.  But to me, and my farmer friends, we know what this fence-ringed land means.  It’s the past and the future.  It’s at once a reminder of all the joys and all the struggles that is farming.  It’s a vivid memory of the smiling faces that for the first time ate a carrot fresh out of the ground. It is a chance to have another shot at last year’s mistakes.  It’s an opportunity to recreate my vision of who I want to be and how I want that vision to manifest itself in my field. 

The field seems to go on forever, so I slowly turn to look back to see the prints I’ve made in the snow.  I know I’ve come farther than I give myself credit for and I’m thankful for the time I’ve spent on this soil.  At the same time, I’m eager to carry on and to see where this snow covered field leads.

 The rows will never be weed free or perfectly straight, but somewhere in the middle, between that utopian image of the farm in my heart and last year’s reality, that’s the farm to strive for.  A life in balance, and a farm in balance, that is what this soil is meant to grow.  This could be the year.