February 1

This is, in my wildest imaginations, the first of a daily reflection on my experiences at the FOOD for Lane County Youth Farm, set squarely in the midst of a painstakingly gradual and messy rebuilding of a food system that sustains us all.  The process is gradual and messy enough to have me believe that whatever I write will have no impact on the longterm path of our unprecedented global trajectory.  Because what I do every day on the farm seems to somehow chink and chip away at it-- seems to create a shift, subtle though it may be, in my self and those around me and the material world in which we engage-- I can't help but believe that sharing it with a wider audience might strengthen and quicken that shift.  Where the change comes from I hope to articulate throughout this season.  Where it is bringing us, I have no idea. May it be beautiful.

"Thurs.  Farm seeding.  72's- 12.  128's- 75.  200's med- 31.  288- 30.  6-packs- 119."

For all the anticipation, pretty pictures to look back on, and ideas brewing throughout my month off from the farm, the start of the season was predictably unglamorous.  The last couple hours of my day were spent mostly alone, filling tray after tray with potting soil.  12 trays for spinach.  75 trays for Brassicas like early broccoli and cabbage.  Each tray will temporarily house up to 128 baby plants, which will grow comfortably in the propagation greenhouse until we hoist them out to harden off and give them each a wider berth in the fields in April.  31 trays for lettuces and the like.  30 for onions.  The 119 6-packs for our spring plant sale didn't get filled today-- sunset cut me off.  They'll have to wait until Saturday.

I find that the potential for monotony in such projects quickly disappears with company, with mindful attention to what I'm doing, and with a deeper understanding of how my actions affect a greater whole.

Filling trays in old shoes

Filling trays in old shoes

Company came with Ted and Joe.  Ted, for anyone that doesn't know the farm, has been managing this piece of land for over a dozen years.  You'll meet him more throughout the season.  Joe is one of our longstanding volunteers, who I actually met through a friend years ago before I started at the farm.  He shows up randomly and sparsely throughout the year, but reliably when we're really in need, like trying to build greenhouses in the middle of harvest season.  Or, when we're not expecting any help on our first day, but there's a ton to do already, and he happens to be "in the neighborhood."  He's grumpy, argumentative, breaks stuff on a regular basis, and is one of my favorite people to see walking up to the tool shed.  Not just because he's game for any crazy project we need to do-- more likely, it's because he doesn't pretend to be anyone else but himself, and has a kind heart, and laughs out loud with me while we pull apart empty old cracking seeding trays on our hands and knees.

The attention rushes in when the seeding trays stick together.  All too often, they compress in their nested state of storage over the winter and don't budge apart, or clamp back together after teasing me with a teeny wiggle apart.  It can be infuriating!  Sometimes I find patience to pry each corner apart, millimeter by millimeter, until the whole tray starts to loosen away from its neighbor.  Sometimes I throw the whole block of trays aside and find another chunk to work on, or do something else for a while.  The whole time, regardless of whether the process is smooth or clunky, I come back again and again to how my fingers are moving, what sounds the trays are making, how my breath feels under so many layers of winter jackets.  Between those moments of coming back, my mind drifts to my next task (filling the trays, carting them to the greenhouse), the errand to run after work (buy storage containers, eggs), my insecurities (am I taking too long? what if I spill that entire cart and have to re-do it all?), and back again to the moment at hand (breathe in, pull that last corner, breathe out, rip the tray away with a crackling of plastic).

And what of the whole?  Why in the world am I choosing to spend my attention and energy stooping awkwardly over piles of crackling plastic trays?  Despite the romantic appeal of small scale food production-- the gorgeous produce, smiling sun-kissed crews, ethos of perseverance and wholesomeness-- the day to day projects I find myself doing are often laughably ordinary, difficult, and repetitive.  I know intuitively why I do it, but it's a long story to try to put into words.  My hope is that by the end of the season, the answer is unarguably clear to everyone that reads this.

Thanks for beginning with me.