The menagerie

Wednesdays in February are unique on the farm, not only because they're when we make huge gains on filling the nursery to the brim, but also because they bring a sudden surge of diverse people to the farm.  We'll spend these next three Wednesdays seeding our entire inventory for the spring plant sale in April, and because it's a cooperative fundraiser for the Youth Farm and Grassroots Garden, volunteers from Grassroots migrate to the farm to help with all the seeding. There's the staff: myself, Ted, Rachel from Grassroots.  We rarely work together, so it's a treat to have Rachel for a full day on the farm.  She knows all the Grassroots volunteers and has helped with this process for a few years, so it's key to have her help in doling out the seeds and keeping everyone busy and happy.

Today, there were also a few internship applicants.  We offer three paid intern positions each season, and now is the time to interview the promising ones so we can hire in time for a March 1st start.  An all-time all-star youth farm crew leader was the first to arrive, and didn't even need to volunteer with the main group to remind Ted what an amazing learner and farmer she is.  Later, a man came who's always had office jobs but has dreamed of an outdoor, garden-related career.  He was eager, bright, and far more promising in person than on paper.  Later, a young student from the University of Oregon came and worked alongside me while Ted interviewed another applicant that's been volunteering at Grassroots for years.  After today and meeting a few more potential interns last week, we're in a good place: it'll be hard to make a decision with so many qualified applicants.

The bulk of the group today were Grassroots volunteers: several middle-aged woman on the "seeding crew" at the garden who come every year, a couple of newer volunteers, the gentleman applying for our internship, and a stellar man who volunteers at both gardens and always has experiments and ideas up his sleeve.  This year, he said he's throwing everything he thought he knew about gardening out the window because of a book he read about the soil food web.  He's inoculating roots with fungal mycelia and considering no-till methods for this season in order to promote a healthy soil ecosystem.  Our systems at the farm seem so established, but ideas like that remind me that no method is set in stone, and that we can all continue to learn and refine our growing techniques.  I'm looking forward to picking his brain about it more in the coming weeks.

There was a brand new Youth Farm volunteer today, too.  A retired man who'd never been to the farm dropped in soon after we opened, and stayed well past lunch time.  We're always excited when new individual volunteers show up: they become incredibly helpful once they get to know the farm, there's time to really get to know them when they volunteer regularly, and they tend to teach me just as much as I'm teaching them.  He rode off happily with a handful of chard and bok choy when he left.  I hope he comes again.

Duck Corps, a volunteer group from the U of O, had their first service day today as well.  They are four strong this term, and all seem eager and curious about the farm.  Because they plan to come once a week for many weeks in a row, I like to spend longer than usual talking with them about the farm and our mission, showing them around, and learning about their own experiences and interests.  It's these conversations that give this place so much meaning for me, and even more so for the people that visit.  I'm reminded that the things I start to take for granted-- Community Supported Agriculture, direct-to-consumer sales at markets and farm stands, organic growing methods, locally sourced food at food banks-- are usually novel to the hundreds of volunteers that come here each season.  There's so much happening, and there are so many people that have yet to be involved!  It's discouraging because it feels like we haven't made progress, but also encouraging because there's so much room for growth.  One person at a time.  Or four...

And last, there's the first: when I arrived at the farm about 40 minutes before we opened, one of our regular volunteers was already waiting there.  He's been coming to volunteer with us since before Ted's time.  He's consistent when his work schedule allows, and he's probably learned how to do just about every task we do.  He usually needs just a little guidance, and likes to make sure he's explaining himself more than fully, and doesn't seem to want praise or reward.  When I started two years ago, he came like clockwork every Wednesday for over a year, so that I didn't think much of it-- until he stopped showing up last summer.  I think he got a job that interfered with our schedule, but it was a shock.  Such a sure figure can just one day stop being there.

So now, when I start to feel overwhelmed when there are a lot of people to lead or orient or work with, I try to remember that they might one day stop being there.  That now, here, with each other, is all we have.