Kiya arrives late, zipping up a borrowed FOOD for Lane County hoodie on her way toward me in the nursery. She looks frazzled. An Americorps NCCC crew of ten young people is here again for the whole day, and I'm racing back and forth between potting up field tomatoes and showing one of them how to water our sand box heat mats to maintain heat conductivity. Kiya looks beyond me for Ted for a moment, then immediately apologizes for being late, launching into a string of events that had her car and bike both break down as she tried to get here this morning. I stop what I'm doing, listen, and try to reassure her.
Her story-telling never lasts long, though. She's tuned in to how much there is to do every day here, and how valuable her time is to all of us. Even on the worst of no-good mornings like this one, she puts her own troubles aside remarkably quickly and inevitably asks,
"So, what are we doing today?" She's looking around at a group building boxes for the sale over near the picnic tables, a couple folks potting up tomatoes within earshot, the cart full of transplants out beyond the greenhouses. "How can I help?"
She's eighteen. I remember when I first met Kiya, just over two years ago. She came to the farm briefly in the springtime to talk to Ted about returning as a farm stand manager. She had blue hair, made solid eye contact when I introduced myself, and drove away with her friend in a beater car. She stayed on last year as one of two new Extended Season youth farm crew leaders, and managed our busier farm stand every week. Whenever she was out of town for a market day, everything would end up a little wonky, and break-down would take a little longer, and I would feel so relieved the next week when she was back.
I get to see how so many different brains function, working with all the youth farmers and interns and volunteers at the farm. Kiya remains one of the most focused people, of any age, I've ever worked with. Of course, like me or anyone else, she chats and laughs and looks up at the sky and forgets things sometimes. That's all part of the process, and I'd be worried if anyone were so focused that they didn't tune in to anything but their project. But Kiya is "on it" in a way that continually blows me away.
I explain to her that we need to harden off the cucumbers today, and ask her to lead three other people in carrying out full pallets of trays onto the grass. As with most projects she leads, I can walk away, knowing that she's finding the right people to help, clearing away the hoses where the pallets will go, making sure everyone is holding on and working together. After lunch, Ted asks her to lead up a big leek harvesting project with this whole Americorps crew. It's a complicated project, to get all the materials together, figure out a system, train all these people to trim leek roots without damaging the stalks. She looks confused and frustrated for a minute, figuring out what tools to load into the cart, having all those people waiting for her to get things ready. I see her like that sometimes, and I feel bad that she ends up with so much responsibility. So many other teenagers are playing video games and having their hands held through simple assignments and first jobs.
As she's getting ready to leave for her afternoon class at Lane Community College, I'm washing leeks in a bathtub full of water, right near her bike. Kiya takes down her hair, which is now bright orange with the nape of her neck shaved. It's poofing out from being held in a pony tail all day, and she tries to flatten it with her helmet. Still poofed. She scoops up some of the leek water from the tub to spread into her hair, and we joke about how dirty leek water is all the rage these days. I remember suddenly that she's a teenager, and I wonder if it's a good thing that, like most times working with Kiya, I'd forgotten that fact all day.