An incomplete cast

[Incomplete because there are so many more people that played such important roles in the plant sale, and I'll never do them all justice.]

Alice and Phillip.  Last I saw them, they were lounging in camp chairs in the evening sunshine, listening to podcasts and chatting with passerby about the upcoming sale.  When I arrive in the morning, they're standing near where they camped out to "guard" the sale, sipping coffee from their thermoses and cracking jokes with a few other early volunteers.  They tell us about the neighborhood kids who played on the straw bales in the evening and declared that this sale should happen every day.  They make sure we're set to go for the morning before bowing out to enjoy the day elsewhere.  They've already done so much.

Phil.  He's one of the people that beat me to the farm, laughing with Alice and staring out over the starts.  In good spirits, he takes a quick sip of coffee before diving in to help Michael set up the last of the parking signs and talk strategy.  Once everyone's in motion, he comes with me to the farm stand to load a cart with materials for the mini produce market we're setting up.  Nothing's sorted out or ready to grab, and he's patient with me as I rummage through dusty bins to find tablecloths, baskets, bungee cords, and plastic bag rolls.  He's miraculously right there when help is needed, asking good questions and reliably following through with the gathering of buckets or weighing down of canopies.  Most of the day, he's in a neon yellow vest in the gravel driveway, directing traffic in and out of our make-shift parking lot.

Denise.  We haven't seen her for about a year.  She works at the hospital nearby and her daughter Lauren worked with the interns a couple of springs ago.  She walks up with a smile, long curls bouncing, as I'm finishing writing a sign for the volunteer table.  She apologizes for missing the spring plant sale and asks how she can help.  Until the sale opens, she's sorting through crop variety signs, organizing and alphabetizing the trays, helping make sure they're all as easy to find as possible in this sea of green.  Then she's at the check out table, taking cash from hundreds of people, until I finally break away from the endless questions and conversations and can relieve her for the day around 1:30pm.  

Hao.  He's been doing an internship for Environmental Studies at the UO, coming to the farm two days a week to plug into all the projects with our season-long interns.  He's generally quiet, but I think that's only because English is his second language.  When he starts building (even more!) boxes for people to shop into midday, he and another intern, Huiyang, start chatting freely in Chinese.  He's been helping direct traffic all morning, standing out by the road with his mug, smiling and looking a bit overwhelmed.  I can't tell what he thinks of all this, but he tells me he's enjoying it with awe in his eyes.  

Lucy.  She stopped by the School Garden Project office on Friday to borrow their pea costume for the sale, and is jazzed when I ask if she wants to wear it this morning.  Lucy did an informal internship with us last fall and has started volunteering regularly again, so she's familiar with the farm and the people here.  She hasn't seen this sale, though.  Once in costume, she stands at the entrance to the park, giggling with other volunteers and doing little dances for people.  Ten o'clock approaches, and the line is now stretched all the way down the block.  I hand her a pair of scissors, double check the time, and give a hoot as she cuts the flagging tape ribbon in half.  People start streaming in-- swarming the tomatoes, mostly-- and she stands her ground.  Half an hour later we check in, and she comments how she's been making eye contact with people right as they see her for the first time, and it's glorious to see them light up.  They're walking from a block away now, and she switches their mood from traffic-parking-glowering to gardening-music-magic.

 The pea greeter, Lucy

The pea greeter, Lucy

Tommy.  He volunteered at the farm for the first time just last week, and he's planning to come regularly to meet the work requirements (twenty hours a week of paid work or volunteering) to qualify for SNAP.  There are very few Black people that come to volunteer on the farm, so he immediately stands out, but he stays in my memory for other reasons: he's super cheerful, energetic, and volunteers for everything.  At the very end of the day, we're sitting around the picnic tables with Jen and Hannah, feeling dazed and sleepy.  He's still bouncing around, and jokes about how he couldn't stop saying "Cucumba" randomly all day.  We ask what it means, and he pulls out his phone to show us the Cucumber Song as he hops and dances to the words.  I still can't let myself relax fully yet, so I leave him and Hannah to giggle as I water shrunken nursery one more time before the weekend.

Jen.  She pulls out an awkward pile of staked plant signs from her trunk first thing, lays them on the grass, and starts setting people up with labeling crop sections.  She's made and remade these signs year after year as varieties change and we add more plants, and this year a CSA member volunteered to help her get even more info up for customers.  They're working all morning to rearrange all the 700 trays of starts, and Jen gets the checkout tables set up for business.  She's brought fliers and brochures from the office, and instructs a few people on tallying people's plant collections to speed up the line.  I hardly see her through the throngs of people for the first couple hours of the sale.  In the afternoon, I step in to relieve Kiya a couple times, and eventually end up doing a dance with Jen to trade card readers back and forth.  She seems unfazed by the chaos and fullness of the day, and I wonder whether being the mother of two young children makes this all seem like a piece of cake.

Keith.  He stayed all day Friday to help set up the sale, and is back again when we get off the ground in the morning.  He's tallying people's boxes in the check out line, and since he's wearing another neon green vest, everyone's asking him impossible questions.  I loop between the tables and see him gesturing toward me with a shrug.  "She's a good person to ask."  And laughs because he sees that I'm swamped with questions already.  When varieties start to run out, Keith comes with me and two carts to haul our back stock to the sale: ten more trays of basil and peppers, five of cherry tomatoes, several peas and lettuces.  He says he's been burning the candle at both ends, working with us during the days and helping at the Powwow in the evenings.  He's in good spirits.  When we get back to the sale area with our loaded carts, we can hardly get the trays unloaded before people are poking through them, and we drift back into restocking and giving recommendations.

Alex.  She's back!  Alex is one of our season-long interns and a former youth crew leader for many years.  She had to take a long break for a surgery this spring, and this week she's started easing back into the physical labor of the farm.  On Friday, I drove one of the flatbed truckloads of starts out to the park and found Alex and Alice frantically sorting and arranging the barrage of trays.  Of all people to trust that task's in good hands!  She starts the day harvesting lettuce and bok choy with David, first time in a couple years but no hesitation.  Alex is extraordinarily sharp, friendly, curious, and upbeat, and I feel a sense of ease knowing that she's one of the people at the checkout counter during the busy part of the sale.  When I come to relieve her and Denise in the afternoon, she tucks her long blond ponytail back over her shoulder and says she feels good, but is really trying to take it easy.  She still needs to regain her strength, but I'd never guess it by watching her work this past week.  

Ted. He's loading his truck with farm stand materials, then produce for sale.  He's setting up extension cords for the bands and coffee truck, popping up tables for the produce stand, discussing the parking lot with Michael and volunteer roles with me.  As usual, he seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once, making sure all the things don't go wrong before they even start to unravel.  Once the sale starts, he's standing calmly to chat with long-time customers and old friends, explaining to people why they should buy a summer squash other than Yellow Crookneck, making sure the musicians know how many plants they can take home as payment.  Then he's gone, for a long while once the sun starts to shine, remembering all the young plants in the fields.  He's moving irrigation pipes, testing hoses, watering nursery plants, opening greenhouses more fully.  Somehow it all happens, and the sale ends, and there are still people helping to clean up.  At the end of the day, everyone's left, and I'm about to drive the flatbed back to the warehouse.  We both let out big sighs and throw a high five.  He almost falls against the picnic shelter, exhausted, smiling, dazed: "We did it again!"