A fragile organism

Though I fiercely hate to admit it, I'm a fragile organism.

I woke up feeling strong on Saturday.  Got myself ready for the day, ate some food, jetted off to get to the farm around 7:30am.  I was ready to tackle anything, and I did.  I harvested totes of kale, chard, collards, and cilantro while Ted and the farm stand managers set up the market.  As the youth crew arrived, I was finishing up my bunches and bringing them to the stand, going back to the field to harvest more broccoli for the display.  I started feeling nauseous, cringing whenever I put any attention on my gut.  So I focused on harvest instead: bending up and down, cutting, counting, and carrying totes.  There was enough to distract me.

I helped finish setting up the stand while the crew broke off into different tasks.  Again, I was distracted enough by the organization and training that I could spin the nausea to the back of my mind.   It was minor, and I was busy.  I hopped on the tractor for a while, and that icky feeling started to pass as I outlined the last of Field #4 and crawled under the tiller to cut away layers and layers of cover crop debris that were strangling the tines.  It came back in small waves as I walked to the front of the farm, and disappeared again as I greeted the day's volunteer group.

New Sigma Nu fraternity volunteers ready for a day in the rain.

New Sigma Nu fraternity volunteers ready for a day in the rain.

They were new recruits from a fraternity group at the university, and they were all eager to learn and work.  That kicked the nausea out completely: I put on my tour guide hat, walked them proudly through the farm stand, and led them toward the greenhouses.  It started to pour, and we jumped right into weeding the overgrown cucumber bed in the greenhouse (they've had a rough spring-- remember when they were hanging on by a thread amongst the symphylan-infested spinach?).  I dove into pruning tomatoes, which ended up being my focus for nearly the rest of the day, and things moved along smoothly for a couple hours.

But about an hour after lunch, that unsettling ickiness started to creep back.  Again, I was preoccupied enough to ignore it for a while: training youth farmers to prune tomatoes, fraternity brothers to clip them up, farm stand managers to inventory leftover produce and get everything put away properly.  And around the time when we were just about cleaned up and the youth farmers were almost done for the day, I spiraled.  I was standing outside the tool shed, doing everything I could to just stand, straight up, gather time cards, and hear-- let alone try to answer-- everyone's questions.  I couldn't make eye contact.  I couldn't seem to get a full breath.   I couldn't smile, give words of encouragement, or help solve any problems.

Just like that.  Just a stomach ache, and I was down for the count.  I laid down for a while after most people left, considered staying to sit and chug away on the tractor for a while, and decided against it.  The drive home was nerve-wracking, wondering if I'd have to pull over to puke on the freeway, putting all my effort into holding it together long enough to make it home.

Finally I landed, fell into bed for a few hours, never puked, and felt back to normal in the morning.  It was mysterious.  Mostly, it was humbling, to be knocked out by something so seemingly minor.  It reminded me how much I need to be "on" to do what I do-- a little injury, illness, or emotional distraction can instantly throw me out of the game.  

It's been rare, but it's happened.  I was out right before last year's spring plant sale with a nasty cough, and ended up powering through the big day with no voice.  I had to spend an entire day by myself in the tomato field a couple years ago, inexplicably unable to stop crying for reasons I still don't fully comprehend.  And even today, I cancelled a tree pruning gig because an easy run yesterday threw my pelvis out of whack.  It's maddening, when a lever or switch goes haywire and gums up the whole machine.  But it happens.

So I'm thinking about all the people that aren't at full capacity that come to the farm.  Volunteers with bad knees who can't be transplanting or harvesting near the ground.  A man in a wheelchair who came a lot in the early spring-- he wouldn't be able to get into the fields at all.  Kids on field trips whose minds are worlds away, barely hearing instructions about how to plant potatoes or peppers.  My 92-year-old grandfather, who admired the pea trellises and orchard from the seat of a truck because walking around would have been long and exhausting.  Backs start to ache, necks get sore, fingers won't cooperate with the details.  We're all so, so fragile. 

So how, knowing that the work of growing food takes all this attention and physical work, can we possibly put value on something like little cherry tomato?  Itself so fragile, fleeting, quick to burst and become a feast for bugs.  How can we weigh the health of the people who grow our food with the nourishment we get from eating it?  How do I, as a grower and teacher, balance my body's needs with those of the crops and people I work with?  

The first ripe cherry tomato of the season.  Photo by Kiya.

The first ripe cherry tomato of the season.  Photo by Kiya.

Just some food for thought.