Market zone, part four

We got the stand up and running in parts one and two, delivered restaurant orders and picked up CSA totes in part three, and I'm back at the farm.  Out of market zone for just a couple hours.  This week after eating my lunch in the shade, I find the group of interns and Americorps volunteers pulling up the last of the garlic and shallots in the third field.  They look hot and tired, but are in good spirits, and seem excited to take a break for a field walk.  This window on Thursday afternoons is often the best time to do a class or workshop, when we've gotten a lot done for the week and can take a break to dive in to a farming topic.

We begin at the front of the farm and I ask what they want to cover.  Black bugs on the tomatoes, problems we've faced this year, what those potatoes are doing under the tarp, when to cut water on certain crops... We wander around, noting all the tiny details and taking time to ask questions we'd never stop to think about otherwise.  I've come to love field walks, and see how they're incredibly valuable despite not having a clear focus.  That's the point.  Just observe, be curious, share what I can.  I often leave with more questions than answers, which I think is a good thing.

The Americorps volunteers leave at 4:30 and we continue walking the fields until 5pm when the interns leave.  Ted is finishing up some tractor work while I start tidying up all the projects that happened today.  Freshly harvested field garlic needs covering since a storm is threatening to roll in.  Put away newly seeded zucchini and cucumbers in the nursery.  Clean up the ever-chaotic picnic tables.  Unload the market truck's empty totes and unused baskets.  Finally fix the broken hinges on the market sign, which just needed their screws tightened.  Soon enough, 5:45pm rolls around and I'm getting ready to re-enter the Zone.

 David and Phil laying out garlic from the fields

David and Phil laying out garlic from the fields

I pull all the way around the Emergency Room parking lot to be able to back onto the walkway for an easy exit.  The farm stand managers aren't as organized as they have been in recent weeks: totes are still under the tables, signs still up, random crates and totes floating around behind the register.  Oh well.  They tell me that it was steady, but they didn't seem to sell out of much, and still have a lot of produce left.  That might be a good thing, I reassure them.  Less to harvest tomorrow, and customers had better choices even at closing time.

We start inventorying what's left, tossing heads of lettuce into wax boxes for the food bank, re-positioning tomatoes in their crates, emptying baskets of cabbage back into totes.  Take down signs, put away scales, ball up tablecloths and stuff them in a milk crate.  Consolidate compost, break down tables, figure out what to do with a perplexing lone zucchini near the register.  With all three of us steadily working, we're ready to load the truck in about twenty minutes.  We load based on where things need to go once we're back: farm stand items in first, cooler materials in last, and as always toss a random crate or tote that we missed in on top.  The youth managers ask questions, make comments about the market, tell me about their plans for the weekend.  I share that we harvested all the garlic today, and they light up.  "I hope I get to hang it again this year!"

I meet them back at the farm and we unload the top-heavy truck, chairs and baskets sticking awkwardly up out of a sea of totes and tables.  Everything back in its place, tote by tote.  Weights, canopies, compost.  Unload the food bank boxes in the cooler and replace them with leftover market produce.  I try to re-label as we go, but after a while I just toss them in.  I'll deal with them tomorrow.  It's getting late.  

After unloading the farm stand materials, I back the truck up to the tower of boxes destined for the food bank.  There are too many to fit, and we notice that many are only half full, so we consolidate as we go, loading some on their sides to fit, filling in the back with the last large boxes, securing everything with a couple boards and crates.  High-fives, tetris masters, carts away, and the managers take off.  I'm left alone with a truck stuffed to the brim with boxes.  I lock up the sheds, turn off a sprinkler, and bump my way across the front lawn to get on the road.

Across town at the FFLC warehouse, I go through the back door and and turn on the scale. Find three pallets to load up, choose the best pallet jack, and get to it.  One pallet is easy since all the boxes are the same style and size.  The others I just do my best to stack boxes evenly.  I start to feel exhausted, as I usually do by 8pm mid-week, but I keep pace by being methodical about each step of the task.  Throw box after box atop the pallets, swing each one around, weigh them in, record it in a carbon copy booklet, label them with the date, and roll them into the receiving cooler.  It's a long process tonight with so much material, and I stop to appreciate what it means. 

 Almost done emptying the truck for the food bank

Almost done emptying the truck for the food bank

 Weighing the well-stacked pallet of lettuce at the food bank

Weighing the well-stacked pallet of lettuce at the food bank

Fourteen hundred pounds of nutrient-dense greens.  With what Ted brought in earlier in the evening, it's over twenty-three hundred pounds that will be available for people at no charge in the next several days at local partner agencies.  For the simple work of harvesting and packing and moving it around, it seems like a goldmine.  I turn the scale off, drop the receipts in the inbox, close up doors, park the truck, and breathe a sigh of relief that market is complete for another week.

 Weighing in produce 

Weighing in produce