Day 7

Carrie let us off easy today, knowing that Ann and I were both eager to be done working: her to start packing/preparing to leave for Rwanda and me making the 3-hour drive home for family reasons. So all we had to do was weed out an extra few feet from the carrot and garlic patch we’d been planting in recently and move around some spare tarps and mats.

It was kind of odd as we worked pulling up the earth this morning, both of us knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for about a month after this, but we made the most of it. As I asked Ann if she was nervous for her trip, she told me that it was mostly the idea of making friends that scared her most—no, not the travelling around a foreign country oddly enough. She mentioned her tendency to be shy, which made me laugh considering how easily and quickly we had become friends working here. “Seriously, Ann? That’s the last thing you need to worry about,” I told her genuinely. Really, I knew she would be just fine.

After some more chatting and weeding, we were done by 10:30 am and free to leave. “Well, what should you take a picture of today?” she asked, knowing that I always looked for a shot before leaving for the day. Nothing really seemed that noteworthy from our work, until it hit me…. “Us!” I shouted. How had we not gotten one already?! So here it is, we’re finally putting some faces to names.

Sorry for the short post today, I’ll do better next week. Anyways, though it’s sad to see her go, I know that Ann and myself are both ready to do some great things with our summers. It’ll be much lonelier here without her but I’ve got my baby plants to keep me company while she’s gone. And I know she’s going to have just as amazing of a time out there—good luck!

 

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Day 6

The rain finally came! Unfortunately so did the cold and the wind, but that’s okay. We quickly weeded and stirred up some more of that old potato patch to increase our planting space and waited for Carrie to get to the garden to tell us what we’d be planting today. After some discussing, we decided on a variety of fun things. In this order: dry beans, borage, cabbage, zinnias, butterhead lettuce, sweet peas, more zinnias, more borage, and finally corn. I had never heard of borage before, but learned that it is a bee-attracting flower that blooms a beautiful blue hue that will contrast nicely with the layered rainbow of colors that will eventually grow here. Of course I can’t wait to see all our plants begin to sprout, but oddly enough I think I’m most excited for the corn. I love the stuff! And I think it’s a pretty plant too. Which reminds me, Carrie agreed to planting sunflowers sometime in the future; one of my favorites!

Other than some basic planning for tomorrow, that was pretty much it for today. A bittersweet feeling flooded into me as Ann and I drove away from the farm today, as tomorrow would be her last day helping me out before she leaves for a conservation biology program through SLU that will take her throughout Rwanda for a month. I’m so grateful to have gotten to know Ann and will miss both her help and her heart once she’s gone, but I know she’s going to be doing great things while she’s gone. After getting out so early, her and I ended up going back to campus, making some delicious veggie burgers, and watching the first Lord of the Rings movie because she was appalled (like most people) that I was already twenty years old and had still never seen the film…sorry! Overall it was a pretty easy and relaxing day that made for a good “sort of goodbye” get-together between two new friends.

Oh, and check out this asparagus I gleaned out of the garden from last year’s leftovers—so huge! Can’t wait to cook these babies up for dinner tonight

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Day 5

Maintenance day today. Remember that class I brought up a few posts ago that I took with Carrie last semester? Well we had harvested a patch of potatoes one day and covered the shredded up plot with some tarps and cement blocks in an attempt to save the soil for future planting. So today Ann and I got to tackle that project. Moving those giant tarps in the wind meant slinging leftover muck all over our tools and ourselves, making the manure smell linger with us for the rest of the day…oh so sweet! Oh, and thennn we got to carry all the cement blocks, which were covered in slugs and spiders, from the one plot to another spot ten feet away. The surprising pop and squish of slug bodies under our fingers helped make the work go by quickly—my hands are oddly softer than usual today though…maybe we should start marketing their slime as the latest skin moisturizer? Just a thought.

            After getting rid of all the covers, Carrie brought us out a really cool tool that would stir up the soil without damaging too many of the creepy crawlers making homes deep down in the dirt. It was a manual tiller that reminded us of a swing: hold the two handles and thrust the prongs into the ground, jump on the bar between the handles, and swing your weight back and forth so that your body does the work for you. It was actually one of the highlights of our day, as we were laughing and humming along as we swung.

            After that we moved on to mowing the entire garden…again, weeding out the rest of the blueberry patch, using hand clippers to tidy up the grass around the raised beds, and individually watering the seeds we’d planted before the weekend. The skies were uncooperatively sunny and beautiful the past few days—good for us but bad for baby plants that were left thirsty and wilting. Good thing their mamas were there to take care of them! That was it for the garden today; a pretty average day but necessary nonetheless.

            Oh and I almost forgot about our sun tea! Although Carrie had said it might have fermented a little bit by now, Ann and I bravely tested the drink at lunch. Not quite up to her liking, but I found the tangy and tart treat quite tasty. Which explains why the entire jar of the stuff now lives in my dorm room fridge, yum!Image

Day 4

Back on our hard-working grind, Ann and I spent the day weeding out a patch half-planted with garlic. Last semester, in a class taught by Carrie, I had eagerly planted this garlic alongside my classmates. Now I see just how eager we really were…. After all the grasses and vines (leftover from past tomatoes) had all been cleared, rows and rows of garlic were left, leading me to wonder what the heck we were going to do with it all. over forty garlic plants were growing, no, thriving in the soil we were about to plant in. forty?! Looks like we’ll be having some pretty stinky breath come end of the summer…vampires beware.
It didn’t take long to finish planting the carrots in the garlic patch, so we moved onto the next patch. Here, we were supposed to be alternating cabbage, beets, cucumbers, and sweet peas. Carrie had given us the directions to plant the latter on the barn side of the lattices to shade the former. She handed us the packets of seeds the day before and left with nothing more than a “good luck!” upon her departure. So of course, as we went to plant the seeds today we figured there wouldn’t be too much confusion—wrong.
We read the instructions on the back of the seed packets and realized all these crops had extremely different needs: beets could only be planted so close to each other; cucumbers needed to be next to the lattice to be trained to grow upwards; sweet peas could be planted in extremely dense quantity very close to each other. Ann and I looked at each other with the realization that we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. After spending some time simply pondering our options and getting frustrated with the possibilities of messing up, we came up with what we thought was the best plan and ran with it.
With a few drops of rain and a lot more mosquito bites, we ended our day early just in time to miss the oncoming storm. Our rooky farming skills had us leaving the farm that day feeling rather unsure of our work, but hoping for the best. Looking over my shoulder as we left, all I could say of our work was, you live and you learn.

 

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Day 3

Finally, Ann and I caught a break from the exhaustion of lawn mowing and maple mayhem! Instead, we were gifted with a morning with our boss weeding, mixing, and replanting the multiple raised beds in the corner of the ESL garden. After potting about twenty excess maple seedlings to be stored in one of the boxes until we figured out something to do with them, we planted a variety of cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers besides the leftover herbs from last years season to…spice things up (get it?). It was pretty simple and satisfying work compared to what we’d been doing the past two days, and it was great to finally get a chance to talk with Carrie. She’s got quite a green thumb and a mind to match; her knowledge about different plants and crops flows effortlessly, filling me with more intrigue and passion for the ESL than I had had before.
Tomatoes can only be planted so close, as they will grow tall and wide and knock out other species if necessary. There are special ways to place a lattice in a raised bed so that cucumbers may climb and hang over a line of growing romaine lettuce underneath. Parsley is a rather pesky herb that seems to infiltrate any open space around it. lavender can be used not only as a calming fragrance, but can be added (in small quantity) to dishes for a unique flavor. Sorrel is a tiny green plant that packs a lemony punch strong enough to leave your salads and sandwiches bursting with natural flavor. And perhaps my favorite part of the day: tasting the chives, a childhood favorite of mine.
Growing up, I spent my summers at my grandparent’s camp on a lake in upstate New York. It was one of my favorite places to be, and tasting those chives brought me instantly back. A text from my mom the night before reminded me of my grandmother, who passed a few years ago. She had been planting some flowers in our backyard at home and was thinking of my grandmother and myself. I was honored to be remembered in the same breath as the woman who taught me so much growing up, and tasting those chives continued my trip down memory lane. Chives always lined my grandmother’s box of spices on the walkway into camp, and every time I meandered sandy and sunburnt inside I would steal some stalks to nibble on. I loved the oniony burst of flavor that lingered on my tongue, and that taste will forever transport me back to a time filled with so much joy and innocence.
Perhaps that’s why today was so meaningful to me. It wasn’t the intense manual labor ann and I had been doing the past few days, but rather a more relaxing experience spent learning and growing alongside our newly started garden. I left work today excited to see what life will sprout from our seedlings and comforted by the gentle memories brought forth by our day of planting.

 

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Day 2

The sun was shining on us again this morning, making my bike ride—no car!—to the ESL garden that much more satisfying. As I pedaled up the stone driveway to the spot on the lawn where Ann had put her bike yesterday, I was surprised to see it empty. Had I beat her here today? I was already three minutes late (I’ll blame that on poor timing rather than lack of athletic ability). Sure enough as I placed my bike on the ground the screech of the screen door behind me revealed that I wasn’t alone. “Morning!” came the same voice that surprised me yesterday. I turned around to see Ann wearing the same jean cut-offs as yesterday, making me feel better about wearing the same dirt-covered outfit myself. We both laughed at that. Real farmers don’t need fresh clothes!
Our job for the day was to finish our work from yesterday and transfer the maple tree seedlings from the raised beds to the newly formed row…ugh. We spent the majority of our morning doing exactly what we did the day before, but managed to get the work done much quicker this time around—I guess we were picking up some tactics, thank goodness! After finally planting and watering all the little plants in what seemed like an eternity, looking down the row was our reward. We looked at each other with hands on our hips and sweat on our foreheads and smiled: we had just begun new life. Though a little sappy, I savored the mothering care that seemed to flow through my veins, filling me so full with pride and hope that it leaked out my pores through the tiny beads of sweat covering my skin. This was euphoria in its strangest sense.
After lunch, we got back out to the garden with hopes of tackling the shin-high grass that hadn’t been mowed in what looked like a decade. I was up first. Having to yank the power cord multiple times before the engine decided to start, I was already winded as I began my adventure. And that’s exactly what it was. For 45 minutes I struggled to push my way over mounds and holes in the inclined lawn, my ankles and arms getting shredded up by thorn trees along the way as I tried to maneuver the lawn mower.
The red machine was a beast with a mind of its own, and one that stubbornly disagreed with anything I wanted it to do. Finally, after getting about ¾ of the lawn done, I gave up. Ann offered to take over but I guess the machine was just as done as I was, and it failed to start back up again. Frustrated and fed up with the thing, I looked at Ann and we both agreed the day should come to a close. The sun was high and heavy on our backs just like the day before and honestly we were both pooped, so we headed indoors to grab our stuff and head out.
Walking into the kitchen, we saw the giant mason jar and tea bags set out on the counter by our boss and remembered our earlier wish to make what was called sunshine tea. A simple task, really: just fill the jug, add a couple of packets of whatever tea you like (we chose an herbal raspberry), and leave out in the sun for a few days to brew. Immediately, though we were both ready to call it quits, our excitement flooded back into our faces and we took to filling the jar in the sink. After getting it all set up, we found a nice open spot to put the jar, excited for the final outcome and finally made our way towards home.
I think what amazed me most about today was that even though Ann and I had both entered that house dog-tired and ready to go home, as soon as another task was presented to us we were right back at our ambition. It was a tough day, but in the end it was all worth it. With that giant jug of tea resting in the sunshine as proof, I truly believe that even if the majority of your time is spent less than ideally, it’s the little joys in life that make it all worth it.

 

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Day 1

The buzz of my phone’s alarm clock tells me it’s 7:15 A.M. but of course I’ve already woken up in a frantic panic five times throughout the night, fearful of being late my first day. My night-before-anxiety is nothing new to me or anyone else starting down a new path in life, but nonetheless it always creeps up on me. The night chills and sweats, the constant feeling of a full bladder (with the closest bathroom down two halls…naturally), and the never-ending restlessness that keeps me from the proper night’s sleep—ugh.
Enough complaining. I didn’t come here for sound sleeping and perfect floor plans; I came to work, so that’s where I went. Roughly three miles off campus, I drive my first day to St. Lawrence University’s Ecological Sustainability Learning (ESL) farm unknown to most students and faculty. With a much larger garden just recently revealing itself on behalf of the school’s new Sustainability Semester—where students spend a semester “abroad” learning the basic techniques of sustainable agriculture—the ESL garden has been somewhat forgotten. I’m glad to take the small plot under my wing for the summer though, in hopes of reviving what’s left of the land.
It’s sunny, 64°F, and the ultimate scene to encourage the animated ambition telling me this was going to be the best summer ever. Just look at the sun on the dewed blades of grass and the perfectly white barn atop the small hill to the North. Hear the gentle baaa’s of sheep chewing their hay-filled breakfasts and the soft tinkle of the wind chime hanging off the side porch. It was a magnificent, awesome scene that captured all I pictured summer farming to be. Enough to wake up the flesh and the mind better than the strongest cup of coffee. And it was all mine.
“Hey,” a bright voice chirped and the seductive solitude was suddenly all over, “are you Cassia? My name’s Ann.” The girl was shorter than me, maybe 5’4”, with dark brown hair brushed up in a tiny ballet-bun at the top of her head and a hand over her eyes. She wore a dark blue t-shirt with the words Hope House emblazoned on the front, cut-jean shorts, and a pair of sneakers beneath her soles. “Yeah, hi! Sorry, am I late?”
Shit. I thought to myself, wasn’t I supposed to be here at 8:30? “Oh no,” she responded, “I just biked here a little early, you’re fine”. Wow, biked? Was I already slacking? I thought as I quickly threw my car keys in my backpack. I tried to brush off the self-conscious thoughts, telling myself I would definitely not be driving tomorrow. Regardless, Ann didn’t seem to care one bit. She showed me where to throw my bag inside and together we walked back out to the row of dirt and hay that had been half ripped up. “This is what we’re gonna be doing today,” she said as she handed me a shovel. Yesterday being her first day, Ann had been told to level the row all the way up in preparation for planting some maple tree seedlings. Easy enough, right?
Ha! For the next six hours we struggled to get the ground stirred up, the weeds ripped out, and the soil shoveled back onto the row in order to make it a raised bed, stopping for a measly half hour lunch. It was hot, sweaty work that left me wet, burnt, and covered in bug bites. Not exactly the serenity I had experienced that morning. Yet, despite the conditions, I found myself smiling and laughing with Ann throughout the day. We hit it off really well right from the start, and spent our time asking each other random questions, talking about our love of food, and learning all about our selves. So although the work was long and tiring and we only finished about half of the bed, I think we both left the garden that day excited to return the next morning. Until then!

 

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