Down On The Farm: Volunteering
I don’t know who started the whole “down on the farm” phrase, but it probably came from a song of the same name that asked a farmer how he was going to keep his kids from leaving and moving to the big city.
As I pointed out last week, lots of people are leaving cities and living farm-like in more rural areas and discovering for the first time that trees are very nice.
I’ve been with people who saw something for the very first time: a bus full of midwesterners seeing the ocean, and a little girl from the inner city who had never seen a lake.
That’s how I feel about visiting the farm I’m working on a few hours a week. I’m thrilled. I pull up in a car and hope by the end of the day they’ll let me drive the tractor. I want to pet the goats, chase the chickens, gather up all the eggs, and ride home on a pony.
Mostly what I do is plant things, though. And that’s fine with me.
My first week there to volunteer, I brought my husband along. This was a good thing and a bad thing. It was good because he’s so friendly and also very capable and I knew he’d just jump right in and help get things done with a smile on his face. The bad thing is that he tends to jump in without a plan or an appreciation for the process.
He just does things the way he does things and he’s not going to switch it up, even though for thousands of years farmers have been doing things a certain way because it works.
Anyway, our first day, we were instructed to put a couple of long rows of tomato plants into the ground. Easy enough! But there were special instructions: While planting, we were to put a slightly-cracked egg into the ground with every other plant. It was an experiment on the part of the farm owners who had read that tomatoes planted with eggs grow better.
I immediately knew that my husband and I would forget which plants got an egg, so we devised a plan to remind us. We put an extra spade near the last plant with an egg, but it didn’t take long before we forgot to move the tool.
“I think we have dementia,” I told him. “How can we both be getting dementia at the same time?”
“We don’t have dementia,” he said. “The egg instructions are an extra step, so we need to focus more.”
“I can’t focus with you planting the tomatoes wherever you feel like it and not in a straight line,” I complained.
“I don’t think it matters much,” he said.
I was incredulous. My eyes widened and he felt a lecture coming.
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked him, throwing down my shovel. “One of the straightest things on earth is the crops in a farmer’s fields. They are a work of art. Everybody knows this. You’ve no doubt noticed somewhere in your six decades of life that crops are planted in straight lines.”
Our host happened by then, or perhaps she was coming to make sure we weren’t messing up an entire season of tomato crops–the ones she’d grown from seeds herself, left in a greenhouse to sprout and grow, babied and cajoled and encouraged for months.
“Does it look like we should rename your farm “Zig Zag Farm?” I asked. “Because, if so, we can replant these. It won’t take long,” although that was a big fat lie. Between the eggs and the bickering, we hadn’t gotten very far.
She explained that her husband is the one who really likes the straight lines and just then he came driving up on his tractor. Neither complained about our slight zig zag pattern, but we’d outed ourselves as non-farmers.
The next week when I went back, a raccoon had dug up all the tomato plants that had eggs buried with them. I stood in the field surveying the damage.
Judging by the egg shell debris in the dirt, we seem to have mastered the egg placement the week before. That was a relief, but it didn’t matter now, sadly. If only that raccoon knew what we went through to get those eggs in the hole.
I’m just grateful they let me come back every week. Trust me, they’re doing more of a favor for me than I am for them.