reflections from the southeast PA rural underground
Monday, September 24, 2012
The 19th Century
It's harvest time. Or so they say. Depending on what vegetables you grow and attempt to sell, harvest time could have been a month ago--tomatoes. Or back in Spring--greens. Or maybe just beginning, it's true, if you're cash crop is apples in this here Northeast where we live. The Autumn days are here to be sure. Crystal clear days, plenty of sun still fairly high in the sky, good cool nights for sound sleep, and all the Pumpkin Ales you can cram in your tummy until they take 'em away for another year. And to top it all off here I sit without hunger, without cold, not wanting and indeed, steadily enjoying a Long Trail Harvest Ale shipped down from the good folks of the Green Mountain state. As the song goes, "Good times are comin', comin', hmm. Good times are comin', comin' hmm." It all seems so idyllic. If I could pen as well as any of the greats, well, it'd just about be down right sublime, romantic to be sure, and even dare I say, beatific? Again, if I had the talent and couldwould stretch it Just. . .That. . .Far. And on and on with the wonderful descriptions of the first world amenities and social networking and laptops and everything so damn connected. But alas, to be a vegetable grower (nay, not really a true farmer, any more than the rest of the fakers and throwers around of labels from times gone by) means to be undeniably bowed and bound to the ground. The last three days have been especially taxing. Weekend? What is that to a vegetable grower. There are only seasons. And they are long. The rest of society may clock in and clock out but the rain will fall when it pleases and the wind will howl and blow your plants dry and your covers off and take branches down. You are not protected from the elements. You are in and one of them. Having to sell the wares so dutifully and timely (as fast as you can man) means hours of driving. Deliveries. Market days. Ask the farmer if his/her sciatica is acting up. Then there is the daily field work and its oh so romantic, bucolic, and what was the last one. . .oh yes beatific charm. Is it charming to be alone for hours on end to the point where you begin mumbling to yourself about any manner of topics including politics and film? This is bending over most of the time so that your lower back, arms and neck are stretched in ways that most indoor workers of the world could only wonder about. This is not like the gym after work. A seasoned field hand will economize their movements without thinking about it so that more and more efficient motion can be attained. This is not Zen. This is economy. Surviving the day's movement. After all it is organic farming. Isn't that just, like, gardening? Wow. That must be so peaceful. So meditative. So. After the driving and the bending comes the pounding. I recently purchased a greenhouse and now have the joy of putting 6 1/2 foot by 2in. wide metal stakes into the soil roughly 30 inches deep. This involves standing/balancing on a plastic 5 gal. bucket with a 25lb metal 'pole setter' and driving the stake (or hoping to do so!) through the ROCKland Township ground as far as it will go. It will inevitably be short of the 30 required inches by 6-8 inches. Then its time to finish the job with the sledge hammer. The sound of metal setter against metal pipe is louder than most gun shots and much higher pitched. Yes, it hurts your ears. By the 10th stake or so (out of 50) my left shoulder had begun to ache enough that I wished for a 20 year old to finish the job and wondered cynically if I had it in me to do it all myself. Then there is the crouching down to the damp, cold soil at 7 am (where's the morning commute and coffee?)and reaching over a bed of wet greens to hobble along, cutting the tender salad for an hour an 1/2. This will remind you that yes, you've done this so many times before that you know you will do it again this time (asking yourself if its that Protestant work ethic, or just stupidity, or lack of professional ambition, or just "being used to it by now" that carries you through) because of course, you damn well can. And you will. You think of the Mennonites you know. Some of them almost twice your age. They wouldn't flinch at this work. Hell no! Move your ass college boy. So what if your friends are actually living this century's lifestyle and making the kind of money only a college degree in the first world can provide. So what! Teachers with pensions and every governmental benefit known to man. Nurses. Graphic designers. Whatever. But hey, you're outside and don't have to put up with the hierarchy and the corporate bull. Hm. For $30-50,000 more a year. . . . So you resign yourself to knowing that know one else knows what it's like to be a grower, or a farmer, or a vegetable producer, or a market gardener, or a plain old worker. And that's just fine. Because somehow it just fits you. And the few others who attempt to grow food AND sell it for a living. *When did food become the lowest of the low commodity items on the list of household priorities? Making it the last thing anyone would want to pay a fair price for.* How could they? They think it's like any other business only better! Oh the romance and the beauty. And the pounding. And the back aching. And the hustle. And the wondering if you can sell it all or any of it. How could anyone who's never lived in the 19th century during their waking hours know what its like?