Fall garlic in our western fields
It's hard to believe it's almost June.  I've been a farm hand for a month now, and it's already changed my life.

What to say about my first month farming?  There's so much - things I didn't expect, new skills I've learned, parts of myself I feel growing as I work with the soil.

You've already seen a typical "day in the life" from my Farm Girl Diaries: Week 1 and Week 2 - so I'll give you a deeper insight into life as a farm hand on an organic veggie farm

I didn't Expect:

My sense of time to shift so dramatically.
First of all, I now sleep and rise with the sun.  My bedtime is 8:15 pm, and I wake from dreams at 4:30 am.
Second, farm tasks take a long time - my patience and focus have expanded to match.
Yesterday was a 10 hour day, where I harvested for 4 hours, washed radishes for 2 hours, bunched garlic scapes for an hour, washed lettuce for an hour, weeded for an hour, and planted honeydew melons for an hour.  It all flew by, especially the varied tasks near the end.  Of course, there are days where we only weed, or spend 9 hours thinning beets.  Even then, an hour seems like a short time. 

My job security to be so low. 
Mother Nature rules all.  Despite the serious expertise of the owners and all their human ingenuity, when there's drought, there's drought.
I have developed a much greater respect and awe for the powers of Nature.  When it rains I feel such gratitude, I thank the sky.

To find such camaraderie with the other farm workers.
I'm surprised and grateful for the hours we spend laughing at bad puns about beets, telling and sympathizing with personal stories, trading language skills with the Spanish-speakers, and sharing our food freely.  One of the Mexicans now makes a point to bring potato chips drenched in hot sauce, papas, daily - just to share.

I've learned:

How to use a water-wheel transplanter. 
It's such a nifty machine - attached to the back of a tractor, it's got two parts:  The water-wheel goes first, pokes holes in the ground, and drizzles them with water, preparing for planting.  Trailing behind the water-wheel, we sit in a pair of low-hanging lounge chairs - as we graze along just above the ground, we drop plant starts into the holes and secure them in the soil... it goes pretty fast, and feels like a video game - don't miss a hole!

How to harvest, wash, and bunch pretty much everything.
Harvesting rhubarb is a full-body workout, and searching for large turnips is like a treasure hunt.
Washing radishes is one of my special skills (I've got a system built for speed!), but washing greens in the plastic tubs scrapes my forearms raw.
Bunching appeals to my visual & detail-oriented side, but it's a delicate matter - aesthetics are everything.  I love bunching garlic scapes, since they're so beautifully spirally.  I can get pretty distracted arranging the scape spirals, and often wish I had a camera.

How to take care of my body during long days of repetitive physical tasks.
Farming can be hard on your body, but as a dancer I've picked up some great body knowledge that's helping a lot.
Awareness is key.  It's too easy to focus on a task and ignore your body's warning signals (like pain).  I'm learning to work quickly while still using good body mechanics. 
Most importantly, I don't bend over from my lower back.  Protect the lower back - bend in your hips and knees, keep your lower back in line with your spine.  I call it the Monkey Squat.  Special thanks to my teachers for Alexander Technique!

In the future, I want pursue a different kind of farming.
Ours is a relatively large-scale produce farm, focused mainly on selling at farmers market, to restaurants, and to CSA members (in that order).  I enjoy it a lot, and I'm so pleased to be learning and working outdoors all day.  But, for me, it's a stepping-stone.
I want pursue a more intimate and sustainable style of farming.  I want a smaller-scale, community-focused intent, with farm dinners and educational outreach.  I want to learn permaculture techniques, and wide-ranging skills like beekeeping, ecosystem management, egg & dairy husbandry, mushroom inoculation, and even more food preservation skills. 
It's exciting to gain that clarity, to see my next step in a long-term vision.

I'm Growing:

My sense of capability and competence.
At first, I wasn't sure if I was cut out to farm, if I would be strong and endurant enough, if I could work alongside others who were surely better suited to farming.  That changed quickly.
I found that I can do and handle more than I expected, that I'm getting stronger and quicker (plus, my biceps look awesome).  The self-confidence that comes with that sense of capability is wonderful.

My food knowledge and skill.
I'm cooking and preserving foods I never dealt with before, like braising greens and rhubarb, let alone knew existed.  Sorrel?  Lovage?  What the...? 
I'm learning, and it tastes so good!

My understanding of and gratitude for the Earth.
I'm starting to get a broader sense for Earth's cycles - of plants' germination, growth, maturity... and I'm getting a first peek at the seasons' characteristics, of springs' flavor & tone, of the subtle shifts in temperature and daylight as we head towards summer.
I'm grateful for cloudy days, for rain storms.  I'm awed at how naturally our food grows, the intelligence within Nature - how the entire plan for a fruit-bearing melon vine is encoded within one tear-shaped seed. 
It's beautiful and humbling to watch.

Please, ask me anything!  What do you want to know about my experience as a farm hand?

You might like:
~ Farm Internship: Drawn by the Earth
~ Earth, Will You Be My Valentine?
~ Farm Girl Rising
~ Find Balance in Nature and the Elements
This post is shared at:
Butter Believer and Natural Mothers Network!

5/27/2012 11:04:26 am

Love following your blog--especially the weekly summaries of what you're doing; being a farm hand is a dream that age and children make a fantasy; thanks also for recommending the Patchwork Radicals book--a nice read.

5/29/2012 07:35:29 am

Love hearing about your experience. Where is your farm again?

Anna @ Patchwork Radicals
5/29/2012 10:59:18 am

It's in the Colorado foothills, just east of the Rocky Mountains. Beautiful views, every day!

5/31/2012 07:17:06 pm

So good to read of your enthusiasm for ethical organic farming methods. Do you imagine running your own one day?

Anna @ Patchwork Radicals
5/31/2012 09:13:22 pm

Hi Rebecca ~ I envision myself running a small homestead, with a lot of the same aspects as a farm, only not for profit. Or, a marginal profit from selling excess abundance (after my friends/family have had their fill!)

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What to say about my first month farming? There's so much - things I didn't expect, new skills I've learned, parts of myself I feel growing as I work with the soil.

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