Posted by Tony Ricci on 10/07 at 08:06 PM
Last night I attended a Local Harvest banquet put on by the Student Food Initiative at Juniata College where we feasted on the bounty of many of our local farms including our own. The students also invited me along with other farmers to talk about farming. Of course I lied out of my teeth because I didn’t want to dampen the enthusiasm these folks have for the idyllic life style which they believe we lead.
We really need young people to get involved in farming if we want to continue enjoying fresh local food. A little deception is necessary to keep the tradition going, so I avoided talking about the first 15 years on the farm.
Here’s what it’s really like living on the farm. I wake up to a pale dawn and after a meager breakfast of gruel and turnip shavings, I make my way up to the barn to do my morning chores. At the top of the hill I look back and view the mountains. They are often covered in mist or pillowed by fog in the hollows where I know other people live. They will be there forever. (Notwithstanding unexpected historical events, like Somerset County seceding from the Union, developing nuclear weapons and blasting Huntingdon County off the map because we have better weather and a really nice lake. Strangers things have happened.)
I feed the animals in order of importance: the laying hens, the broilers, the dog and maybe the cats if they don’t annoy me too much. By the end of this ritual I am mysteriously covered in sweat and feed and mud, which makes a morning shower seem like a pretty stupid idea.
Depending on the day, I am planning the picking schedule, taking wholesale orders, preparing for deliveries or loading the van for market. It is a strict regimen and I am a well oiled machine, because as I’ve noted, I’m sweating like a pig – if a pig could sweat. Some days I have the luxury of actually walking around the farm to assess the progress of crops and plan more back breaking work that I know will not likely get done. During these trysts, my mind is often filled with writing material that I imagine can be harvested on a regular basis and sent to a publisher so I can actually make money. But then I come across a crop that has been visited by a near relative to Beelzebub disguised as a cute Disney character. This happened the other day when I walked along the row of celeriac which had grown all summer unmolested.
Celeriac is not a huge crop for us but I’ve been putting a little effort into it because it’s a steady winter sale to restaurants. So it came as some surprise when I found the succulent white roots bleeding freshly from the dark soil. From an aesthetic perspective it was beautiful – perfectly chewed discs evenly spaced in a mat of weeds. It could be interpreted as installation art if it was in the middle of the foyer of the MET.
But as a business proposition it really sucked. I guess that’s why on some basic level farmers embody a pure artistic sensibility. We arrange fields in neat patterns pleasing to the eye; encourage hues of green to flourish through spring and summer; watch contentedly as the spectrum melts into the soft browns of autumn; and howl curses like mad dogs at the cruel jokes that the gods enjoy playing on us. It makes majoring in ancient Greek Literature look really good.
Author: Tony Ricci
Bio: Co-owner and operator of Green Heron Farm in southern Huntingdon County | Provides year-round supplies of local, organic vegetables (retail and wholesale) across central Pennsylvania
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