how we risked our lives for caesar salad, and a strawberry story

Dearest Readers,

There were so many hilarious laughs this week, I honestly don’t know which story to start with. Let me just preface this post by saying that yes, last week was a bit hellish, but this week, my confidence and muscle memory have improved enough that I feel comfortable calling myself a farmer. YES. The farm team is working smoothly, and laughter at work (particularly at the end of the day when we’re exhausted and silly) is abundant. On that note, I remember thinking to myself at various points during my years in college that I wished I laughed more. If any of you readers feel like you’re not laughing enough, you should honor that intuition. Let me share my experience: it is possible to laugh all day long.

For example. On Thursday, we planted sweet potato slips at the end of the day. They look like this:

You can see that the slips are all stuck together. Okay. Put that fact on a shelf for a minute. Now: in order to plant efficiently, we often use our water wheel, a tractor that pokes equidistant holes and waters them simultaneously. It looks like this:

In fact, that’s Matt, the farm manager, on the seat (photo from Drumlin Farm). Two of us are “droppers,” sitting on the back of the tractor, dropping plants into the holes while Matt drives along the soil. The “planters” are everybody else, bending over behind the tractor, tucking the baby plants firmly in the soil, crawling along as fast as they can to keep up.

Final piece of information for this story: a major thunderstorm was in the forecast for Thursday.

So Signe and I dropped from the back of the tractor, and everyone else planted behind us. As we dropped, we frantically pulled apart the potato slips that were intertwined and stuck together. It was the end of the day, and we were already loopy from the day’s heat and work. We dropped as fast as we could, as any wasted action meant a hole without a plant. We had planted something like 1,500 sweet potato plants, and I can definitely say that my concentration and dexterity were getting sloppy, when the sky darkened and the clouds burgeoned above. Crooked webs of lightning flashed on the horizon…

Have you ever legitimately thought you were going to be killed by a thunderstorm? If you haven’t, let me tell you: it is TERRIFYING. We were so close to being done planting, and the downpour was only just beginning in cold, hard drops– so we planted faster than ever, Signe and I throwing sweet potatoes down like crazy, tiny roots flying all over the place, the planters scrambling behind us, planting for their lives– literally– and all of us either mentally or actually shrieking with the anxious laughter that only bubbles up when you sincerely think you are in mortal danger.

The wind had already blown Signe’s hat off her head, and the soil was flying up in our faces, and just as clouds burst into a flood of water, we were finished planting. We waited a split second for the nod from Matt, and then we– Abby, Emily, Signe, and me– took off at a flailing run for one of the trucks (hilariously, we left the two men on the team behind, still wrapping up). We tumbled into the front seat, all four of us. I hit the gas and we bounced over the already sopping soil towards safety, thunder booming around us.

Amidst shrieking of exhilaration, Signe announced: “WAIT. I was going to make caesar salad tonight. We NEED  to pick a head of romaine lettuce.” A chorus of emphatic “NO’s” would not deter her, nor would the apparent possibility that if the lightning didn’t kill her, the crazy winds and pounding borderline hail would. She had dreamt of that caesar salad all day, and she was going to get her head of romaine, damnit.

So, as we passed the bed of romaine, Emily and Abby, who were on the end of the seat, jumped out of the truck into the storm, pounced on the bed like oversized long-limbed monkeys, grabbed two heads of romaine each, shook off the soil with a vehement shake, and dove back into the still-moving  truck, all of us gasping with laughter from the ridiculousness of the whole situation.

That night, we all shared the best caesar salad in the world. I’m wearing my goofy grin just writing about this hilarity.

It would be a complete loss if I didn’t include mention of yesterday’s strawberry picking in this post. So another story:

Friday is a big harvesting day because we leave early on Saturday for the market (I’ll post about that, with pictures, later this weekend). So in prep for the market, Friday afternoon held the first major strawberry harvest. We bent over strawberry plants to find the most beautiful, most perfect, most deliciously red and ripe and sweet and succulent strawberries that we had ever seen on the farm, or on any farm, I think. The incredible abundance and perfection of them inspired sheer joy in all of us, though we picked for hours, bent over to hang upside down over the plants for efficiency. I giggled the whole time with the giddiness inspired by our strawberry kingdom.

How was it possible to giggle for hours? You probably think I’m exaggerating. I assure you, I am not. It was possible because we weren’t supposed to put any flawed strawberries in on of our hundreds of cartons, even if that flaw was absolutely miniscule. So we were encouraged to eat them of course, because letting good food go to waste is not part of a farming apprentice’s philosophy (seasoned farmers, on the other hand, understand that good food will go to waste, and there’s nothing that can be done about it).

And so, Friday afternoon held a marathon strawberry sugar high. Which meant giggles and plenty of strawberry burps and hiccups. One of my favorite, more profound moments: I reached for a flawed strawberry from my row for Signe to try (Signe, you’re all over this post!) and Greg stopped me, saying, “No way– give her a perfect one! We’re farmers. We’re royalty.”

And with that, I leave you to salivate over strawberries. Please find some local organic farms, and pick your own!

With happiness,

Laura

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