Farmer John Writes: I Don’t Care if You Are Wearing a Chicken Costume
Harvest Week 10, August 25th – 31st, 2020
If you read last week’s Farm News, you know that I have a lot to do and I do much of it. (I could do most of it if I could work 30 hours a day.) In that update, I chronicled many of the farm activities that occurred last Friday, August 14th, and I mentioned a birthday event that the farm crew had for me at lunchtime. The lunch featured pupusas, a culinary treasure of El Salvador—stuffed with beans, cheese, and sometimes chicharrón, hearty and spicy; these pupusas would provide enduring energy and joy for the afternoon’s work. I thought it was going to be just a lovely lunch, but it became obvious that a bit of a party was in store: the presentation of cakes and the crew swaying to festive music while suddenly attired in beads and tinsel tipped me off.
The crew even wanted to push my face into the birthday cake, a custom from below the border that they earnestly and pleadingly explained, but I claimed to come from a more reserved part of the planet, Scandinavia. While maintaining a vigil over several crew members who were obviously wondering how to get close enough to me to bury my face in the cake, I simply sliced a delicate sliver off the cake and decorously consumed it. The conspiring crew members shrank back in a wave upon seeing their boss’s shrewd maneuver to save face from cake.
When my actual birthday arrived the next day, I figured the birthday celebration was behind me. I was back to being my usual self, obsessed with growing food for our shareholders.
That Saturday, we needed to harvest the Romaine lettuce before it bolted, harvest the young arugula and baby chard before they grew lanky, till more ground for cover crops and seed them. I had to get the irrigator fixed so I could irrigate the carrots. And, it being Saturday, there was a rather small crew. Also, it being Saturday, many of the crew members stop work at noon—their choice.
Let’s say I was crazed to get the work done. To add to the drama, rain was scheduled for later that day. The rain would:
- make any unharvested arugula and chard grow exponentially, making its baby status questionable
- perhaps make it impossible to have chard and arugula in the boxes we would pack on Monday, since rain often begets more rain begets mud begets field conditions unsuitable for harvesting. (In other words, not only might the unharvested chard and arugula get too large with a rain; the mud might also prevent us from harvesting it at all for several days.)
- make much of the beautiful Romaine lettuce in the field bolt, unless we got it harvested first
- germinate the clover and alfalfa I wanted to finish seeding, but only if it was seeded first
- germinate the nine beds of baby greens that I wanted to seed for your fall dining pleasure, but only if it was seeded first
Of course, it might not rain later that day. I have to approach each day as though it won’t rain, will rain, might rain. This creates a lot of variables and a considerable amount of—let’s call it angst. Imagine planning out a daily work strategy for numerous crops taking into account these diverse scenarios.
(Taggart Siegel, the director of the documentary film about my life and farm, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, observed “running this farm is like being on a film set every day, with hundreds of decisions to make throughout the day, except a film shoot is finite; running the farm goes on forever.”)
I ordered pizza for the crew, to be delivered at noon. Lunch would then be from 12 to 12:40, and then the few people who would remain for the afternoon would get back into the fields.
The pizza arrived at noon. I went into the barn where we normally have Saturday pizza and the pizza was nowhere in sight. I said, “Where’s the pizza?” I then imagined that someone had come up with the civilized idea of a sit-down lunch.
“I don’t want to eat sitting down—too much time. Bring the pizza back here. We have to eat it here. It’s faster. I stand and eat, then get back to work.”
Then Eddaviel came into the barn in a chicken costume. Alina, his housemate, was wearing a cow costume.
I said, “I don’t care if you are wearing a chicken costume. We have to eat fast—work to do.”
I was not being resilient.
I noisily relented to being escorted/paraded up the grand milkhouse staircase to the barn loft.
Upon entering the loft, I demanded, “where’s the pizza?”
The crew filed in, 15 or 20 of them. They stood there looking at me.
Don’t we have work to do? I wondered.
They kept looking at me.
Alizé was sporting a shepherd’s staff.
It was finally dawning on me that maybe this was a planned event—planned for me.
I thought about my neighbor in the hospital years ago, hip smashed by his bull. He was determined—screaming–to go home to milk, so they tied him to his bed. But this today was a party diverting me from farming, not a smashed hip.
I was placed in a chair. I was facing a screen.
Time to shift gears, I thought, to be in the moment.
This is what I saw:
These are the human beings who come to work day after day, reach, stoop, trim, toil, clip, lug, lift, heft, hoist. This is America 100 years ago, where people leaned into the work, toiled and sweat, sky arching, dust swirling, sun beaming, land yielding honest sustenance. The crew have their challenges, their loves, their worries, their burdens, their joys, but here they were celebrating their boss and the farm that tests them, nurtures them, sustains them.
The lunch and party ended at 12:50. Back to the fields, 10 minutes late.