On our New Hampshire vegetable farm, we have lots of summer company: CSA members, woodchucks, relatives, bugs, deer, friends. Of course, we greet some of our visitors with more enthusiasm than others. But it’s always interesting to see what farm life brings out in a personality.
The Easy-Going Admirer: “Look at those beautiful flowers! Wow, those tomatoes are huge! And the Swiss chard! The cabbage! The horses! The trees! the sky! I love it here! It is gorgeous! It is fantastic!”
These fine and relaxed visitors remind us how lucky we are, and how beautiful it is here, just at the time when we farmers most need it, when the work is full-on, and we can’t see the forest for the trees, or rather, the rest of the world for the garden. These visitors have a magical, delightful ability not to see things, too: the weeds, the chomped-on-by-woodchucks broccoli, the fall transplants begging to go into the ground.
The Guilty Admirer: “Gosh, it’s fantastic! Wonderful! The carrots! The basil! The peppers! And wow, what a lot of work! Gosh, I feel like I should lend a hand! What should I do? Oh, I don’t know where to start!” this visitor might say, as he or she trails along the garden pathways, admiration and worry in such keen balance that a certain paralysis sets in.
In one of our funniest-after-the fact-visits, when we were desperately haying before a rainstorm, the farmers frantically pitching hay and the draft horses hurriedly hauling hay, our visitors admired us from the edge of the field. They kept far enough away to avoid the flying sweat, the biting bugs, and the flying and biting curses of any hard-pressed haying operation. The Easy-Going Admirer was content and appreciative; the Guilty Admirer whimpered, “Oh, it’s so beautiful! So idyllic! Oh, I should help! Oh, it looks so hard! Look at those dark clouds coming so quickly! Oh, wow, do I have to help?”
The Cheerful Pitcher-Inner: These visitors are gleeful when they see a hayloader and dark clouds coming. They grab pitchforks, jump up on the haywagon. After the haying, they rub their hands eagerly together when they see the weedy garden. “Okay, show me what to weed,” they say. “Let’s just finish weeding this entire quarter-acre garden section; we can go to the lake later, when we’re good and hot and ready for a swim. All right, everybody, let’s get at it!”
Ah, now this is a visitor after our own farming hearts!
The Reluctant Pitcher-Inner: “Do we havvvvveee to?” is the distinctive call of these fine people. Often the children of a friend, relative, or even a resident farmer, these folks seem more attracted by the lake and the ice cream shop than the weeds in the garden. And yet somehow they find themselves weeding, weeding, weeding, following in the roundabout, annoying path of Cheerful Pitcher-Inner adults who can’t seem to see the clear and direct route to the cool water and the even cooler ice cream.
The Panicking Pitcher-Inner: Closely related to the Guilty Admirer, but given to nervous fits of unfocused activity, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work to be done. One farmer might send this visitor to help pick the zucchini and yellow squash with the other farmer at the far end of the field, for example.
“Oh, oh, here’s some ripe peppers! Shall I pick them?” the visitor calls. “No, no, keep going,” the farmers encourage. “Oh, oh, here’s some lettuce that needs weeding! I should weed it!” “No, no, keep going, it’s all right!” “Oh, oh, oh, I see tomatoes ready! Shall I just get them first? Oh, oh, oh, these beans are so ripe, oh, oh, oh. . .”
By this time, and after all these oh-oh-ohs, both farmers are weak with laughter. ”Keep going, keep going,” we say, “You’re almost to the squash! It really needs picking! You’re almost there!”
We farmers are almost there too, and we’re there, and we’re everyplace in between. Full-time farming is a committed relationship, and we go through the whole range of emotions that characterize such a rich, full relationship: love, anger, despair, frustration, fear, grief, boredom, ecstasy, rage, affection, excitement, satisfaction, a sense of the sacred, a sense of the ridiculous. We cycle and recycle through it all, from easy-going to guilty, from cheerful to reluctant to panicking, and we sure are glad to have our summer company, to help us admire and work and sympathize and laugh our way through.
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Jul 9 – Jul 15, 2014