I don’t jog. I don’t go to the gym for a workout. And this time of year, I can’t even pull off any semblance of a consistent yoga practice. But… I do dig potatoes.
Late last week we were scrambling to get the year’s potato harvest out of the ground before the next round of rain set in. Our patch was about a quarter of an acre in size, roughly half a mile of row feet to dig. We knew our harvest window was limited, as we had a full weekend already planned with our weekly harvest and market to think about, as well as our annual summer field day for our CSA shareholders. And that rain kept creeping closer and closer… time to kick it into turbo gear and get our hands in the dirt.
This year our potato harvest had the added bonus of a middle-buster, also known as a potato plow, to help our process. We found that if two people followed along right beside the plow and grabbed the potatoes as they were unearthed, and then rolled them into the furrow, we would prevent them from getting reburied by the wake of soil from the plow. This would lessen the amount of additional grubbing required later to find the lost potatoes… but in action proved to rival a strange, extreme-marathon event. As we crawled along beside the plow, intense sunshine beating down on our backs, knees constantly being jabbed by the rocky soil, and hands working in overdrive to keep up with the abundant yield, we found ourselves breathless and in need of a big drink by the end of each row. We fantasized about having those water bottle yielders that you see running alongside marathon runners at our sides, squirting much needed water into our open mouths.
Another “field” event (harhar) that we participate in is bean picking. And when it comes to bean picking, Eric is the hero. He is incredibly fast and efficient when it comes to those beans (well, he is incredibly fast and efficient with most things he does… we are the classic tortoise and hare duo; the endurance runner and the sprinter) In the past when we have hosted interns, and efficiency in bean picking was a must, Eric came up with a set of “rules” for the bean patch: 1. Don’t stand up. 2. Don’t sit down. 3. Never let your hand travel to the basket with less than ten beans, in each hand. Because every time your hand is traveling to the basket, it’s not actively picking beans and that is time wasted. (Yes, we’ve been called intense before.) If a person adheres to this set of guidelines, they are in for a real workout! Try shuffling sideways, in a crouched position, while rummaging and reaching this way and that into laden bean plants when there’s about six-hundred row feet to cover. There’s my (slightly tweaked) yoga practice!
Our chickens are athletes as well. We keep them completely free out on pasture, with no fence to contain them at all. Our livestock guardian dog serves as the protective fence. The chickens are housed in portable coops (the chicken “train”) which are moved every couple of days, following the ruminant livestock on their circuit throughout the pastures. We provide a big bin of organic grain, fed cafeteria-style, to the chickens allowing them to take as much or as little as they choose. But their preference is for bugs. And when we keep them moving, there’s always a fresh smorgasboard of bugs to be had, fresh cowpies to scratch through for the fly larvae and beetles (which has the added bonus of sanatizing our pastures). When you witness a stealth hen run down a grasshopper for her meal, it’s pretty impressive. The eggs from these hens are amazing. When you crack one open, the perky orange yolk stands up firm and proud, full of muscle-tone. A sure sign that it came from an athletic hen.
Our objective with our farm is to stay small. To not get sucked into the allure of bigger, better, faster, more. Yes, we are busy and yes, the work is arduous. But, all of the hand work that we do helps keep us active and fit. Years ago, in my decision to pursue an agrarian life instead of life in an office as an architect, I knew I wanted and needed physical work… that days spent sitting at a drafting table or computer would not suit my personality. I followed my instincts and have been greatly rewarded. And as the years go on, and I’m pushing the big four-zero in just a month, I still feel healthy and capable of very hard work. I feel blessed. While I may pale in comparison to the “athlete” I once was, while I may not be able to swim six miles without stopping, the athlete in me now has found bliss in the ancient sport of farming.