A Box of Surprises
I arrived at Field Notes Tuesday and met a massive crew, including visitors from Monica’s family, gathering around the table for lunch. I approached hesitantly, as I’d already eaten and was in no mood to socialize. Oren was prattling on about something or other as I approached, so I quietly inquired with Polly about some work that I could take on. She gestured vaguely towards the barn. “I think Dan is in there finishing up packing orders if you want to go help him.” Relieved, I made my way to the garage and stepped in cautiously, assessing the space for awhile before opening up the cooler door, where Dan McDougle fumbled in pitch-darkness. “Hey, can I help you at all man?”
“Sure,” he responded. “Do you have a flashlight on your phone? That would probably be a good place to start.” I lit up the cooler and began to assess the stacks of variously-labeled boxes and crates, as Dan jumped into an explanation of the packing and labeling processes, and the overall layout of the cooler. “So, with wet produce like greens, we put a plastic bag on the top and the bottom, for moisture control… The label includes the item, quantity, location, and date, in whatever order you think is best… There’s a white board down by the field with all of the order specifics if you want to check that out and grab boxes…” Systems, systems systems. I wandered down to the whiteboard, overwhelmed at the vast degree of coordination required for an efficient, effective harvest.
After finishing up in the dark cooler, we stepped out into the garage to weigh and bag kale. Uncertain about which bags were needed, I approached the lunch area once more, where Oren’s prattling continued. “…so, long story short, the kids…” Wow, I thought, I can’t imagine the long version… Polly joined us at the weighing station for a quick tutorial. “So, the goal is 0.52-0.54 oz per bag,” she said, as she laid down her first bundle, which the scale reported at 0.52 exactly. “I weigh a lot of kale,” she said with a shrug.
Eventually the lunch crew dispersed, and Logan Brice and I made our way to Rising Sand to mulch, broadfork, bucket-dog, and enjoy some badly-needed solitude. While I muscled my broadfork up and down the beds, I couldn’t stop thinking about the specificity of the packing and harvesting procedures, and the real puzzle of getting fresh produce from the field to local restaurants. For all of the times in the kitchen that I’ve been on the receiving end of fresh fare from farmers, I’ve never given much thought to the processes behind the beautiful food. I, and many other aspiring farmers, I suspect, have always considered farming to be a physical affair: shoveling, planting, weeding and the like; but equally important are the mental components of cooler layout, washing, weighing and transporting fresh food. For that, one needs a keen eye for detail and a head for systems. It was yet another humbling reminder of all that I don’t yet know, and my fortune at having the opportunity to learn with this group under these circumstances.
While I mused and muscled, Polly delivered our freshly-packed vegetables to the businesses in Stevens Point, including Mission Coffee, where I will be blessed to meet them in the morning. After she’d returned and the broadforking was done, we all convened back at Field Notes, and finished out weeding a plot of carrots as the fog settled in and the last gray reminder of the day faded to black. We were just about to pitch-blackness when Kelly looked up from her weeding. “Well, I’m going to go grab some food from the cooler and get out of here.” Thus started our mass exodus up the hill, to the garage and cooler where the goodies awaited. Plastic bags in hand, we scoured the remaining boxes and bags like kids on Halloween. “Ooh, there’s some arugula left? Awesome!” “I’ll take those lettuce heads.” “Yeah, there will be kale forever…”
I got home with my goodie bag, and Fanni went right for a kale leaf. “Oh my God,” she gushed, munching the leaf like a regular rabbit. “I am so ready for this!” Thus begins a summer of the freshest fare and most fulfilling work. As odd as it may sound, in the hustle of planning, planting, weeding and composting, I’d somehow forgotten that we’re actually growing real food. Now, with one harvest under our belts, I find that I’m strangely surprised at the lively radishes nestled among vibrant shades and shapes of leafy greens from the Rising Sands fields. And what a wonderful surprise it is. May the summer be long and the veggies colorful.