The Chard Boss and the Sucker

Friday was Market Harvest day again, and Fanni and I arrived at Rising Sand around 4, where we met half our crew and got cracking on harvesting some kale, kohlrabi, and crisp, refreshing cucumbers. The other half were at Field Notes — washing, weighing and packing — and one-by-one Polly, Logan Brice and Fanni left in vehicles full of produce bins, leaving only Oren and I behind. Eventually, he too left; heading off into the sunset in the Shadow, as I finished up watering the remaining seedlings. Watering hose in hand, I enjoyed a deep breath and moment of afternoon solitude.

This lasted about 30 seconds before a 3-wheeler turned and made its way slowly up our long driveway: the driver acquisitively assessing the space, as if the land had belonged to him all along and we were just borrowers. His whole aura reeked with arrogance, and I hoped against hope he would turn around — realizing he was, in fact, in the wrong driveway and the land didn’t, in fact, belong to him. No such luck. He made his slow way up to me and shut off his 3-wheeler. We eyed each other up over a moment of stuborn silence, which he eventually broke.

“Is the boss around?”

“You’re looking at him,” I replied.

He laughed, outside interior softening just a bit. “So you’re the boss, huh?”

“One of them. I’m Lee; I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Bob. I live across the street.”

We shared a neighborly handshake and got into a classic country dude conversation; focused mostly on the neighbors, the land, and the act of Custer farming- organic or otherwise. In classic country dude fashion, we practiced the art of calculated generalization: expressing our knowledge and expertise with conviction, while keeping things general enough to mask our underlying and actual cluelessness. (“Yeah, well weed control is definitely one of the major factors around here…”  “Yep, yep…”)

This carried on for awhile. Then a while longer. Then I took a knee. Then I took a seat. Then I started to think I may just end up spending the night with Bob. Then I was saved by the grace of my ringtone. I pulled out my phone. Coop Oren. Whew. “I gotta take this.”

“Yo, we’re short on chard; can you harvest 6 pounds? There are no trays, so you’ll have to find a clean bin in the shop. Grab a scissors and take the two largest leaves…” I reiterated the specifics as he spoke, at least partially for the sake of Bob’s brevity.

“You gotta get cuttin’, huh?” He asked after I hung up. “I guess I’ll let you get goin’.”
He started his machine, turned around and made his slow way down the driveway, again critically assessing the land he seemed to know so well. I harvested my chard in peace, thinking amusedly about my conversation with Bob, and my quick-witted declaration of myself as boss. Hell yeah; it’s good to be boss… Chard in tow, I headed over to Field Notes to meet the crew.

After dropping my chard off by the sink for Polly to wash, I went up and busied myself in the packing area with the rest of the Sand Risers. Minutes later, Polly walked in. “Ummm,” she started, “how badly do we need that chard..?”
Uh oh…
“Why?” Asked Oren.

“Because Lee harvested 6 pounds of really nice Romaine leaves.”

Oren looked momentarily shocked and taken aback. “Dude I thought you knew! I said the southern-most bed… You should have called.” He’d regained his composure almost immediately, but I did not; and after hanging around the pack-shed for a few minutes and carefully avoiding eye contact, I headed down to the hoop house to prune tomatoes by myself.

My thoughts were dark and morbid as I buried myself in the task: picking “suckers” off of the stems. Yep that’s me. Just a sucker. I was never a boss… “Hey,” said my voice of reason from deep within, “it’s not the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. There was that time you fed motor oil to dairy cows…”

Such thoughts offered little consolation, and I only perked up slightly upon finding and eating a mostly-ripe and wonderfully juicy cherry tomato — the first of the season. Eventually, Oren made his way down to reassure me that it’s a mistake that happens to everyone in their first year, and while I really appreciated the gesture, I knew deep down how negligent it was. The fact is that absence of attention is my fatal flaw, and throughout my life I’ve been blessed to receive periodic and humiliating reminders to slow down, ask questions, and pay attention to what I’m doing.

I was working on this on Saturday when Oren called to fill me in on some irrigation specifics. I was in the middle of a snack. “Hold on dude; I’ve got a mouthful of kale.”

He paused for the slightest moment.

“…Are you sure it’s kale?”