I won’t say I grew up on a farm, but my parents always kept a garden. On his way back up to the house after work, my father would stop, pick anything ripe, and bring it up to the house to contribute for dinner. Looking back, I didn’t help him as much as I might have. Once, I helped him plant his crop of potatoes, which he still boasts to this day was the best crop of potatoes he ever yielded.
So I wasn’t at a complete loss when a friend of mine had to spend some time away from home and asked me to look after his crops. He’s a small-scale organic farmer, he frequents farmers markets as a vendor and he loves to grow varieties of peppers that you often don’t find in the states. He’s got a healthy amount of land, about the amount I grew up on. When he asked me, I accepted immediately. How hard could it be?
He left me a list of to-dos, which made my job that much easier. On it, he included, “Watch where you step. I just released a bunch of baby mantises into the garden to help with a few pests.” I read that line at least three times. He didn’t opt to use pesticides. Instead, he raised mantises from eggs and released them, controlling pests naturally. He considers it a challenge, he told me. Admirable, isn’t it?
Most of his crops were set on an automatic watering system, timed at different intervals. All I really needed to do was general upkeep, like picking the vegetables when they were ready, making sure everything was getting watered as needed and to not step on any mantises. It doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but there are a lot of vegetables that grow on a lot of plants.
Then there was fertilization. My pal wanted me to fertilize a section of vegetables with his compost. Unless you’ve been around a good, hot, steaming pile of compost, you can have no idea how bad this stuff smells. It made me realize that he’s around this every day, and even this was a labor of love for him. His handmade compost gives his plants a boost without compromising his organic-farming principles.
Another item on his list was to mow his lawn. Because he has so much land, he uses a zero turn radius mower. Have you ever used one of those things? It was my first time, and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable parts of my time on the farm. Mowing the lawn has never felt so much like operating a NASA shuttle, but it did the trick.
I’ve since helped my friend on his gardening more often, learning and gaining more respect for organic farmers each time. There’s something to be said for not taking the easy way out. In my time working with my farmer pal, I’ve seen that hard work goes a long way to producing healthy produce that works with nature, not against it. Organic farmers, you have my lifetime respect, and I will support you by eating anything your gardens produce.