…in the heat of the summer, no less. The sun was INTENSE this year, which made the work seem harder than usual. The farm had planted ten beds of carrots (3 rows per bed) as a fall crop, and our crew spent about three weeks painstakingly weeding them bed by bed under the burning sun. When we finally finished the very last bed of carrots, we looked back at the first bed we had weeded only to see that the weeds had returned with a vengeance—and we started over again.
What I like about those WWOOFing experiences, though, is that you really bond with the people who are out there in the weeding trenches with you, toiling in the dirt through all kinds of weather. I worked with the two J’s, a couple of young rappers from New York City who’ve also interned there in previous years, and who taught us all to play Pinese Choker (a.k.a. Chinese Poker). I made friends with an awesome woman in her 30’s from Holland who had just quit her boring office job, broken up with her unfaithful fiancé of 13 years, and set off to have adventures in foreign countries; and I met another woman in her 30’s, also from NYC, who is on a very interesting and esoteric journey of self-discovery, involving BodyTalk, aura photography, and flower essences, as well as biking from park to park, solo-camping and reconnecting with the land. There were several others, too, who came for shorter stays, but these folks were the core crew for the five weeks I was there.
Farming with so many women, for once, translated to SO MUCH skinny dipping. I went to the lake more often than I had during my other stays there, and it was cool to see her changing moods from day to day: different waves, currents, wildlife, plants and debris. The three of us celebrated the full moon in August with a late-night skinny dip session that was pretty magical. The frequent swimming was also partially prompted by the drought which caused the well to run dry on a regular basis and encouraged me to curtail my showers. There were several days when we were unable to wash dishes until the well had time to replenish. It really made me appreciate the luxury of turning a tap in my apartment in the city and having potable water flow out.
The drought also meant that the crops were a little sadder-looking and less plentiful than usual. The irrigation pond completely dried up. The tractor started a friction fire in a field of rye grass it was mowing. The Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, and biting flies were thriving in numbers I’d never seen before—I’m not sure whether as a result of the drought, this past mild winter, or something else entirely. The weeds, of course, still thrived, and we sold purslane and amaranth at the farmers market. I remember reading somewhere that a “weed” is just an extremely drought-tolerant plant. I had to think about the fussy, delicate plants we humans prefer to eat and therefore to painstakingly cultivate, when we could as easily choose to incorporate into our diets those plants that are edible, nutritious, and eager to grow in a wide variety of conditions (particularly purslane, amaranth, and lamb’s quarter). Working in the extreme heat and humidity all day also got me fantasizing about forest farming. Why not grow mushrooms and nuts and berries instead?
I had some pretty memorable animal encounters this time around. The farm dog had passed away this spring, and the rodents were having a field day. Raccoons and skunks would knock over the compost every night and go through our trash, strewing it around everywhere and even shredding the tinfoil into tiny little bits. I had to start stacking three pieces of firewood on top of the lids every night to keep them out: any less was ineffective. Our hangout space was full of adorable tiny mice, which I didn’t mind so much, and we found a rat in the farmhouse. I met my first tree frog when he took up residence on the roof of our outdoor kitchen. My first day back at the farm, I spotted a bald eagle overhead while I was swimming in the lake. I saw some crazy-looking red newts on a hike in the Finger Lakes National Forest, and when I was off-road hiking (a.k.a. trespassing) in the woods on the cliffs by the lake, I found an old white oak tree whose base contained a honeybee hive: a honey tree! Awesome.