A Few of My Favorite Things
The sun warms my back as I lean over the fresh tilled earth. It's 9 a.m. on this spring day, and already the heat of the sun is as distinct on my skin as a handprint.
I am transplanting today, moving try after tray of baby vegetable and flower plants out of the greenhouse and into the field. I pull a young plant out of its growing cell, its mass of roots holding the square block of potting mix together. Each is as soft and vulnerable as any newborn, just a hint at the adult they will become.
I start into a flat of lettuces. There will be four varieties of lettuce in this 400-square foot bed — red and green leaf lettuce, butterhead and oakleaf. The plugs slip easily out of the trays and in a single motion with my right hand I press them gently but firmly into the loose, expectant earth.
On larger farms, tractors and implements and teams of laborers do this work. But I farm a 3-acre plot, and I do all my planting by hand. Some days I have a crew to help, but this morning, it’s just me. Across the field I see multiple beds of soft dark soil — empty uniform rectangles, soon to be filled with hundreds of tender bright green starts.
I am often asked what my favorite thing is to grow. I appreciate the question, and I know it’s not meant to be as personal as it is. I live in a nuanced dance with these plants, after all. They have distinct personalities and my relationship with them is far from static. It shifts over time, and can blossom or sour as weeds, pests, weather and attitude affect our dynamic.
Radishes can be charming one month, cloying the next. The beets in spring may have me reveling in their jewel tones and hearty temperament, but by September, I may find them stubborn and intolerable. Tomatoes are the divas of the field, and I resent them. But then, come about July 4th, they hit that high note — sliced on a piece of white bread with mayo, salt and pepper — and I am again their biggest fan. Sugar snap peas seem like the overrated quarterback, highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing in their performance. And the squash reminds me of the distant relatives I am happy to see again, but who overstay their welcome.
Around the field perimeter, the new leaves of the trees are vibrant, shimmering in the sunlight and soft breeze. I straighten slowly from my bent planting position. My body has yet to limber and strengthen into the work, and I am stiff in my back and hamstrings. I pause to gaze at the tree-line, and at the hawk riding the thermals overhead.
What the "favorite thing to grow" question calls for is a simple, carefree answer — but I have none. Every kale leaf plucked, lettuce head cut, or green bean pulled is laden with care. All are tied to my financial return, and the bottom line is that the product must be perfect in both taste and appearance, whether I am on friendly terms with it or not.
The crop harvested with ease, fruits abundantly or forms a large, tender leaf, the one that stands vigorous under the assault of pests, disease, heat and drought, and that has a flavor that reflects the rich story of its creation — that is truly the crop I am most thankful for. And on that day, for that harvest, that meal which I enjoy for that moment, it is definitely my favorite thing to grow.