Sunday, June 30, 2013

Long Island, Redux

The other morning while taking a brief rest from harvesting I felt overwhelmed. I was on farm to harvest the shallots and that was taking longer than expected and all the while the yield was unremarkable. Overwhelmed with the work in front of me and disappointed with the fruit of my labor, I made a post suggesting that the end of 'distance' farming is at hand. I meant what I said, but I pulled it offline before most of you could read it. I wasn't able to put the energy into writing the full story, and frankly it's really hard to blog and harvest, but I had at least some awareness that I could be misunderstood. 

So to clarify my feelings, some of what makes my farming more difficult is the 6 hours traveling to and from the farm. Just recently I have increased travel time because the barn space offered to me by the Peconic Land Trust is in Southold -on the north prong of the fork! I am extremely grateful for their help and without them I would be trucking my garlic back to Brooklyn, but the distance has added a new cost (two ferry trips each way) and even more time. My frustration is not with them but simply the untenable operability of small time farming on Long Island. 

Facing only so much time in a day, and nearly every day with impending rain recently, I felt a good dose of doubt for the first time. And it's about time! 

Seriously, all my farming neighbors live in the area, go home to hot showers and meals, and are available to accomplish the work over several days whereas I often sleep in my van (miserable in summer), eat whatever's available, get pretty gnarly, and have to have the project done by day's end or potentially lose the crop. I think my attitude has been quite extraordinary given the challenge before me! I would be nuts not to question this practice. 

So is harvest. It comes almost all at once, with very little warning and you must get it done or suffer from rot or mold. It's very wet in Amagansett, more than I ever imagined. Yesterday my hair was wringing moisture out of the constantly blowing air and puddles formed under trees. I am lucky in that I can take off days in summer from school, but with limits. I can't call in because the artichoke isn't fully harvested and its about to rain. 

There is no easy access to the upper barn, requiring climbing and hoisting everything up to the upper step of an 8 foot ladder. Last night I worked into dark building racks for the shallots, the interior of the barn black as night, with only my phone as a source of light. I feverishly laid garlic all over the barn floor because I didn't have time to tie it into bundles on farm. This allowed it to sit until I can return. They need to be labeled, they need to be tied in bundles of ten, the cord needs to be strung, and the bundles  hung on the cord. It is quite warm and humid (wish it wasn't so) in the upper barn so the sweat burns my eyes as I work. 

If I hadn't stopped to think about the work, from 7 am to 9 pm every farm day, even I would not recognize what I am putting into six thousand garlic bulbs and eight thousand shallots. This is not a lot by ordinary farm standards. In other words, I cannot accomplish what I set out to accomplish without a different paradigm. 

So when I talk about 'distance' farming being over, what I mean is that distance itself will probably need to be removed from the production (allowing the market to be at distance). At 14000 plants I am at my limit for what I can do from three hours distance. Any increase will require me to be proximate, to have a barn close, to find help more easily. 

So I'm not done, not even burnt out (my mind has already been on the next planting), but looking at ways I can improve operability given the realities of farm work. 

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If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...