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The strangest thing about this farming season so far is that, being at PVF east rather than west, the farm is much closer in to the city, in the middle of the suburban swath between Tysons Corner and Reston/Sterling. Out at West, the farm is 60 acres, so you spend the entirety of your week sheltered from the world, mostly. You see the seven people you work with, you do your work, and that’s that. When a member of the general public accidentally drives into the farm looking for directions or to buy produce, it feels like an alien invasion.

But at East, as you can see in the picture above, there is literally a high-end subdivision of multi-million dollar homes right smack in the middle of the farm. To get to the largest of our fields, we have to whizz through the paved streets of the neighborhood on golf carts, dodging Fed Ex trucks and Lexus SUVs and housewives walking the dog. It never ceases to crack me up, since nine times out of ten, I’m covered in hay or mud or both, with two knives on my hip, jamming through in the golf cart with the roof sawed off, carrying 9 crates of spinach and three large hoes. It feels much more…exposed. But maybe that’s exactly what fancy-pants Tysons Corner dwellers need. “Welcome to your food chain, motherfuckers!”

Topless the golfcart in a rare moment of repose.


I may be completely MIA from this blog at the moment, but I couldn’t let 2011: Year of WTF? go by without a wrap-up. How can I even begin to summarize the past 12 months? Last January, I knew my life would take drastic turns this year, but I never could’ve imagined. My apologies if this comes out kind of stream-of-consciousness style.

In February, I lost one of the loves of my life in a freak car accident, and felt emotionally set adrift for the majority of the year. In April, I left the corporate grind, completely and dramatically, and packed up the entirety of my life for the second time in 8 months to move an hour west to the middle of a field…and I worked. REALLY worked, for the first time in a long time. In July I then lost my grandmother–the grounding, sane foundation of the otherwise insane maternal side of my family. The world continued to send its reminder: nothing is promised but the fact that it all will end. Live now, not later.

I reconnected with running and finally figured out why workouts in the gym never felt like enough: it’s the outdoors, stupid. (I did not renew my gym membership.) I read the entire Harry Potter series, frantically planted kale on the back of a transplanter at 8:15 at night, tried $300 caviar, and deepened my love affair with the art of beer and cooking. I vowed, when the farming season was over, to not take a job that prevents being outside at least 4 days of the week. This has been possibly the most important improvement in my life so far.

I’ve learned an incredible amount about vegetables, physicality, wine, cheese, personal customer service and business structure from some incredibly unlikely places. I’ve been constantly reminded of the Apache Relay lyric, “Home is not places, it is love.” So here’s to 2012, making all this knowledge and change work together, and never forgetting to live. What. A Fucking. Year.

1. Firsts this Year:

  • There’s 800,000 of these, easily. Living in a house with snakes?
  • Driving multiple F-150s
  • Crashing a golf cart through a creek (repeatedly)
  • Harvesting garlic, turnips, kale, rhubarb, chard, lettuces, potatoes, beans, beets, everything
  • Finding a grasshopper, blister beetle, ticks, johnson grass, rocks, a small potato etc. in my pants
  • Launching watermelons off the back of a truck to watch them explode on the ground
  • Logging 10+ hour days of work without once seeing a computer screen
  • Being paid and consulted as a beverage expert

2. Song for 2011
I guess it’d have to be Apache Relay – Home is Not Places. But Eddie Vedder’s Hard Sun and Necro Facility’s Explode are close seconds.

3. Movie for 2011
Heh, the last Harry Potter, man!

4. Restaurant of the Year
Magnolias At the Mill kept me sane through one of the hottest Julys on record and provided hockey broadcasts when I was in need. Go see Morgan at the bar for some delicious brews.

5. Book of the Year
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (almost done with Book 3…must…finish….)

6. TV Show of the Year
Game of Thrones. Though Hell on Wheels is giving it a run for its money in the off-season.

7. Best Decision of the Year
Deciding to do whatever it takes financially to cut the corporate rope.

8. Bad Idea That Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time
Many nights out at the Black Cat. Ugh.

9. Best Relationship of 2011

Carrie/Matty/Chris โ€“ my DC support crew trifecta, as was true for 2010. Though Ms. Mollie Z, my co-farmhand this summer, is a close contender to make it a er, quad-fecta?

10. Most Memorable โ€œWTF?โ€ Moment of 2011
Having my birthday vacation almost wiped out for the second year in a row by a hurricane. (We’re no longer going to the beach for my birthday.)

11. Newcomer of the Year Award
Mollie Z, Stacey & Casey and the rest of the farm crew. Much love.

12. Low Point of the Year
Late July was pretty ugly. Mid-February a close second.

13. Biggest Change of the Year


14. Plans/Goals for Next Year
Stability. Maine. More hiking. More $$ saving.

15. High Point of the Year
Hard to name just one. Many a Twin Peaks & cherry pie weekend, many a hockey & couch & beer night, many a farm happy hour / beer o’clock.

16. New Yearโ€™s Resolution(s)
No resolutions. Just forward motion.

As I wind down my first season as a farmhand, I find myself taking stock of what I’ve learned, how it’s changed me, and mostly, all of the pieces of my gear that have failed simultaneously as I near the six-month mark.

  • Waterproof pants (Sierra Designs): waistband cord exploded, zippers at ankles barely close, no longer waterproof at knees/thigh
  • Fleece jacket/liner (REI): Zipper pull disintegrated
  • Work boots (Ahnu): hole in left heel, but still remarkably viable
  • Waterproof/windproof shell (REI): No longer waterproof beyond a light shower
  • Knife (Kershaw): Lost when clip loosened and jettisoned knife off a moving golf cart (bought another).
  • Nitro work gloves (Atlas): Tomato stringing decimated dipped coating on one pair, sharp rock removed tip of two fingers on another. Good thing I have four pairs.
  • Work pants (Adventura): My favorite pants dammit! Mysterious rip in back of right thigh, huge gaping hole in left knee.
  • Sunglasses (Target): Now scratched enough to be unusable while driving due to, well, being unable to see.

Inexplicable top performers: Old navy cargo pants, my brother’s Iron Maiden 1988 tour shirt.

I still have four more days. I’m sure the clock is ticking on more…

Apologies for falling off the grid this past week. All of the Vienna farm has gone on vacation, which means we are basically on Harvest Frenzy mode 24-7. Good for paychecks, bad for…everything else. I picked multiple pecks of non-pickled peppers for 8 hours yesterday, for instance.

Next weekend I go on my first real vacation in a long while for my birthday, so don’t you worry, you’ll get way more of my ramble than you ever wanted. Wondering what to get me? Wonder no more! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Today my head subjected me to “Tarragon City” and “Dirty Beets”. I swear to god, I don’t think about these things…they just pop into my head. I’m as baffled as you.

“Take me down to the tarragon city
Where the herbs are fresh
And the leaves are pree-tay”

“Dirty Beets!
Don’t. come. cheap.
Dirty Beets.
Don’t. come. cheap.
Dirty Beets!
Don’t. come. cheap.
Dirty beets and they don’t come cheap.
Diiirrrtay beets and they don’t come cheap.”

Feel free to complete the rest of the lyrics. I didn’t get that far.

Er… yeah. I mean… I grew up here, and I’ve lived through some shit. And I’ve been to some corners of the earth. And I’ve driven through the Mojave Desert and Death Valley and Arizona in August (and vacationed in Las Vegas in August) but…

Dude…. it’s hot. Did I mention the farmhouse doesn’t have A/C? It’s hard to breathe. Send more popsicles.

Even the full-blast A/C at Magnolia’s didn’t feel colder than warm-room temperature. Oof.

(But yes, I’d still take it over LA’s June Gloom. Thanks for asking.)

Somewhat related to Farm Wisdom, there’s Field Songs.

Even though there’s usually 3-4 of us in a field doing whatever at any given moment, fields are large, after all, and there’s usually long stretches of silent solitude. I usually spend this time cursing whatever I’m harvesting, thinking about sleep and/or lemonade, or willing hellfire to rain from the skies and destroy all gnats, but when I’m not doing one of those three things, I’m replacing the lyrics to well-known songs in my head with more farm-centric lyrics.

Two recent favorites:
“SquashPants Buttrot”
Squash gets this thing we call butt rot–it’s when the end of the squash where the squash blossom was starts to prematurely rot and take out half the squash. Hence, butt rot. Also, when harvesting squash, the blossom end 85% of the time is somewhat gooey, requiring you to clean up the squash. Usually all you have to do this…is your pants. Hence, squash pants. Just add someone talking about SpongeBob earlier, and my head gives you: “Who lives in a bush that’s bigger than meeeeee SQUASHPANTS BUTTROT! Long and cylindrical, gooey is he SQUASHPANTS BUTTROT!” etc.

Bean Beetle Paradise
Green/string beans grow on small bushy plants that are LOVED by these electric yellow fuzzy bugs called Mexican Bean Beetles. As I was harvesting beans today, one of the plants was effing COVERED in them, which prompted without warning from my conscious mind: “been living most our lives livin’ in a bean beetle paradise. No beans for you next Fri, livin’ in a bean beeeee-tle paradise”

Also, somewhat related, it’s incredibly odd to be walking around the Purcellville Giant when the Ghostbusters theme comes on over the muzak system and literally no one reacts. Did someone accidentally dial in the Halloween station? So weird. “You’re shopping for beer eh? BUSTIN’ MAKES ME FEEL GOOOOOD!”

So weird.

So, the funny thing about farms, is that when you picture one, I’m sure you picture what I do: huge expanses of lush fields…. as far as the eye can see. You know…FLAT. Kansas.

Our farm is not flat. Basically, the shop area and barn sits in the middle, and it’s uphill out of the area, both ways. To the south, it’s over a bridge, around a corner and up a gentle slope through the deer fence to the compost fields and the BIG fields. To the north though, towards the greenhouse and farm stand, you go up one steep hill, down the other side, across a creek and then back up a seriously steep, graveled hill.

The gravel is just an illusion of traction.

When it’s bone dry, you still have to learn tactics about how to get the various F-150s the farm has up these hills. There’s speed strategy, and steering strategy, and acceleration timing. When it rains? You know, like today, this all goes to shit.

After climbing 3/4s of the north hill towards the greenhouse today I became irreparably stuck. I had already reversed almost all the way into the creek to try and get some traction on the gravel, to no avail. I had to be towed backwards by tractor, across the creek, back up the hill, back into the shop area. …I do not recommend this.

The lesson here kids, is this: When it’s raining? Take the damn golf cart.

Basil Harvest

Michelle and Kate harvesting basil way too early in the morning, two Fridays ago.

I feel like we can already call this mid-summer with how hot it’s been. My apologies, the season is marching on and I have been remiss in my farm blogging duties.

We’re now into what I’d call the beginning of The Real Season. We’re beginning to take squash, peas, and the first of the tomatoes to market, and our trucks don’t just look like big packs of greens on wheels anymore, which is a nice change of pace. Our roadside stand opens full-time this Friday, and as its manager this year, well…shizz is about to get real for me I think. I have to say, I’m looking forward to the half-day shifts in the stand as a nice break for my bones and a way to enjoy the fruits/veggies of our labor while meeting some of our local customer base. It’s nice to remember why you’re doing this in the first place…feeding the people!

I’m starting to feel like I almost know what I’m doing most of the time. I can identify plants and tools, have an idea of seasons within the season and what grows when, how to identify pest damage, how long things should take to accomplish, etc. If I wanted to plant a garden in someone’s (small!) backyard, I feel like I now have the rudimentary knowledge to get it done. That’s pretty satisfying.

I took this full weekend off (my first in 6 weeks or so) to try and let my joints recover a bit and see my chiropractor. While I was ready for daily labor, there is definitely an aspect to this life that you can’t really wrap your head around until you’re living it. Anyone who’s trained hard in the gym for an event knows the feeling: hitting the “thickest” part of your training where you’re training 6 days a week for a brief spell, trying to capitalize on the peak of your fitness before easing up right before the event. This is what working the farm feels like almost all the time.

It’s odd, because I’m never actually sore, not the way I am after days of hard runs and weight training, but it’s more like my skeleton is sore. Like my resolve is weary and my endurance is bruised. It sneaks up on you, because you’re never moving fast on the farm…the ground is uneven, the loads are heavy, the air is thick…light and quick has no meaning there. It’s a different, more grinding tired all together. The main result? It has re-amped my love for running a hundred times over. To move, in light clothes, with no heavy gear, listening to loud music, fast and hard down a road uninterrupted for an hour is a total revelation.

That said, my kingdom for a professional massage. Reminder: my 31st birthday is August 29th. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Just sayin.

…then again, when does it not?

Depeche Mode – Precious
I played this song to death when it came out, probably because it sounds so good in headphones, but got sick of it for years. It suddenly popped into my head the other day in the field — brain has decided it is acceptable again?

Necro Facility – Fall Apart
Due to an unrelenting internet “omgwtfbbqsogood!” campaign of the old skool club kids-side of my acquaintances, I finally gave this album a listen. After hearing this track in my car, I understood. I hate my friends. Just…bear with it through the first verse. And listen in headphones. ***I WILL NOT DEFEND IT..IT’S GOOD AND YOU LIKE IT. SHUT UP. *dances in circles*

Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song
I’m sure it started with the cover in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trailer, but this has been back in my head. Especially while weeding/listening to Necro Facility / thinking about Swedes / Game of Thrones.

Genesis – Land of Confusion
This popped into my head out of nowhere recently. Damn it’s a good song. (You’ve all seen the video if you’re over 28 – Ronald Reagan mask? – Here’s the live version… it’s great!)

Steve Perry – Oh Sherry
I am the only person on this farm that would be sorting “O’Henry” variety sweet potato slips and get this stuck in my head. I may be a child of the 80s. Maybe. (holy video, batman)

Therapy? – Turn

Evidently Starz has not grasped the concept of the internet even for their cable subscribers, thus I cannot watch Camelot in entirety online, THUS…. you get some pictures! Hooray!

My new office (morning, day 1):

One of the tractors with the transplanter on the back, where I spent the entirety of Wednesday:

(Two people sit in the little chairs with the plants in front of them in racks, and as the tractor drives forward, it punches holes in the ground into which the people insert plants, etc.)

This is just your added bonus:

I have the entirety of the weekend off, which will be very rare. I took advantage of it by sleeping until *NINE* this morning (blasphemy!), making cinnamon rolls and coffee for breakfast, spending the entire day getting my room situated and fully unpacked (and vacuuming up the ever proliferating hay, grass and soil on the floor) and then making far, far too much dinner from the bountiful goodness that’s overtaking the counters in our kitchen.

I went grocery shopping this morning, which would normally be a non-event, but the only grocery store close to us is Giant in Purcellville. I’m already somewhat weirded-out by huge mega-shopping marts, but adding the fact that I now live fairly isolated on a farm brings a whole new dimension. Going there, I feel like a strange woodland beast that’s escaped into civilization–wandering in in my fleece with flecks of mud on it, a huge knife in my pocket, crazy unkempt hair and muddy boots. I darted around the store with my eyes kind of wide, collecting what would appear to be a very strange assortment of goods to the random passerby. I did not have a discount card.

But now I have cinnamon rolls and lemonade. *burp*

Giant asparagus!!

I love dibbling. After back-breaking hours of detail work, nothing is more refreshing than JAMMING a sharp stake into the earth over and over again. “Screw you GROUND. And your ROCKS. And your endless football fields of WORK. *JAM*”

I guess you had to be there.

Also, I evidently only sweat from my triceps, as it’s the only part of my body that I can’t keep from getting sunburned no matter how much protection I apply and reapply to them. WTF?

I have survived two days of work. Well, I’ve more than survived, I’ve enjoyed it and am getting my feet with the schedule, which is all I really wanted by this point. Also, it’s sunny and dry, which means hours, which means steady money. This is….very reassuring.

Over the past two days I’ve weeded asparagus, bumped around on the back of a truck, driven a golf cart up an incline not intended for golf carts, hoed spinach (I now understand what a hoe does. I evidently had it confused with a fork), got dragged behind a tractor in a little seat while frantically planting chard, cut potatoes to plant, spot-planted parsley, weeded mint and oregano, mulched tomatoes (“haaaay!”), hunted ticks and attempted to communicate in the worst spanglish ever. (“Das asparagus? Si? Muy gigante.”)

It’s nice to feel useful. It’s also nice to feel exhausted and cracked out at the end of the work day because I was actually physically doing something. It’s cool to understand why some farms are selling plants at market this time of year while others randomly have strawberries. It’s also very cool to have a 20 second commute to work, where I could show up with my head half-shaved in a flight suit reeking of poo and no one would really care as long as I was alert and ready to work.

I do hate wearing sunblock every day. Currently trying to solve that one. While I like my huge hat, having something wrapped around my noggin for 8 straight hours is annoying as crap. So high-test sunblock that doesn’t feel like a dirt-encrusted coating is my next mission.

Stacey and Casey, who are running the farm, have been amazing and funny and patient, which I’m continually thankful for. It’s rare to encounter people that seem to truly not mind explaining everything about what they do. Training is numbingly draining for the trainer. So cheers to them–I hope some of it rubs off on me. It’s an added bonus that they’re pretty hilarious.

Pics to come soon. I’ve had my hands literally full (or else you would’ve seen far more tweets this week like “HOEIN’! No…seriously. Literally.”), but I am trying to remember to document this summer a little bit, as unobtrusively to my workday as possible. Speaking of that, any particular bit of farmness you want to see photos of?

And yes, by late afternoon, after having my brain baked for an hour or so more than it should have been maybe, I do start talking to the weeds around the spinach in the (M.A. Fleury of the Pburgh Penguins) French Canadian Fleury-taunt voice, “OHhhhh it’s YOU again fuckface! Come over here you BAstaaaaard.” *hoe* Ovi has also made an appearance. *hacks off morning glory vine* “Sorry Penguin.”