Geometry and Lettuce

“Don’t you teach math?” Ashley asked.  “Yes – but that’s just book smarts.  Completely useless in real life,” I said, frustrated at how difficult I was finding it to plant lettuce in a straight line.  “It’s Geometry – they do lines in Geometry,” Ashley offered.  “Yeah, but my students don’t even have to draw straight line – they have graph paper,” I said.

But honestly, I did have what looked like graph paper in front of me.  Farmer Dave had built some sort of tractor attachment that lays a grid on the soil.  In front of me were three long vertical lines cut every foot by a horizontal line.  My landmarks were the places the verticals and horizontals met.  I had to plant there as well as halfway between. Sounds simple enough, no?  That’s what I thought.

After he initially showed us how to do it, Ashley and I paired up.  She would pop the plants out of a tray and toss them onto the ground in about the spot where I was to plant them.  I straddled the middle row of transplants.  I stuck my fingers two inches into the soil, inserted the lettuce plant, and then covered over the peat moss with dirt.  I then did the one on my right and on my left.  I inched forward, planting the one in the middle, the one on my right, the one of my left.

I thought I was doing fine until Farmer Dave showed me that my rows of plants were not quite straight.  “If the plants are off by too much when we run the cultivator down the sides of them to weed, we’ll tear up the plant instead of the weeds.”  That’s all I needed to hear.  All I could picture was the farming apprentices attempting to weed these beds next week and tearing up lettuce instead, cursing the volunteer who planted them.  Or worse, the whole row would get torn up and there’d be no lettuce for the farm’s CSA members to pick up in their weekly share – and it’d be all my fault!

Ridiculous as these thoughts were, it’s what was going through my head.  So what did I do?  Switched jobs, of course.  Ashley got down on her hands and knees and had no problems.  I’m going to credit her youth (she’s only 21) and the fact that she actually wants to be a farmer.

My new job was “throwing” the transplants.  I’d pop them out of the tray in which they’d been grown and toss them onto the ground aiming for them to drop in just the right spot on the grid.  Then Ashley would come along and plant them.  But I’m not so great at sports – especially ones that involve throwing anything.  So after a few tosses that were way off the mark, I instead crouched down and started gently placing my transplants in the right place.

After a while, my partner in crime asked if we might switch jobs again.  I agreed – ready to face this thing.  Sarah, another volunteer, reminded me that I’m not expected to know how to do it perfectly the first time.  Good point.  After all, I’d never in my life done anything like this.  So I once again straddled the middle line and started planting.  Every few minutes I looked back to see if my lines appeared straight.  Not trusting my own eyes, I’d call on Ashley to check my lines too.  “Looks good to me,” she said, as if she fully expected that I would be perfect at this.  It got to the point that she would look and tell me how great I was doing without my even asking.  Isn’t that sweet?

It seemed to take forever, but between me and the other three volunteers we planted over 2500 lettuce and broccoli transplants in a couple hours.  When we finished, it was only 9:30 AM.  I’ve accomplished more before 10AM this week than I ever have in my life.

There are many things out there that I want to try just once, and then will probably never do again.  Such was the case with skydiving.  And riding my bike across Iowa.  We’ll add planting lettuce to that list:)

Straight Lines of Lettuce (the black is the drip tape to water them)

Pictures from the Farm

So when people heard I’d be volunteering at an organic farm for a week they asked, “So what will you be doing?”  And I really wasn’t too sure.  “Whatever they need I think – harvesting, weeding, planting…”  Turns out I was right!  Here’s some pics of what we worked on yesterday:)

These onions were harvested before we got here. We trimmed them and cleaned them up a little for the CSA members.

The Main Barn at Sisters Hill Farm - where we meet each morning at 6 to find out the days plan.

Garlic Hanging in the Rear Barn - We took it from here, cut off the stems and roots, and made it look pretty for the CSA folks.

Members pick up their produce on Tuesdays or Saturdays. Here’s what they got yesterday.  Of the items listed, I played a part in harvesting the basil, zucchini,  potatoes, garlic, onions and cilantro.  Note that members can pick their own herbs and flowers, too!

Garlic - after we finished cleaning it up.


When’s the last time you got dirty?  I mean dirty as in real honest-to-goodness DIRT.  Covered in it.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was this dirty.  I’d forgotten how much fun it is.  The cause of all this talk of dirt?  Because I was digging red potatoes.  Farmer Dave explained that the best way to get to them without hurting your back was to kneel in the dirt and dig what’s in front of you.  So we did. I was in shorts.  Thus, I got pretty well covered in dirt.

Who is this Farmer Dave?  Well, he’s the guy who’s in charge of the Sisters Hill Farm in Standfordville, NY where I’m volunteering for a week.

Sisters Hill Farm Sign

Why farming?  Well, why not?    I am, after all, a Renaissance Soul and this was just another in a long list of things I’ve wanted to try.  So when Mom saw the ad for volunteers, she called me up.  Not just because it was a farm with a CSA program, but also because it’s run by the Sisters of Charity – and I’m a big fan of volunteering with Sisters.

So here I am, living in a turn-of-the-century house, rising at 5:30AM, digging potatoes, cutting zucchini, cleaning garlic, and doing whatever else needs doing.  Today the shareholders come to pick up their produce so our first two days have been filled with harvesting.  Later we’ll get into some weeding and maybe even some planting.

Sisters Hill Farm CSA Pick-up

I’m off to meet the shareholders – they’re the folks who paid money at the beginning of the season for a share of the bounty every week from May til October.  On the left, you see just some of the food they’ll get today.

In the meantime, for info on CSA’s near you, click here.  And if you haven’t been in the dirt in a while, I highly recommend it.

Random Rambling

I lost entirely too much time the other day just wandering around the internet.  I really need to get out and wander the world instead, but that’s another story.

However, in my wanderings, I came across this. And I thought, “Hmm…I could just chuck it all and go live in western NC for a year learning how to cook using local ingredients and outdoor stoves and such.”  If it was just a 6 month experience, I probably would have applied that night.  But a year is a long time in my book.  So maybe I’ll just head down there to check the place out sometime soon:)

I come across new things nearly every day that I might want to try…and then sometimes the push and pull of wanting to do so much completely immobilizes me. And that’s where I’m at right now.  I’m ready for a change, but don’t know what kind of change.  And so I sit.  And get sad.  And worry.  Sorry for the rambling, but it’s all I seem to be able to do lately.

Farm Prep

So tomorrow I’m off to the Sisters Hill Farm to volunteer for a week.  I knew this was a little out of my element when I applied, which is one of the things that attracted me to it.  But I was reminded how far out of my element I am when I got an e-mail two weeks ago that said this:

“…am going to suggest the following might be good to add to your farm work clothes- depending on the weather and your past experience, rain boots, rain “poncho”, sun hat, sun screen, sunglasses, work gloves, water bottle, swimsuit(there is a pool nearby)…”

Here’s the problem: 1) I don’t really have “farm clothes.”  I’m hoping gym shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers qualify.  2) I don’t own rain boots…or a poncho…or work gloves…or a sun hat.  My plan is to raid mom and dad’s house for these items.  Most people would go buy them, but in my family we head to mom and dad’s first.  3) The only sunglasses I own slide right down my nose as soon as I lean over to do anything – and I imagine working on a farm requires a lot of leaning over to do things.  Not sure how I’ll fix that one yet. But will hopefully have it figured out in the next 24 hours….

On Simple Pleasures

“That was the best part of my week here,” said the gentleman walking down the trail with us.  I smiled, but didn’t comment as it wasn’t my compliment to take.  The compliment was meant for the other two people walking the trail with me: my friend John and his father – who had, just a few minutes before, put away their guitars after playing and singing around a campfire.  “I’m going to be sure to tell them that they need to keep you guys playing here,” the guy went on.

As wonderful a compliment as this was, here’s what makes it even more special: This wasn’t two guys playing music at a state campground.  No, far from it.  This was a $400 per night resort.  The kind of place where the men still have to wear suit jackets to dinner.  A turn-of-the-century building far enough from civilization that they have to have their own fire company and generate their own power.  The kind of place where guests don’t build campfires themselves – the activities staff builds them.  And if you want a s’more around that campfire, you don’t go get a stick on which to roast your marshmallow – the staff provides not only the heavy-duty metal prong but also the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers.  And they pay two guys to come in and sing campfire songs with you.  So here was a guy getting waited on hand and foot at a top-of-the-line resort and his favorite part?  Sitting around a campfire singing songs.  Thank God for small pleasures.

But you know what’s even better?  You don’t need to spend $400 to get the experience.  There are state parks and campgrounds all over the country where, for much less money, you can sing to your heart’s content.  But you might have to bring your own s’more supplies.

Thoughts on the Tumbleweed

“So what do you think?”  I asked my mother after we saw the Tumbleweed Tiny House in Ohio.  I was shocked when she actually gave me her opinion.  See, Mom never wants us to be able to say, “But you told me….” so she rarely gives her opinion on our life decisions big or small.  She just asks the questions to make sure we’ve thought of all the parameters.

“Well, I think you’d get sick of it after three months….like everything else.”  And that one thought seemed to sum up the whole experience perfectly.

Yes, it’s adorable.  And I could see traveling in it – but not living in it for an extended period of time.

So what next on the “where to live” front?  Well, for quite some time I’ve said I want to become a snowbird.  I want to live in the Asheville, NC area mostly and be able to be in NY near my family for a few months too.  So I’ll keep that thought in the back of my head percolating.  And who knows…one day I may just up and do it.