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This Week in Jewish Farming: Market day

Farmer Fred Grave staffs the Root Down Farm stand at the Coventry Regional Farmers Market.

Farmer Fred Grave staffs the Root Down Farm stand at the Coventry Regional Farmers Market.

Sunday was the opening day of the Coventry Regional Farmers Market, considered among the best farmers markets in New England and certainly one of its largest — 75 farmers, bakers, makers and other assorted crafty folks gathered on the lawn at a museum dedicated to Connecticut’s state hero, Nathan Hale. The market also happens to be just minutes from my farm. After we began setting up our stand, I realized we had left some tomato plants back at the farm and I figured I’d hop back and pick them up. I wound up sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for nearly an hour trying to get back in.

The market was something of a coming-out party, our first public appearance and the first time the farm actually fulfilled its purpose of feeding people. After all the months of work — and perhaps even more challenging, the endless fretting over ungerminated seeds and deer gobbling up my lettuce and whether these plants would actually grow into vegetables — it was more than a little satisfying to set out some kale, collards, herbs and radishes and watch people fork over their money for what we had grown.

Our stand looked pretty good, with tables draped in Italian red-checkered cloth, veggies arrayed in wicker baskets and an enormous Root Down Farm banner. My mother showed up wearing her farm T-shirt, and a few friends and some fellow alumni of the local public high school who had read about me in the paper and become CSA members stopped by to say hello.

Watching the pile of bills in the cash box grow gradually thicker, I heard the same voice whispering in my head as on those mornings when I’d arrive at the farm to discover the tomatoes had seemingly grown a foot overnight: It’s working! Each little threshold we cross has me shocked anew, and on Tuesday there was yet another — a tomato plant in the greenhouse had produced a tiny little fruit. Unbelievable, I thought, as if I hadn’t planted these vines for this very purpose.

Sunday was another first as well, my first return to Brooklyn since the growing season began. The juxtaposition of my two worlds was so stark, but so was my ease in shifting between them. Morning had found me on my knees picking a few final radishes from the ground. Nightfall had me in a seersucker sipping tequila at a friend’s wedding in a backyard in Bushwick. I’m tempted to say it was like I never left, but in some ways it was better. Never during my time farming have I ever found myself actively pining for the city, but when I do get a brief taste of it, it’s far sweeter than ever it was when I lived there.

By midday Monday, I was back, but struggling. Long days of labor I’ve grown used to. Long days that bookend six hours of driving and a night of drunken revelry – not so much. The fields are coming up to full throttle now. We have a full acre planted, a standing Sunday engagement at the market and, in less than two weeks, the season’s first CSA delivery. I expect it might be a while before I put on that seersucker again.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.

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From the annals of Jewish farming: The governor and commissioner of agriculture attended the third annual Field Day of the Jewish Farmers of Connecticut in 1928.

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