This Week in Jewish Farming: Getting in gear


First roots went into the ground this week at Root Down Farm. We got half a bed of onions and another of kale in the ground in advance of heavy midweek rain that turned the field to a swampy mess. Chased inside the greenhouse by the downpour, we potted up several hundred tomato plants, dozens of flats of snapdragons and some herbs, dug up nearly half the beds we’ll need for indoor tomatoes and sowed several flats each of cucumbers, melons and winter squash. Jerry Reid came by and dropped 1,000 pounds of lime on the field, a frighteningly large percentage of which blew up and away in a billowy white cloud. And the printer called to say my T-shirt order was ready — organic cotton, of course.

Tractor man Jerry Reid applies 1,000 pounds of lime to the fields at Root Down Farm.

Tractor man Jerry Reid applies 1,000 pounds of lime to the fields at Root Down Farm.

After weeks of unseasonable cold during which I spent much of my time willing the plants to grow faster than nature would allow, everything seems to be happening at once. Another dozen flats of kale, kohlrabi, collards, lettuce, dill, cilantro and beets need to be transplanted to the field. A hundred pounds of potatoes are waiting to be cut and planted. Radishes, turnips, arugula and snap peas have to be seeded outside. The greenhouse beds need to be finished so we can get our tomatoes into the ground. And space under the plastic is suddenly at a premium — thousands of plants crammed cheek by jowl in plastic trays, straining for a piece of the sun.

Meanwhile, the irrigation system needs to be set up so all those plants can be watered. My application for the Coventry farmers market is overdue. Payroll has to be organized so I can pay Fred like a proper employee. And the farm truck saga continues — after weeks of driving all over Connecticut looking for a pickup I can afford that doesn’t look like it’s about to disintegrate on the road, I still don’t have a reliable set of wheels to get to market and deliver the CSA boxes.

In the first weeks of the season, when an arctic chill hung in the air and an unusually brutal winter seemed like it just wouldn’t quit, when just a handful of seeds in the greenhouse needed attention and there seemed to be all the time in the world to deal with the mounting pile of administrative stuff that gives me little pleasure, a small voice in the back of my head dared to wonder what all those farmers are talking about when they describe dawn-to-dusk workdays that leave them collapsing in a fit of exhaustion. Now I know.

It’s barely May, and already there just aren’t enough hours in the day. At night, I collapse on the couch too wasted to bother making dinner let alone build a life for myself here. My daily coffee intake has doubled, and I’m determined to hold the line there.

It would be easy to complain about this self-imposed regimen, but there’s little point in that and, more pertinently, it doesn’t begin to capture the pleasure of what I’m doing. The pain in my back and the dirt encrusted under my nails are tangible marks of a day well spent. Almost every week, emails arrive offering volunteer hours in the field or asking if there are any more CSA spots for this season (there aren’t; all 40 shares have been sold already) for reasons that, I think, have a lot to do with wanting to be in proximity to something real and healthy and growing. This venture is a gesture of faith in that cliched proposition that if you build it, they will come. So far, they are coming.

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

From the annals of Jewish farming: Despite weeks of heavy spring rains, the collective farms of the Jewish autonomous region of of Birobidzhan beat their planting quota in 1935. 

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