Nurturing of the land
Special to The Union
This time of year at Riverhill Farm is all about abundance. Plants that not long ago were just seedlings are now tall and strong and produce hundreds of pounds of vegetables each week. A month ago we worked hard and barely kept ahead of the weeds. Now, we work hard and barely keep ahead of the produce.
The work of farming can be mind-numbing and repetitive. It’s easy to get discouraged when you face four 100-foot rows of salad mix smothered in weeds. It’s not really much better when you face four 100-foot rows of green beans to be picked. Combine that with the recent wildfire smoke we’ve had to breathe along with 100-degree temperatures during the day and a typical workday becomes something like being stranded on a sailing vessel in the doldrums.
Then, never too soon, the smoke lifts and the beauty of this place we call home presents itself anew. We regain our appreciation for just how fortunate we are to live and work here. We have come to know this place in a particular way, not just as soil, grasses and trees. Not just as the lichen-covered stone that rises up here and there in the fields, or the light on the oak trees at sunset. It becomes all those things together at once, and is felt more than seen. The eyes cannot see it all at once, but the heart knows what is here. We do what we can to nurture it as a farm and the land, in turn, nurtures us.
It’s a small place to love, and we know that. If we take a walk to the ridge over the Yuba or drive into town some afternoon, we can’t help but recognize that this land – and our lives upon it – are inconsequential. For that matter, stand in the produce section of the grocery store and you can’t help but realize that the contribution any one farm makes to the food consumed in our community is hardly irreplaceable.
Even so, we do our part to make a difference. We care for the land on which we farm as best we can so as to ensure that this land will continue to be productive for generations to come. We farm in order to feed ourselves and our community, but we also farm to preserve our community. There is an unbreakable connection between eating and farming. Inasmuch as farming depends upon the land, it can be said that eating also depends on the land. Surely, the health of what we eat can in some measure be related to the health of the farm from which our food comes. If we depend on the health of what we eat, our health depends on the health of the land, too.
It’s certainly true that one has to be motivated (or crazy) to get up each morning and work a twelve-hour day. I love the work I do on this farm, and I’m happy to continue doing this work day in and day out. At the end of the day, though, what makes it all sing is the people we feed. This season our subscription boxes are feeding approximately 425 people. These people are young, old and everything in between. Some of the young ones arrive in Snuglis, others run up the hill to the strawberry patch and come back smothered with berry juice. Others find their way to the shade of the farmstand and are content to talk with us while we fill their boxes with produce and then help them back to their cars. One of my favorite stories from this season is about the elderly couple who are sharing their box each week with their daughter and her family. Early in the season, they split the box, each getting some of everything. Then, they realized they could cook together and enjoy a meal from the box together with their daughter, sit around the table and break bread, so to speak.
We talk a lot about Community Supported Agriculture and well we should. There is a dire need for community-based farming in this country to address some of the ills of industrial farming. But we can also start talking about Agriculture Supported Community. Just today, one of our subscribers was filling his box and an old friend arrived at the farm. They went together to pick strawberries and had a delightful conversation while they picked. That’s what we like to see.
So the abundance we find in our fields is not just an abundance of produce. It’s an embarrassment of riches, you might say, and it’s the people we serve that make this work so full and meaningful. People are, fundamentally, gracious and kind. We work hard, we give what we have to offer, and we’re repaid with kindness again and again.
Alan Haight farms with his wife, Jo McProud, at Riverhill Farm in Nevada City. For more information about Riverhill Farm, go to riverhillfarm.com. For more information about Nevada County agriculture, go to localfoodcoalition.org.
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