The Heartiness of Handwork

Growing sustainable, earth-conscious food often means lowering one’s hands to the earth in order to work palm-to-leaf with the plants. We shuffle aside tomato, cucumber, and bush bean vines to pluck the fruit. With a pair of scissors in tow, we shear off our greens, cabbage buds, and squash babes. Oftentimes, after mowing down a bed of lettuce I will run my hand, open-palmed, over the freshly-cut greens. Or, after thinning the seed trays so that each square is taken up by only one sprout, I will do the same routine—run my hands over the freshly cut greens. It brings a certain level of satisfaction, to work so closely with the plants.

Handwork means consciously caring for the plants. We call the places where we lay down the seeds to grow, “beds.” We push aside dirt with our hands to create wide troughs and after distributing the seeds throughout them, we, “tuck them in,” by covering the pushed-aside dirt back over them.

Since going organic means refraining from the use of pesticides and herbicides, we often have to tackle these problems hands-on. It’s not unlikely to dedicate entire mornings of our off-harvest days to uproot weeds all around the field.

As for pests, we have undergone infestations so bad as to necessitate examining each plant, leaf by leaf, spraying the insects methodically away with water, and dousing them with garlic oil to repel future visits. This happened when aphids began to multiply at such a rate in the kale bed that, despite our best efforts, we ended up chopping all the leaves off of each plant in the hopes it might regrow. It didn’t, and then we uprooted each stalk by hand.

When there are not more pressing matters at hand, such as getting more seeds into the ground, we will chop the roots off of the old, bolted and overgrown plants. Sitting in the dirt with machetes in hand, we leave behind tiny fibers of nutrition to nourish future plants.

Handwork is healing. The same way the roots, like a plant’s fingers, digging in and clinging onto its hold in the ground, are left behind to massage the next set of roots, we too intend for our efforts to make more nutritious ingredients available to more people, and that our sustainable methods will leave behind a legacy that revitalizes the ground’s fertility.

It’s not uncommon that you will find us, day after day, out in the field working with our hands. And when we take a break, we use our hands to nourish ourselves, roasting just-harvested squash and chilis atop the fire, chopping up Siberian Kale, Sorrel, cucumbers, Iitois Onions, and tomatoes for a meal so hearty that to use a fork would be a shame.

This post was created by Hallie Hayes, an intern at SouthWinds Farm.

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