Here in the hamlet of Harlemville, we’ve had highs in the upper nineties the last few days, which adds a whole new dimension to farm work. We all have our own strategies for surviving the heat and sun that July brings. On the really hot days, work starts at 5am, for the sake of the vegetables and our own health and sanity—at these temperatures, a few things happen rather quickly: greens wilt, root vegetables get rubbery, farmers dehydrate, and moods get more volatile. We do our best to do most of our harvesting in the early morning, and save indoor work, from bunching carrots to seeding flats, for the peak of the afternoon heat. The bunkhouse, where all the farm apprentices live, is located above the dairy, and while we all enjoy the cheese and yogurt made below, one byproduct of this process is heat, which, of course, rises and settles in our living space. I sleep with a fan blowing full blast and still wake up before sunrise, covered in sweat. Cooking is a dangerous business in this house; even boiling water is an unpleasant task in this heat, and anyone who dares turn the oven on must face the wrath of the other roommates. Our poor kitten (I don’t envy her fur coat) has taken to sleeping under the toilet, apparently the coolest spot in the house.
I’m surviving this heat spell, though, eating my weight in popsicles and spending most of my free time swimming in the pond or wading in the creek.
The trick, you see, farming in the peak of summer heat, is not to burn out. I remember at this time last year, I was facing some real questions about whether I could make it through the season, whether I had the physical and mental stamina, but now that I have done it once, I know I have it in me, so even at my most exhausted, frustrated moments, I persevere. Occasionally when we’ve been complaining too much about the heat, someone will remind us of those times, six months ago, rolling out bales of silage at dawn, fingers, toes, and nose numb with cold, cursing the frozen bales (seemingly impenetrable to our pitchforks and hay hooks), and how eagerly we waited to shed our layers, to feel the sun warm our skin. Indeed, this seasonality is one of the things that draws me to farming—the type of work (and the pace at which we do it) is connected by necessity with the earth’s trajectory around the sun. Right now, as July draws to a close, things feel out of control; the weeds grow ever taller, and there’s never enough time in the day to do all of the transplanting, harvesting, and tomato trellising that we need to, and so we prioritize. We choose function over aesthetics, and I remind myself that “perfect is the enemy of good enough,” and that one day not too long from now, it will start to slow down again. The heat will dissipate, the plants will slow in their persistent upward course, and much of life above the earth’s surface reaches senescence, retreating below, into the soil, for decomposition, hibernation, rejuvenation, to start the cycle again come spring.
Quote of the day: “No, farmers do it for the buzz […] They do it because farming is an all-consuming endeavor, a great wave that catches a rider and carries him or her along in its frothy excitement, thrilling in one moment, threatening to tip the board over in the next, and nearly always exhilaratingly exhausting. Sometimes it’s just plain exhausting. Sometimes it’s deeply discouraging. Sometimes the waves are too unruly and the board breaks. Sometimes you feel like you can’t get out of the surf. But what a rush when you catch it right, and what a rush it is to try. So many acres, so little time.”–Michael Mayerfied Bell, from his book Farming for Us All: Practical Agriculture & the Cultivation of Sustainability