Thursday, July 2, 2009

The pay's not great, but the benefits are priceless.

Wednesday morning started early for me. The alarm rang at 4:30 am. I already had my clothes set out, ready to go. I tried to be as quiet as possible, so the rest of the family could sleep.

By 5:00 am I had my cappuccino, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 2 kashi bars in the car and ready to go.

My morning commute takes about an hour. I watch the sun come up, enjoy the river view, navigate the construction in Rockford and finally turn down a bumpy country road. This morning, I was greeted by a beautiful deer and a lone turkey.

I arrived at work by 6 am, pulled on my rubber boots, winter coat and gardening gloves and joined the rest of the crew in the barn.

There were about 14 of us, waiting to hear what the day would hold. We were assigned harvesting kale first, and then red and white turnips. It was my first time for both, so I worked with a more seasoned harvester. We knifed through the kale, tossing aside yellowed leaves. And we talked. Turns out, my partner spent some time in Urbana also. In fact, she worked as an aide in the High School with Autism students. We knew some of the same students, and enjoyed some of the same places in Urbana...especially my beloved Common Ground Food Coop.

After our 20 minute breakfast break (quickly downing one kashi bar and one pbj) we headed out to harvest the turnips. It was a blast. The turnips practically jumped into our arms! They sit just barely covered in their beds, ripe for the pickin. We were told to harvest 16 crates and it took us about 10 minutes to do that. It felt good to pull, pack, load, pull, pack, load, pull, pack, load. Quick, immediate gratification.

Then, the washing. Oh, so that's why the harvest is so quick. It takes forever to clean the darn things! First, unload the crates (that we just packed) onto the tables. Then, look for aphids. A few patches were really infested, but most we free of the little bugs. Next, pull off yellowed or unsightly leaves. Finally, pack them back into the crates.

Step 2: to the water table. Unpack the crates and place the turnips into the water basin for a quick soak. Then, Mary puts them through the wringer. Literally. She puts them through a brush apparatus that really cleans them up, then they fall into an even bigger tub of water where we pulled them out and, you guessed it, packed them into the crates.

Sound repetitious? Yeah, it was a bit. My legs got a little tired standing on the concrete floor. But, it was also very peaceful. At times, the wind was really cold so I pulled up my hood. In the midst of all that activity, I was alone with my thoughts. Off to one side, 2 young women were sharing jokes, silly jokes. But I also heard one talking about leaving on Tuesday for San Francisco where she'll be working at a women's shelter. The other spent a year in Norway working on a farm. Interesting people.

I also spent time talking with our young intern from Sweden. Interesting kid. Has been in Waldorf schools his whole life. The other intern is from a Chicago suburb, studying geography at SIU. Our conversation touched on the organic farming movement, where lingonnberries grow, raw foods, whole foods, and finding balance in life.

By 1pm, I was in the car heading home. Tired, dirty and hungry. But invigorated, purified and filled.

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