So, after talking with the employer about my need to get back outdoors, I was called back for a half day and a more in depth conversation about my future with the meat-cutting business. My employer, very understandably, said that he couldn’t invest a lot more time and money in someone who wasn’t going to further his goals as a small-business owner. The short of this was that our time together would conclude at the end of November, about a month before I had planned to be out in the cold and severely truncating my time to find new, gainful employment. He wasn’t cold about it, and we went over a solid list of potential leads for me to pursue, both as part time labor and, hopefully, for full time employment, in the great outdoors. That was on a Monday, so the following day, I picked up the list and started working my way down. I’m sure there are people who like cold-calling, maybe people who are good at it (none of them are telemarketers,) but I’m not one of them. When it comes to approaching someone I don’t know, be it for social or financial reasons, I’m awkward. The level of awkward may be slightly dulled by the phone, but not much (at least in my mind, it seems to have gone well.)
One of the farms I called, Jericho Settlers Farm, was very happy to hear from someone looking to get their hands dirty, and invited me out for a ‘working interview,’ the very next day. I was instructed where to go and told I would be harvesting carrots or beets, as the farm owner wasn’t sure what the crew would need to do when I arrived. I was told to come around ten, since the ground would need a little time to thaw, and to bring a lunch, as I would be working from 10 to 4, roughly. I wrote down the directions and a phone number, in case I got lost, and that was that.
The next morning, I got geared up in some beat up pants, an ill-fitting but serviceable hoody, and almost walked out the door in my hiking boots. At the last minute, I re-thought that move and threw on my mid-calf Muckboots. In hindsight, this was a great idea. The drive up was lovely, a frosty Vermont morning as I looped along Route 2, towards a small town I’d driven through, but never had cause to pause in. I made the left turn, a right turn, and then the town gave way to a nice little plot of farm land. A grain silo, no longer in use but still dominating the skyline, drew me down a very rough road, and a rugged looking farm-hand spotted me and gave the international hand-signal for ‘slow the fuck down,’ placing both hands in front of him, palm down, then raising and lowering them, like he was working a bellows. I did, slow down that is, and after a few parks and starts, got my car in a location that it was in no danger from the tractor traffic that would be a part of the day.
I hopped out and introduced myself to Tim, the aforementioned farm-hand. He pointed me towards a young-woman on a tractor (as seductive a descriptor as I know how to write,) and told me she would put me to work. I followed her out into the field, where two heavily bundled forms turned out to be two more young women, escorting a box truck stuffed with produce bags. They introduced themselves (Keading, who holds a masters in Biology and has a love of insects, and Nichole, a French-Canadian, who was kind of quiet, so I have no further information to relate,) and then we piled into the truck and drove to the end of a bed. The woman on the tractor, who I later found was named Jennica and is the Produce Manager in training, lowered an attachment into the earth and went ahead of us, breaking up the soil and raising the carrots (as I had been forewarned,) so that we could easily grab them and stack them, tops toward the row. I warm up quickly and my hoody was soon tied around my waist. The muckboots were caked with mud, as were my knees and hands. My gearing up for the day had one hole in it, as I didn’t own a good pair of work gloves, and I neglected to ask if there was a pair kicking around that I could borrow. I would quickly regret all of this. The ground was still very cold, and the tops of the carrots were often brittle, snapping off in my hands. This necessitated shoving my hands down into the soil and tearing the carrot out by grabbing it under the surface. The cold soil quickly numbed my hands, a bit of a boon in the short term, as I didn’t feel much past a certain point, but a bitch in the long run, as rocks and dirt quickly worked to peel my finger nails back from the flesh underneath.
We worked our way down what was left of the row, as it had been half done the day before, two of us gathering and stacking and the other two, as Jennica was quickly freed up from the tractor work, topping the carrots and putting them into the large burlap bags they would be stored in for the rest of the season. Once Keading and I had finished stacking (it was during this time, as we were opposite each other working down the bed, that I found out about her college background, as well as family and other history, since our hands were busy but we had plenty of time to chat otherwise,) we went back down the row and leap-frogged the other two, until all of the carrots were topped and bagged. Then, we pulled the truck alongside the row and retraced our steps, loading bags into the back of the box truck. That marked a good stopping point, and it was already past noon, so we grabbed a quick lunch on the tailgate of the truck. After that, it was back into the trenches, to harvest beets.
Work was harder after lunch, as it always seems to be. My hands had thawed, and I was aware of the damage I had done to my fingers the (nails on both of my middle fingers were separated from the flesh underneath a good eighth of an inch back from where they would normally diverge from the nail, and the newly exposed flesh was packed with dirt and small rocks,) and my knees were a little upset about the amount of time I had been kneeling, with very little between them and the cold, lumpy ground. Still, I’m not one to complain overmuch, especially when there are three young women who are, seemingly, none the worse for wear, so I ignored the small shouts for relief that my joints and fingers sent up and we went to work in the beet fields. Thankfully, beets are basically on the surface when it is time for them to be harvested, so further damage wasn’t likely, though my knees were still very upset with their part in the whole charade. A few hours later saw us more than half done with the row of beets (it was a long row, though it may seem like very little,) and the day was quickly drawing to a close. The truck was pulled back alongside us and we loaded the sacks of beets into the back. I was given a lift back to my car, as the ladies would drive the truck back to the processing center, where they had parked, so that they could unload and go about their evening. One of the owners of the farm, Christa, met me at my car, payed me for my day’s labor, and offered me a tour of the farm. I wanted nothing more than a hot shower, hot food, and a chance to clean my hands, but I wasn’t about to relinquish a chance to spend some face-time with a potential employer, so I graciously accepted the offer and we took a stroll around the area we had been working at all day. On that site (the owners lease and farm four different parcels, as I found out during our tour,) there was a paddock with some feeder pigs (mostly Berkshire and Tamworth crosses, all of whom I was thrilled to see, as I had begun to miss my pigs, as I think I’ve mentioned,) a pen with the breeding stock (a lovely Berkshire boar, another Berkshire boar who was slated to be added to the crew later, and some sows, one a Berkshire, a few were Tamworth, and one that looked like a Large Black, but I could be mistaken,) and a large pen, in the barn, with the yearling lambs, whose fate had yet to be decided. Christa offered me a tour of the other properties and, in the rapidly fading light and plummeting temperatures, I accepted.
We hopped in our respective cars and I followed her to another property where the pregnant ewes resided. The pastures were enclosed, and the ewes had been rotated over several acres during the year. They would be trucked back to the property I had been at earlier in the day once they finished grazing the bit of pasture they had left, and the next year would see cattle and/or sheep on the open pasture. This property had some areas devoted to vegetable production, though those parts had been put to bed for the season already. Another car ride brought us to the area used for the wintering of cattle. Jericho raises Devin’s, which I had not met before, but they are a lovely, fluffy cow. Four bulls were in one large field, and all four were near the fence, staring intently at the year and a half old heifers who occupied the field adjacent to them. Across the road were the mothers and their calves from this year, along with the man who runs the herd, and a few goats he had picked up on a whim (I love farmers whims, as opposed to suburban whims, which seem to involve things you don’t need and storage units to, well, store them in.) Then, as we hadn’t seen the real meat of the operation yet, we drove to the processing center, and I was given a tour of the coolers, the egg-washing facility, the chicken house (where the lights were off, ensuring that the egg yield for the following day would be off,) and the farm-stand, where a small, but necessary, part of the produce and meat are available to the general public.
That was, finally, the conclusion of my day. Christa and I shook hands and I promised to send her a time-table of my availability for the rest of the season, along with my resume and references. Then, I hopped in my car, turned the heat up, and drove back to Montpelier. Of course, things weren’t done yet. I had to secure food for myself before I showered and lost whatever ability to move about I had left. I grabbed a burrito from a local joint (The Mad Taco, best taco bar in town,) where the clerk made mention of my dirt-caked, beet stained hands. I laughed it off and went around the corner to the grocery store, needing something for breakfast and milk for my coffee. Again, the checkout lady made mention of the condition my hands were in and again, I said that farming takes a toll, smiled and walked out. Upon arriving home, a shower was the first necessity. It always fascinates me to see the dark, dark water sloughing off of me after a good day of labor. My skin is odd in that it often holds detritus long after it should, despite any amount of scrubbing (Sharpie too, fuck you to all the people who have elfed me over the years,) so it was no surprise to me when I saw the dark lines of dirt where the natural creases of my hands refused to surrender their prize. I gingerly trimmed and scrubbed under my finger nails, but knew a thorough cleaning would have to wait for when the wounds had become a little less tender. Dinner was quick, as all meals should be after a day of real work, and, though I tried to fight it, I crawled in bed at around nine p.m. and slept straight through to my seven a.m. alarm.
I woke with bruised, swollen knees, fingers that wouldn’t fully heal for several days, and hands that still looked like I had just come out of the fields (my feet and toes were the best protected, thanks to thick Smartwool and the Muckboots.) My legs were a little stiff from all the bending, the jeans I had worn were completely caked with dirt and, though I have since decided to junk them due to an unfortunate tear over the crotch, would have required a double wash to be truly deemed clean. All in all, it was the best I had felt in a long time, and I can’t wait to go back for a full week of harvest next week. I don’t fool myself into thinking I can farm for the rest of my life, but I love farming, and while my body gripes a little, I know it loves farming too. It’s going to be a good Spring for whoever decides to hire me.