I board the T exhausted and wanting nothing but a hot shower and rest. It’s a normal commute, until passengers sit next to me then shuffle away in a hurry. Is it because I have dirt streaks on my nose? Or do I reek of unripe tomatoes and sweat? Well, at least I have enough space on the train to relax.
Being a farmer is challenging, especially for someone who avoids gym class like the plague. You’d ask why someone who hates physical activity would seek a summer job as a farmer— but this past summer, I learned a heck ton about agriculture and it helped me grow (pun intended) as a thinker and hard worker. My enthusiasm towards gym class hasn't changed, and no, I still don’t own a pair of overalls, but I’d definitely work as a farmer again.
In early February of last year, I was scrolling through the PIC job postings but nothing sparked a sprout of interest in my heart, and I did not want to dedicate my precious summer to doing something I wasn’t keen on. At the bottom of the email chain was a posting about Seed Crew, a seven week program of The Food Project (TFP) teaching sustainable agriculture, administering fun workshops and connecting agriculture to our daily lives. I was interested and decided to apply because I feared a boring summer re-watching Netflix shows and the dreaded, “Are you still watching?” prompt, where I’d see my groggy reflection in the black screen of my phone. I filled an application in one shot and submitted it. Weeks later, after the interview, I wondered if I’d go through if I got a job offer. I was so sure I would decline. Days later, I got a call, and with apprehension, and slight nervousness for what was to come, I accepted the job.
As a city kid, farming seems like an unnecessary skill. We don’t have much farming area—and the dead, grey, muck-filled patches aren’t much to look at either.
Farming taught me how to work on a team. When working on a team at school, I ended up taking most of the weight on my shoulders because I didn’t want a lousy grade. On the farm, there were new teams every day, so new conversations sparked, and I ended up having a different workflow with one partner, and a different one with the next.
Walking onto the farm, I didn’t even know how to use a Hula-Ho, a farming tool used to upend the weeds and pull fresh soil. My tired wrists from using the Hula-Ho the wrong way taught me that I’ll struggle before learning anything new.
I also learned that farming isn’t all about sweat and physical exertion, it also takes mental strength. Waking up at 6 am to start a new day on the farm, and coming home at 6 pm, tired and sweaty was tough. I often thought, why did I decide to do this? It made me ponder over my values and what I wanted to gain from this experience.
Learning new farming skills also came with new friendships. While working in teams, digging through dirt for annoying weeds, we learned each other's favorite movies, cultures and customs. When you see your peers with questionable fluids dripping down their face, it sort of, well—bonds you.
When I was younger, most of the food in the fridge was bought at the grocery store or the farmer’s market. The TFP mantra was “from seed to fork,” and after hearing that I thought, where does my favorite comfort meal come from? Who is involved in putting it onto the shelves of the grocery store?
During a lesson on underpaid workers in the food industry, I thought about how we put our food on the table. Most of the crops we eat don’t grown in Massachusetts, so we have to import them—which costs money and time. Working at TFP, it opened my eyes to what it takes for food to go from a teeny seed to the stove.
A fellow TFP worker, Zack Myers, told me about how he learned where his food comes from. “I mostly took it for granted, where it comes from and who grows it seemed so far away. After workshops and learning about those who grow the food and those who are in need of food, I appreciate it more and feel more connected to where it comes from,” he said.
So why be a summer farmer? Madison Beehler, an operations specialist at TFP, says that it is a fun experience for teens. “Each experience is unique to the teen and a lot of the interactions I've had were very meaningful and impacted me as a person,” she said. “It can be tough at times because the weather is hot, the work is challenging, but it's also very rewarding.” Not everyone is going to love farming, and some people will decide not to continue this work during the fall.
Looking back, I miss the sun beating on my neck. It’s awfully cold now, and although I only spent seven weeks on the farm, it showed me how much of an impact I have on my surroundings. Next time you go to the farmers market, or the grocery store, or are sitting around the family dinner table, remember that your food didn’t Harry Potter magic itself onto the table (although I wish it did) and that there were many people that put effort and time into it.