By Theresa Jensen
Mother’s Day morning. I woke gently with the early morning light breaking through the window shades – even before the alarm! Aha, the melatonin had worked and I had slept through the night. Blessed be. This was my morning to show up around 8:30 at the farm and help Doug with the last of the harvest, before the weekly distribution to the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members.
I landed here in North Carolina (are you kidding? I still can’t believe I’m here) on Earth Day, April 22nd, just two weeks and three days ago. Whew!! I’m the west coast transplant – most recently from northern California, but really from Oregon: from 1983 to 2018 I made Oregon my home, and raised my son there. What brought me here is a story, or book, in itself. Ask me about it some day.
I’ve made my home at The Nest, and I love being right next door to the community land. Stepping from the lawn into the forest always takes my breath away, and I like to pause, consciously taking the first step, as if crossing a threshold into a magical place of wildness.
It takes me about 10 minutes to arrive at the outskirts of the farm, at least it does when my walking is focused on reaching a destination at an agreed upon time, like this morning. I arrived a bit ahead of Doug, so perched atop an overturned bucket with a short piece of wood across the top, to take in my surroundings. I closed my eyes and let the sounds of birds and breeze moving through the trees wash through me, noticing my breath softening in widening circles.
After a few minutes Doug called to me and waved, so I made my way to the barn to see what I could help with. He pushed a garden cart and I followed with a wheelbarrow down to the rows that we would be harvesting. I was assigned the broccolini for starters. Doug found me a sharp blade and demonstrated how to select the tender shoots with miniature broccoli “heads” and how far to cut them down. It reminded me of pruning roses: make the cut just above the branch below that held the beginning of another tiny sprout. I had always assumed that “broccolini” was an early cutting of broccoli. What I learned was that regular broccoli sends out smaller side shoots after the main, larger head is cut. Broccolini, however, is a separate variety that only sends out the smaller “side shoots” with teeny broccoli “heads”. They’re lovely to munch on raw, and cut up for stir-frys or for steaming, only very light cooking is needed as they’re so tender. So I got to work. I had brought my trusty wooden stool in case I needed it, but held off as long as possible just because. I guess I wanted to wait and see how my back did. Well, about a quarter way down the row my lower back was starting to communicate with me rather vociferously, so I resigned myself to fetching the wooden stool. Ahh, much better! Doug and I chatted a bit, but it was clear that we were both working quickly in order to get in the harvest before he had to leave around 11:30 or so. There were two types of broccolini in the row, a green variety and a dark purple variety. I filled up the first 5 gallon bucket and about 1/3 of a second bucket, covering two sides of a single row.
Next came the sugar snap peas. I love sugar snap peas, and Doug told me that I could much away while picking, which I did of course. Picking them is done without a knife, just using the hands. Two hands actually, as you need to hold on to the plant while tugging just above the end of each pea. The tug is stronger than you would think, that’s why you need to hold down the plant to create some resistance, or you would pull the whole plant out. Doug showed me how the peas mature from the ground up, so the chubbiest peas, which are also the sweetest, are the ones near the bottom of the plant. It doesn’t really matter how long the pea is, but how chubby it is, and he showed me the minimum chubbieness to go for.
It reminded me of a treasure hunt. Some plants were densely clumped, and Doug showed me how to pull apart the tendrils to separate the denseness, while looking inside for the pea-treasures. You think you’ve gotten them all, then you fold the entire plant forward gently and viola! tons more were waiting on the back side. Sometimes I would have moved on to my next station, only to glance back and see several fat ones I had missed. It was time for me to be going but I had a hard time tearing myself away. Just one more plant, one more! The peas were sooo abundant and just begging to be picked. I had only finished one side of the row, and had about a third of a 5-gallon bucket to show for it. Doug said that they’d be picking again in a couple of days.
I learned that the farm is prolifically producing, but unfortunately there are not enough CSA members to keep up with the abundance. So spread the word, and sign up yourselves! The produce is AMAZINGinly wonderful. I especially like that each week Doug sends you a list of what’s available, and you check off what you want and how many “units” of each. Then your order is available at a nearby pick-up spot.
Doug needs more volunteers. One of the gaps is Sunday mornings, when he REALLY needs help to finish off the harvesting. Come and join us!! It felt so good to be getting to know the plants and learning from Doug, and I left feeling even more excited about living in this community and growing our own food.