Our field is one big grid. It is divided into rows and columns — into numbers, and letters, and more numbers. Organized. Mathematical. Necessary. The tomatoes are in C3 beds five through ten; the first planting of broccoli is in B5 bed nine while the second planting is in C2 beds three and four. If you were looking at our log book, you would know that you could find Shiraz beets, planted on June 17th, in the first 30 feet of the of the second bed of row three in section B. They will need to be harvested on July 31st, and they should all be out of the ground by August 14th. This is all good information ... if you need to weed, water, harvest, plant or prep.
When farming five acres, it’s good to have a plan. It’s good to be organized. It’s good to be a little bit anal retentive about it all. Grid. Map key. Logbook. This keeps a farm functioning. But, there is one important food that doesn’t grow well in these conditions, and that is food for the soul. Get rid of that map, we’ve got to keep the creative spirit alive.
This is where I believe the home gardener has one up on the production farmer. Inventiveness. Imagination. Artistry. A vision free from the constraints of yield and maximum efficiency. I’m not saying it’s a free-for-all out there in the home gardening world. I know many home gardeners who are highly organized and create their garden plans months ahead of time, taking in a complex variety of considerations from companion planting to water requirements. However, there is an element of originality and freedom that is difficult to duplicate on a larger scale.
Born out of the necessity to express ourselves as individuals and creative beings, it was decided to give each participant at the GFTC a one-hundred foot long by three and half foot wide bed to do whatever our hearts desired with. Yes, this was just one long and skinny bed, but suddenly we all had options. You could almost see the visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.
Seed catalogues were obtained. Unique and obscure growing methods were researched. Extra transplants that had been thrown into the compost weeks ago were rescued. Our creative spirits began to manifest themselves. Our personalities popped like the poppies in bloom.
We all took different approaches. Joe (above) chose to be resourceful and sporadic, only planting things that otherwise would have been turned into compost and placing them in no predictable order whatsoever. Jordan and Kelly teamed up (below), turning their twin-sized beds into a queen-size, and they built large mounds to replicate the traditional growing methods of the three sisters crops.
Mary planted flax. Taryn planted miniature sunflowers and the same variety of fava beans that her father grew when she was a child. Alan (below) planted uncommon winter storage vegetables, such as salsify, scorzonera, and celeriac.
And although there are thousands of acres of it growing across the country, I planted corn. However, this was special corn — heritage varieties of popcorn and dent corn from all over the world. I have hopes that it will store well for the upcoming winter.
All eight participants at the Greenbank Farm Training Center are proud of the plants we grow together. The carrots of A4 bed eight are well weeded. If any one of us sees a runner on a strawberry plant sprinting for dear life, we will bend down to cut its race short. We all care for the thousands of heads of lettuce, and we are sure to water the kids in the cabbage patch when they need it. But I think it is safe to say that our true babies are tucked into the soil of our personal beds.
What we have grown in the one-hundred foot strips has somehow become an expression of ourselves. To plant a seed and see it germinate. To watch it grow its first true leaves. To take in the same sunshine as our plants each day. There is a deep pleasure that blooms within this relationship. Maybe this is why gardening is so loved. It gives us a chance to nurture our whole selves — body, mind, and spirit.
The main reason my husband and I joined this program is because we envision having a farm in our future. We needed to learn how to farm, so that when we do set out on our own land, we have the knowledge and work ethic needed to run an economically viable farm and farm business. That being said, I know there will be plenty of log books, maps, and spreadsheets in our future. However, when the time comes, it will be just as important to the survivability of our farm and family that we maintain time and space for creativity so that we can sow the seeds of healing and joy. We will need to keep the pleasure beds alive.