“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.
They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous
and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests
by the most lasting bands.”
Last Friday, I was a farmer. I mean, up at 5.30, back-breaking, harvesting produce, farmer. Granted, I hardly worked as hard as the real farmers but I definitely got my hands dirty… and my pants, and my shirt, and my face, and my rain boots!
New Family Farm is a certified organic farm hidden away down a windy road in Sebastopol, CA. Even though I was up at 5.30, I was still about 10 minutes late because I got lost trying to find it. Getting there is really like traveling to a hidden world; no real signs, just a left there and a right here, up a small hill and keep going until you cannot go anymore, and then you are there. The owners of the farm are family friends and what they are doing is absolutely amazing.
When I (finally) got to the farm, my friend and I were given a short tour and led down a dirt path to the beets and carrots area. We passed the three draft horses and were told that all three of them had been working the land the day before. The awesome thing about this farm is that they do not use any machinery, just true and pure horse power. We sat right down in the dirt and learned how to find the right sized beets to harvest from the lovely New Family Farm intern. We were harvesting for the Occidental Farmers Market later in the day. Bunches of 3-4 beets, depending on the size, are bundled together, counted, and then brought by wheelbarrow to the barn where they dipped in cold water to take the heat off and boxed away for the farmers market.
Next, we moved on to what I thought was the most difficult vegetable to harvest… leeks. Now I completely understand why they always seem slightly expensive. Myself armed with a shovel and my friend with a pitchfork, we literally dug up 130 leeks. It was a trial and error process and we lost a few sellable ones when we accidentally stabbed them because we had not dug deep enough under the leek. Even though they would not be sold, the intern assured us that they would be eaten.
After leeks, we moved on to swiss chard. The beautiful rainbow of colors made making multi-colored bunches fun. I know that when I am shopping at the farmers market, I tend to gravitate towards brightly colored produce which this farm is full of. My friend and I even joked that the chard would make an interesting wedding bouquet!
Once finished, we all made the (now difficult) walk up to their yurt where we had a delicious lunch of rice and beans and an arugula salad with beets. I will tell you that nothing tastes as good as a farm to table lunch after spending a few hours harvesting! After lunch and some good conversation, the real farmers packed up their truck with all the produce to bring to the Occidental Farmers Market. Before leaving, they shared their gratitude for our help and told us to take as much produce as we wanted as an exchange for our hard work. Both my friend and I did not expect this but definitely did not turn down the opportunity to take some of what we harvested home!
I now have a deep respect for all farmers and especially ones that do not use any machines! I have been sore from my lower back down to my thighs for the past two days and I do not know how they work like we did each day of the week. If you are in Sonoma County, you can find New Family Farm’s produce at the Occidental Farmers Market on Friday, Andy’s Market and Whole Foods in Sebastopol, and is used in the restaurants Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol and Willow Wood in Graton. I definitely learned a lot in my experience but the most important lesson was to not let them trick you into taking a big bite of a black radish.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life.
And see, if I could not learn what it had to teach
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.”
~Henry David Thoreau