A Day in the Life of a Farmer
By MARGOT BECKER ‘20
Drumlin Farm: roughly 14 acres of perfectly tended farmland lying on 200 acres of Audubon wildlife preserve. Every Wednesday, over 150 people flock to the farmstand (which is set atop the drumlin, or “rounded hill,”) to collect their Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares and mill around as the farmhands stand guard over mountains of lush, colorful, and diverse produce, harvested just hours before the CSA opened. The farm is a hub for environmentally conscious families and individuals from the metro-Boston area. For two weeks this summer I was lucky enough to live and work at this hub. Through my days on the farm, I learned the importance of sustainable farming.
Days at Drumlin start early; a 5AM wake up means that you’ll need to hurry to get to work on time. At 6 AM sharp, two beaten, rusty, mud-covered pickup trucks, both packed with bleary farmers, bump their way out into the still-dewy fields. From 6 AM to noon, the team harvests crops for restaurants, the farmer’s market, or the CSA. Large-scale industrial farms use tools like ‘green’s harvesters’ to harvest whole rows of arugula or mesclun in just minutes; at Drumlin, we cut down every single leaf by hand. Three people might take an hour to harvest a 6 by 100 foot bed of greens.
Using less labor-intensive methods to harvest food requires tools like plastic row-coverings or chemical fertilizers, both of which are environmentally disastrous. Plastic is inevitably ripped from row covers by tractors or tools and will never break down in the soil, and chemical fertilizers can permanently taint groundwater with hazardous substances. A farm with a sustainable mission needs massive amounts of manual labor to employ environmentally conscious practices. However, for most, the labor is worth it. The extra work that we put in each day not only kept the land safe for both future farmers and local residents but also improved the quality of the produce. Despite this extra work, though, the farmers on Drumlin all love their time out in the fields. The long hours out in the field might sound brutal, particularly under the roasting sun in the afternoon sun, but the team of roughly 8-12 farmers (depending on the day) happily works continuously for 11 hours with only one hour of break.
Natan Charytan, an NYU student who spent his summer working on the farm full-time, said that “[his] mind just kind of goes blank; it’s pretty calming when you're doing something over and over again.”
Veronica Gassert, who works on the farm year-round, says that sustainable agriculture “[is] really creative,” since she is able to create something with her own hands.
After a gruelling six hour morning harvest, the same pickup trucks carry in the now sweat-drenched farmers along with hundreds of pounds of produce. After a brief lunch break, the team suits up again and rumbles back out into the fields for another round of work. The afternoon brings weeding and planting, much more challenging jobs. However, sometimes guests provide some welcome relief—volunteers from the surrounding towns give their precious time to lend extra, fresh hands to the tasks at hand. Many of these volunteers participate in a CSA workshare, a program that lets people pay a reduced fee for their CSA produce in return for their help in the fields. These people make Drumlin particularly special. Gassert expressed: “I enjoy the community a lot...not just the people that I work with, but also the people who come to visit the farm and buy our produce [who] are like-minded...We care about being stewards for the land and we care about the quality of our food.”
Drumlin’s community interaction is critical, especially at the present moment. With roughly 60% of calories purchased nationwide coming from “highly processed foods” in 2015 according to Science Daily, the divide between America and its food is immense. If more people could actually experience, up close, the quality of food that can be produced without industrial techniques, they would likely be considerably more conscious about their food purchases. This increase in understanding would lead not only to more sustainable agricultural practices but also to healthier Americans.
By the end of the day, every member of the team was absolutely exhausted and everyone piled into cabs or onto the tailgates of the pickup trucks as everyone rolls towards hot showers and clean clothes. On any given day, each farmhand pushes his body to the limits—exposing himself to extreme heat, lack of water, and aerobic activity. All this hard work shows at the end of a long day. However, the sweat of the farmers goes towards something worthwhile. The farm is a community, and, beyond that, it is proof that multi-crop agriculture can be sustainable. Each day of work furthers this sustainable cause, helps to grow awareness of the importance of sustainable agriculture, and shows how achievable this sustainable dream is. It’s easy to say that sustainable agriculture is unsustainable on a large scale, but that sort of thinking is just what keeps industrial farming in power. Drumlin’s 14 acres of farmland produce at least several tons of produce each week. If a similar model were implemented in areas with immense amounts of open space, such as the midwest, just imagine how much sustainable, high quality food could be produced. America needs sustainable agriculture. It’s possible— now all we need to do is make it happen.
PHOTOS (All original work by Margot Becker, July/August 2018. All images taken with permission)