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Harvest - The Backstory

Posted by Theresa Schumilas Oct 06, 2013

Har-vest :

Noun: 1. The act or process of gathering a crop; 2. The crop that ripens or is gathered in a season; 3. The measure of the crop gathered in a season; 4. The time or season of such gathering

Verb: To gather (a crop) as in ‘To harvest’

From the old English “haerfest or ‘autumn’

Indeed my first name (Theresa) in Greek means the harvester

It all sounds so warm and fuzzy - and conjures up images of pumpkin pie, thick tomato sauce and aromas of pickles.


Sorry to burst into that bubble.   To small produce farmers like me, the word evokes quite different images. Words like sweaty, heavy, exhausted, backache and soaked come to mind. Indeed of all the chores on the farm, “the harvest” that most of you celebrate - is the part of farming I hate the most.

To me, “the harvest” doesn’t really look like people seem to imagine. There are no wide-eyed children trying to lift giant pumpkins from the field. There is only me in my rain gear lifting pumpkins and squash into a cart. Then driving them to the wash station and lifting each one a second time to wash it off. Then I drive them to the drying shed, where I lift each one a third time onto a table to cure. Then, starting in late September,  I bring a selection into my packing shed for my on-farm market and CSA pick-up, lifting –each one a fourth time. After which I lift each unsold squash a fifth time to put it back into storage until the next week. It’s not very romantic.

Ah you say -   “How can you not love to see the fruits of your labour?” Well, I probably would love it if I was pulling a few carrots here and there or picking a big fresh tomato for supper. But to a CSA farmer, vegetables are not the ‘fruits of my labour’ - the fruit IS the labour. On my CSA which runs year round, I harvest week from April – October AND I also process food every week so we can eat local and organic in the winter too.  

What does my harvest look like?

7:00 am – day before my CSA pick-up:   I can’t possibly harvest, clean, bunch and pack everything for 50 shares in one day. I do the root vegetables the day before. I start with them because they take a long time and the work is heavy. I start with radishes because they always seem so cheery to me - it’s almost like they are smiling at me as I pause in the bunching for a sip of coffee.   50 bunches - 2 bins - into the cart. I do the same thing with the beets - who are also grinning at me this morning. I muse that the different kinds of beets are likely talking to each other as they snug up close in the bins. (This speaks to the mid-season mental state of the CSA farmer – would be a great research project.) The cart is now full - off to the washing station. Everyone – including me - gets a shower.   I grab a (likely soggy) snack from my pocket and sit for minute while the radishes and beets drain. Then load them into the cart again, drive them to the packing shed, and carry them into the cooler.

9:00 am – same process for green onions, Spanish onions, baby leeks etc.  

1:00 pm - roots are done.   The last bins going into the packing shed seem heavier than those cute little radishes that started my day.   Time for lunch and maybe a swim. The above ground pool has paid for itself over and over again in my reckoning. On a CSA farm, it is as essential as the tractor.

3:00 pm -   road trip. I operate what is known as a multi-farm CSA. So I get produce from other local organic farms to supplement my own and I’m off to do some pick-ups. It’s relaxing in the car; I can sing along with my tunes and turn up the air conditioning.   I “buy in” things that I am not good at growing (like broccoli) and vegetables for which mechanized harvesting is possible (like storage potatoes and carrots).

6:00 pm – after supper, I prepare whatever greens I need for tomorrow, and harvest my flower orders. These items benefit from some time to condition in the cooler.   I harvest lettuce, spinach, salad mix, bok choy and so on. These are then dunked into deep sinks and rinsed.   I don’t have a commercial salad spinner (next year I think I’ll get one). I put the greens into clean pillow cases which I spin around outside looking quite silly I’m sure. The greens finish drying on towels in the packing shed. I go out to I harvest, strip and arrange the flower bunches I need and put them in the cooler. Greens are weighed, bagged and put into the cooler - which by now is pretty tightly packed.

9:00 pm -   time for snack, maybe another swim, and maybe a mojito. Before bed, I organize myself for tomorrow.   I log my harvest into my yield spreadsheet, check out any last minute requests from members, print off pick-up and delivery lists,   work out prices for the market, finalize plans for baked goods and decide which kind(s) of fresh vegetable juice I’ll be offering.

6:00 am – day of CSA and on-farm market - I get started early.   If I’m getting a delivery of anything, then I like to get it first thing so that I spend 4-5 hours uninterrupted in the fields.   While I’m waiting for deliveries I make fresh vegetable juice for sale. It changes weekly depending on the harvest.

7:00 am – an assistant arrives to do baking in my on-farm kitchen for the day’s market & CSA pick-up. I stay out of her way and head down to the field, coffee and snacks in tow,   to harvest anything I didn’t get to yesterday.   I go through my mental list of everything from asparagus to zucchini - counting, rinsing and packing as much as I can outside - and then dropping everything into the packing shed.   (I likely have no cooler space left - so mostly they sit on the floor, sometimes with damp towels on them to keep them cool.)

10:30 - Frantic Hour - all hands on deck.   I draw in whoever I can to help line up and pack the shares for delivery.  I give hurried instructions to my workshare members, volunteers and family helpers for last minute things. The compost needs to be taken down. The upper terrace needs to be mowed so people can pick-their-own flowers.   I need a sign to show people where to pick the extra cherry tomatoes.  I didn’t get enough beans picked yet….

11:30 - car is loaded and I’m again cranking up the air conditioning and singing along to tunes.

2:00 - I’m back - baking is done, packing shed has been cleaned (she is worth her weight in gold). After a quick snack, I start setting up for my farmers’ market and CSA pick-up. Everything goes out onto tables. I never seem to have enough bins or boxes at this point. (It seems like that should be a really simple problem to solve and yet I haven’t managed to do so.) It is now a race against time and every minute counts.   People will arrive at 4:00 (hopefully no one will be early) and I need to appear composed, clean, welcoming, friendly, relaxed… and all the things I am not at the moment.

3:30 - helpers and family now bear the brunt of my frenzy as I snap orders.   Outside signs need to be put into place. I need signs for all the produce. Shoot - I forgot to pick the basil – someone needs to do that. What do you mean you don’t know where it is?  I’m short on bell peppers - how will I handle that? Oh the fridge - it really needs to be wiped out. What is the price on the organic chicken breasts that arrived this morning? Oh, I promised a member I’d set aside some extra beans - did any more get picked?   It’s so hot – we should bring up the sprinkler so the children can run under it while I chat with their parents. I need to make a label for the green juice so people know what I put in it -   that was hours ago - can I still remember?..........

4:00 - First member arrives.   Reminiscent of Fantasy Island, I say to myself “ Smiles Everyone”   and open the door.




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