Anna Helmer’s Farm Story continues

Deep winter confessions of lavish plan-hatching and mild delusions, meet work in someone else’s root house. (Just don’t call it mindless.)

A farming luxury: to lavishly plan the work of the coming season when there is no chance of starting any of it for at least two months. Cue careless disregard for work. Sloppy accounting of work requirements. Expansive imaginings absent anything but the faintest work alarm bells, easily ignored.

The carrot crop proposal, for example. With a foot of snow on the ground and the clouds heavy with more, it seems totally reasonable to be planning to plant 2 acres of them this summer. The chefs are asking for more and the customers say they are the best at market. Ergo the ego demands, therefore the farmer plans, hence we can ignore the actual work involved. 2 acres. At least.

I am not totally unaware of how things will unfold in real life. There will certainly be a privately raised eyebrow when enthusiastic planning first encounters carrot reality and the 5-gallon pails of seed start showing up sometime next month.  Second thoughts will come flooding in, assuming they haven’t already, when I find myself still seeding well into the evening come that day in June. Assuming (again) that I follow through with seeding the entire 2 acres, the subsequent weeding and irrigation requirements will cause heart palpitations in July and August, and the harvest will be frankly sobering, or perhaps borderline terrifying, because it will take for freakin’ ever to get them all out of the ground. And exactly one year from now, on a snowy day in mid-February, there will be tears because by now the unsold remaining crop will be sprouting hairs and getting soft in storage.

For now, however, it’s a really clever and enterprising idea, worth pursuing and budgeting for. It’s even spawning tangential plans: a cooler expansion. My optimism knows no limits. These days are golden.

To stay in farming shape, to maintain my farming bona fides now that markets are done for the season, and basically to keep it real, I am moonlighting as a forklift operator at a local seed potato farm, which is not as glamorous as it sounds.








More precisely, I am stationed at the end of a seed potato sorting conveyor line and every 15 minutes I get to hop on an electric forklift and pick up a 2200lb sack of Red La Soda seed potatoes. I take it to the scale. If it’s too heavy, I remove potatoes; too light and I add them. Weight confirmed, I check that I remembered to slip the tag into the attached tag-holder and I move the sack to the collection area. That done, I return the forklift to the ready position and help my work partner manage the next bag. Twenty-two sacks make a full load on an 18-wheeler. It takes about a day to get it done, if nothing breaks down. It is unusual for nothing to break down.

I like working on other people’s farms because I love considering a mechanical time-out to be an opportunity to get a walk in the sunshine. When they occur on my own farm, they can be expensive, disappointing and dreaded.

It really goes on and on, doing the same thing over and over, with one hour for lunch. In these circumstances, a good co-worker makes a very positive difference. I have just the guy. His good humour rarely falters – the one time it did, he had an orange and was completely restored. The other thing I liked was that he never stopped trying to do a good job. There are a lot of challenges to managing 2200lb of potatoes every 15 minutes, none the least of which is staying focused, and we worked as hard on the first bag as we did on the 22nd.

I am going to stop you right there before you call this mindless work. It is not. I think that phrase was floated by someone who could not handle the pressure of coming up with his/her own stuff to think about. (S)He panicked, quit, and branded it mindless.

It is not mindless. Once you have sorted out the physical aspects of what you are doing, your mind is free to be engaged. How do you think this article got written? Still and all, it can be nice when there are breakdowns to liven up the day.

So. Work. Thank goodness I have some to do or my theoretical planning for the summer might be absent a whiff of reality and I wouldn’t want that.

Anna Helmer wrote a slim volume and put it on Amazon where it is a best seller in that category.

Portrait by Maureen Douglas.