Farm Journal Part 5: The First Harvest

Ruth Burke / Heavy Table

University of Minnesota Agriculture student Ruth Burke is spending this summer interning at a CSA farm called Cramer Organics of Delano, MN. Throughout the growing season, she’ll share weekly updates about the experience with readers of the Heavy Table.

Part 5: “Less Talk, More Billy Joel — The First Harvest”

Courtesy of Ruth Burke / Heavy Table

Rain dripped off my hat as I stooped to slice the base of a prime-looking head of lettuce. It was fat, with bright green crinkled leaves. It was perfect.  Behind me and up the narrow footpath was a string of equally beautiful heads, all sliced neatly at their bases and tilted on their sides, waiting to be picked up and brought to the harvest tent. Many of them were dotted with mud at their bases; a testament to my weak harvesting skills. It takes a little while to develop the single-swipe technique that Joey has; her lettuce was practically spotless despite the rain and mud.

Soon I moved on to the kale and chard, which were much easier to harvest. All I had to do was break the best looking leaves off at their bases and bunch them together in groups of 5 or 6. Spinach and green onions were similarly easy; pull them out of the ground, trim their roots and bunch them together. My favorite vegetables to harvest (so far) are the kohlrabi and radishes. The kohlrabi have tough roots to cut through, but they are so lush and beautiful, it’s a joy to gather them in the baskets and wash them in the tent. The radishes remind me of Easter egg hunts. You have to look for the hint of color popping above the soil line, and they range from a deep purple, to a rich red, and even to a creamy white!

My back was stiff and my legs were sore after only a few hours of bending and standing. This was truly a workout! My forearms were even a little tired from all the cutting, bunching, and rubber band maneuvering. The on and off showers of rain didn’t help either, forcing us to don rain jackets and rubber boots.

Gloves became pointless; your hands were soaked regardless. It was also humid and muggy when it wasn’t raining; the perfect atmosphere for gnats and mosquitoes. I discovered that to the gnats, my ears were particularly tasty.

Ruth Burke / Heavy Table

A sense of hustle was in the air as we worked — in order to keep the vegetables at their freshest, they must be cleaned and stored in the coolers immediately. We moved as fast as we were able without making mistakes and damaging the produce. This meant that conversations were limited to random spurts of jokes and laughter. At one point several of us burst into various renditions of Billy Joel songs, lightening the serious atmosphere. Later, as we all washed and packed vegetables under the harvest tent, idle chit chat sprang up regarding our excitement about the first harvest. We dreamily tossed about ideas of what we would cook first. This prompted one of the workers, Madrone, to quip, “Less talk, more Billy Joel!” And right there, our harvest motto was born.

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Ruth Burke / Heavy Table