Dear Subscribers:

The story below grew out of a writing group session.  The prompt was that we closed our hands and were given a sprig of something.  All the women recognized it to be rosemary and wrote about cooking and herbs and Simon & Garfunkel.  I thought it was wheat so thought of my gardening class.  This continues an apparent theme of placing myself as a naif in a self-deprecating manner.  The leader suggested a whole collection of “fish out of water” experiences.  But I’m not certain that I want that to be my legacy…

As a new arrival to NC and a recent refugee from a career, I was seeking a new and interesting experience.  An organic farming program at the Central Carolina Community College seemed just right.  I figured I would learn some new planting techniques and pest control measures and experience, for three hours a week, the lifestyle of a real working farmer. Little did I suspect that organic gardening is one part gardening for about nine parts chemistry and soil analysis along with liberal doses of incomprehensible terms like “pH.”

The course began with the usual introductions of the participants.  Several were already professional farmers in search of information and techniques in the “organic” realm.  Several others were considering career changes into full-time farming though they tended to have degrees or experience in such related fields as botany or forestry.  One classmate had just inherited 27 acres and was seeking inspiration —  organic farm or housing development?

A surprisingly large contingent of the students, or at least surprising to
me, were women intent upon establishing a lesbian commune.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, as they say.  And then there was me, the old English major, in over my head once again.

The farmer/professor was Doug Jones, whose back story, if I knew it, would probably make a better story than this.  Doug is a Harvard graduate circa 1975 who somehow missed the memo about investment banking.  He has the stringy body of a man who has been doing back-breaking, painstaking physical labor for 40 years.  Just as stringy is the obligatory grey ponytail that falls down the middle of his back.  I am certain that Doug’s jeans and boots and flannel shirts all started out everyday clean; however, by the 5 p.m. start of our class, they were caked in strata of North Carolina soil that Doug could analyze in intense, fascinated detail, for several hours.  To me, they just looked muddy.

And THAT summarizes the course for me in a nutshell.  Yes, I learned how to lay a tomato plant sideways in its hole.  I learned to squeeze a seedling with proper tenderness when transplanting.  I learned how to construct a raised bed and how to make a temporary greenhouse.  I learned that one should not refer to the class as orgasmic gardening in front of a large contingent of classmates who somehow lost their senses of humor.

But I also learned that being a farmer is extraordinarily hard work and
being an ORGANIC farmer multiplies the difficulty exponentially.  There is weather to contend with, and bugs and bacteria and heat and drought and unpredictable prices and shortages of supplies and floods and hail. Yes, hail in North Carolina.

Farming is seven days a week, 365 days a year, and if the farmer is LUCKY, there will be a tiny profit at the end.  So, though I was exposed to the farmer’s life and I am happy to apply the lessons I learned to my 5 X 10 foot plot at home, there is no new career in it for me.  But I am a lot less likely to complain about the price differential of organic produce at the market.