Hoe Jokes For (Sub)Urbanites

Isabelle Schumacher tries organic farming for the first time.

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

Article Isabelle Schumacher.

I’ve always been a city girl. And by “city girl,” I mean that I grew up in the suburbs and spent an hour every day commuting in. I had never seen pigs or goats up close. Never used a hoe, or spent any significant amount of time with one. Never made a really obvious joke about using a hoe.

My first day on a farm began at 6 a.m. with a breakfast of farm fresh eggs, toast and tea. Talk was about yesterday’s market and the weather forecast. I had never put all that much thought into when it rained on how much came down when it did, but when your living depends on whether or not your vegetables get enough water, weather becomes the new morning traffic report. The day promised to be a scorcher.

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

I put on my straw hat (they recommended I bring one), a loose shirt over my tank top (as warm as it was going to get, they assured me that covering up would help more than dressing down), a pair of loose canvas pants and my running shoes.

We started the day harvesting. Morning weather was cool (at least relatively speaking) and the best time for picking lettuce, spinach, mesclun mix and any other leafy green. By midday, if we picked them they would wilt within a matter of minutes. We worked in pairs, dragging huge plastic bins behind us as we worked our way through rows of spinach and lettuce. That early in the season (late May in Ontario), most of what was ready for harvest consisted of leaves: spinach, lettuce, bok choy, kale, swiss chard (the rainbow kind — if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out) and all other green things that work well in salads or cooked down with just a splash of balsamic vinegar. Radishes are also fast growers and ready early in the season; we pulled up the plump ones with their tops poking out of the ground and left the rest to harvest later in the week.

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

On an organic farm, weeds are a constant. Lamb’s Quarters (a wilder version of spinach), field pennycress (the seeds have a pleasant, almost garlicky taste — not bad sprinkled on bread before you bake it), Queen Anne’s Lace (a fancier name for carrot): they all grew in abundance and at an alarming rate. The rest of the morning was spent hoeing.

I could feel the heat slowly climbing its way up the thermostat. I wasn’t used to hours of crouching and getting up and then getting close to the ground again. Or pushing a hoe through dirt to churn up the roots of weeds as they tried to get a strong hold on the ground. I could feel my shirt soak up with sweat. There are warning signs to watch out for when the heat started to get to you. You’ll feel thirsty. You’ll start to feel faint. You’ll eventually feel like you’re going to puke and I let all those symptoms pile up before I realized I needed a break.

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

“I don’t think I feel so great.”

What I should have said was that I felt like I might hurl all over the brassicas. I hurried over to the farm house and made it about halfway before my vision started to grow dark and I had to sit down. I got up again. Sat down. Got up again and managed to shuffle over to the house. My co-workers brought me a bottle of Gatorade and told me to drink it down in small sips until I’d finished the whole bottle.

We ate. Then we all had naps. At two, we got up, went back outside, and continued working until six (“You sure you feel up to finishing the day?” “Yeah, I think I can handle it.”). We had supper (complete with some of that day’s lettuce mix) and then went to bed almost immediately. They were impressed that I’d kept going. So was I, actually.

The next morning I woke up sorer than the day after leg day at the gym.

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

Photo Isabelle Schumacher

That summer, I would eventually try moonshine, forage for wild raspberries and try to coax quasi-feral baby kittens from their hiding place. I would muck out a barn (then chase the goat that escaped said barn when I left the door open), swim during my lunch breaks and plant lettuce seeds in the greenhouse and hope they would grow up into real food someday. My skin would tan. My muscles would stop feeling sore, and when I eventually returned back to the city (er… suburbs), I would buy groceries the way some people buy clothes (“Oh my god look at the colour of that cauliflower. I’ve got to have it.”)

also of interest