Friday, 6 June, 2014

    The first greens harvest day of a new season.  After checking in with the lettuce master (Madeline) and spinach masters (Karla and David) about today's plan, I began to cut and bundle cilantro.
I started with cilantro because the first planting germinated poorly and emerged in a spotty manner.  The plants that did emerge grew fine, but there wasn't as much available as usual.  A conservative harvest was needed:  careful selection of the largest plants so as to leave the slightly smaller ones behind for next week.  In a spotty harvest situation I am an excellent scrounger, and I am also good at saving things for later.  It is important to have a reasonably steady supply from week to week at market, and to avoid harvest gaps.
As my knife cut the first handful of cilantro and the unmistakable aroma of fresh green greeted my nose, I realized there was another reason I chose to start with cilantro:  it used to be one of Simon and Amado's specialties.
Simon and Amado came to work with us in September of 2006, after the nearby farm where they had been working could no longer employ them due to seasonal layoffs.  They proved themselves immediately by working very hard and thoughtfully, bringing a love of the land and farming with them from their home state of Oaxaca in Mexico.  They liked the work here well enough to return the following spring, and we soon found ourselves growing more over-wintered produce in part to provide winter work for them.  Over time we trained them in more specialized tasks and gave them additional supervisory responsibilities.  Amado did much of the primary and secondary tillage and ground prep as well as a lot of the mechanical cultivation.  Simon ran the transplanting crew and weeding crews. Both had many other specialties and talents, like pulling the best cilantro out of the field for markets and restaurants no matter what the harvest conditions.
Last season Simon and Amado let us know that they would need to return to their home and family farm in Oaxaca in December.  Ever considerate, they gave us five months notice.  We knew we were in for a big change, but perhaps we did not feel that change so dramatically until planting season, when we were without our two most-experienced tractor drivers and a transplanting crew lead.  Our remaining senior crew members have not hesitated to learn new tasks and have accepted new responsibilities with enthusiasm, and our newest crew members have been eager to learn everything we can throw their way (which is a lot), so all of that is going well.  Jeff and I have had to leave our office chairs and get into the fields and on to equipment much more than we have in recent years.  At first we fought these new demands on our time, which was not the most practical approach.  Since we've given in and accepted our new tasks life has been a lot more fun (duh!).  It's not a bad thing to reacquaint ourselves with the more basic systems and processes of the farm, and see more of the things we need to do better.  It's not a bad thing to leave the office chair and burst into the summer sunshine.  We have had to delay some of our most specialized tasks, some indefinitely, as we tend to more pressing matters, but that's okay for now.
I thought about all of these things as I cut this season's first cilantro.  I heard from Simon and Amado recently, and they and their families are healthy and doing well at home.  I think they would be proud of the way our farm team is working together this season.  I'm not sure if they would approve of the cilantro bundles I've been cutting for you this month, but I hope that in my work I do them