Life on the Farm

Hilltop Farms Workshare Experience

As part of my first CSA program, I decided to sign up for the 10-hour workshare on Hilltop Farms, where I work on the farm in order to receive a discounted price on my weekly produce box. Although I have never worked on a farm before, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to get a taste for what it is like to be a farmer. Let me tell you, it was an eye-opening experience. Besides the heat, and the realization that I have a strong skin reaction to pea plants (yikes!), I found this work share to be a great experience! This 3 day adventure has really humbled me and has made me grateful for my food and where it comes from. I realized how much blood, sweat, and tears go into being a farmer, and I thank Farmer Fred for all of his help on this project!

I strongly recommend that you and your family take the time to volunteer at a local farm for at least a few hours. Enjoy this wonderful opportunity to see where your food comes from, and to help the hard-working people who grow it for you. It puts everything into perspective, and makes you thankful for your food, family, and your presence on earth!

FYI: The following is a list of items to bring with you when you are working on a farm: wear old clothes and comfy sneakers, bottled water, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, hat or sunglasses, insect repellent …and be sure to wear long sleeves if you have sensitive skin (I learned this the hard way!).

Day 1:“Endless Snowpeas”

Bright and early this Friday morning, I drove to a quiet and scenic area of Willow Springs, where I spent a few hours working alongside Farmer Fred Miller, the owner of Hilltop Farms. This was my first day working on the farm, where I am planning to complete a 10-hour workshare in return for the reduced cost of my weekly CSA produce. I was definitely nervous about my first day of work on the farm, because I had no idea what to expect. As a girl growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I had absolutely no experience with farming. Nonetheless, the whole point of this project is to gain experience with farming, get my hands dirty, and connect with my local community! So let’s get to it…

Farmer Fred assigned me to picking sugar snap peas so that they can be sold at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Although the task at hand didn’t sound too enticing, Farmer Fred didn’t just send me out to the farm to fend for myself…he took time to educate and teach me about growing peas and the proper way to pick sugar snap pea. Farmer Fred advised that the best way to determine when a sugar snap pea is “ripe” is to look at the width of the pod, rather than the length. If the pea pod is wide, then it is good for the pickin’! However, if the pea is still skinny, then there is still a day or two left of growth left on the bush. The sweetest, crispest sugar snaps are long, wide, and plump!

There were 5 long rows of sugar snap peas to pick, and there were so many peas to pick that even if I worked all day, I don’t think I would’ve plucked them all. However, I did spend a good 2 hours scavenging and picking all the plump peas of the bushes. At first glance, the task looks tedious, but I actually found it therapeutic! It was wonderful to take a break from my fast-paced life, place myself in the center of sugar snap peas, and enjoy the quiet and beautiful farmland.

During a brief rainstorm, we took a quick break to stay dry in the greenhouse, where I got a preview of the new plants germinating. Some of the early summer produce includes eggplant, various peppers, and potatoes. These will be planted in the farm soil within the next week.

After only two hours, it was back to my fast-paced life again…but I will return tomorrow for another round of farm work with Farmer Fred!

Day 2: Pea-Picking Expert!

Awake bright and early again today, my boyfriend Ryan and I arrived at the farm at 8am on Saturday morning. We each completed 3 hours of labor on the farm today and decided to work early in the morning to beat the heat! When we first got there, Fred was already packing the truck to drop fresh produce at the local farmer’s market. Hilltop Farms participates in several farmer’s markets throughout the week, and also opens a fresh produce stand at the farm every Saturday afternoon.

There were several other work share participants assisting on the farm this morning, so it was great to meet some new faces. We were placed on “pea duty” again this morning, picking 4-5 rows of sugar snap peas and snow peas. Let me tell you, I am now officially a pea-picking expert! Ryan and I picked a few bushels of peas each throughout the morning. Although a little monotonous and a little hard on the back, it was refreshing to spend the morning outside and to observe everything that was going on at the farm. I noticed while driving home that I had developed a bit of a rash on my arms and legs from the pea plants, which doesn’t surprise me due to my super-sensitive skin. However, I decided that a trip to Wal-mart was necessary to pick up my first pair of gardening gloves! I will be returning to the farm on Monday well-prepared and ready to pick some produce!

Day 3: Hail to Kale!

Today was an extra proud moment for me, because on my last day of experiencing life on the farm, I officially graduated from the pea picking patrol! This morning, Fred assigned me to cutting 2 bushels of kale as well as weeding the new spinach plants. I was very excited to learn about a new crop and experience working with this nutritious vegetable! I worked with three types of kale this morning, all of which taste equally delicious in my CSA box! There is green kale, red kale, and Tuscan (aka dinosaur) kale. All three kinds of kale grow in groups of 6-8 leaves on the ground and each leaf depends on each other for growth. For instance, I learned that you always want to leave at least 3-4 growing leaves on every kale plant in order for it to thrive. Once a kale leaf is chopped, it takes anywhere from 2-7 days to grow back again. Kale is a very resilient and bountiful crop to grow, especially in the spring and summer seasons. Once a kale leaf gets very large in length and width, it is time to cut it and send it away to be washed for the CSA boxes! My responsibility was to cut two bushels of kale for this week’s CSA members. I also weeded through the new row of spinach plants, hoping that they will grow in this heat!

To end my memorable time spent at Hilltop Farms, I had the opportunity to interview Farmer Fred Miller while he was watering his plants in the greenhouse. We spoke about life as a farmer, benefits of being a CSA member, growing crops, and what makes Hilltop Farms so unique. This interview will be posted soon!

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