November is a rough month for a lot of people. A lot of grey weather, days getting perilously short, and the ground begins to stiffen up and freeze. You need gloves to do just about anything outdoors, and you are not pleased when you have to take them off to do something dexterous with your fingers. It gets dramatically harder and less pleasant to work outside than it does in October, and a foreboding hangs in the air that it will get worse before it gets better.
We have been spending a great deal of time trying to get wholesale orders out-which are comprised this time of the year of carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and parsnips- washed and packed for sale to the Coops. The final CSA pick up was last Tuesday. The chickens have left the premises, and a disconcerting quiet hangs over the farm. The new storage barn has commenced being built but is moving slowly, and there surely will be some unhappy carpenters working with snowy or icy lumber in the cold depths of January. But for now, winter is slowly closing in.
I found myself at the Putnam Farm last week. The day was typically overcast, cold, with a bit of a breeze to give it an edge. The ground was unfrozen at the time, so I was taking a couple of hours in the middle of the day to take the tractor and cultivators and shape the strawberry rows up prior to applying the winter covering of mulch. This task is a recreational one on a day that is sunny, but it was overcast and the breeze had an edge to it that made it kind of unpleasant to be sitting still on the tractor, even though I had bundled myself to look like the Michelin Man, coated in dirt.
At 1:30 in the afternoon a caravan of cars rolled into the carrot field next to where I was working. Fifteen or so retirees piled out of the cars, smiling and chatting. The Willing Hands volunteers had come to glean carrots. The organizers, Milt and Carolyn Frye and Jim McCracken, moved the trucks and people into place and distributed crates for the carrots to be put into. Pretty soon there was a collection of asses and elbows spread out in the field. A few folks worked on their knees, the position I am relegated to these days when I actually participate in harvest. I could see the friendly banter and smiles twenty minutes into the gleaning. Crates of carrots mounted up on the trucks. When I shut the tractor off , they were finishing up. The volunteers were cold,but still smiling and chatting, and then were picking up a few carrots for themselves to take home. They had been out in the cold for well over an hour , and worked pretty hard, given their ages and the weather. They really didn’t have to do this, they could have sat on their butts this crappy afternoon and filled out puzzles in the Valley News or stared at social media posts. Instead, they came for carrots. These carrots, fortunately, were beautiful…just too big for commercial sales. So the food shelves and soup kitchens would be the beneficiaries. On this particular day they picked up approximately ¾ of a ton of carrots to be distributed to folks a little less fortunate than the rest of us before going back to their lives. Many of these good folks are retired and not only glean all season long for Willing Hands but also volunteer doing a variety of other things in the community.
As we all went our separate ways, I realized I was in a better frame of mind than I had been a couple of hours before, the reason being was that I was a participant with some good individuals doing a fundamentally good thing. This act of volunteering was going to provide food to someone. There is a lot of feel good smarm written about the noble farmers feeding humanity. Truth was, I miscalculated, grew a bunch of carrots that I didn’t have a market for and I was thrilled that our farm could partner with Willing Hands, a non profit who could help harvest and distribute them.
November. For many, that in itself can cause depression. For the rest of us, we don’t have to look very far in this world to find things that are depressing. Denial of climate change, political leaders behaving like rich privileged brats, meteorological disasters, ramping up of nuclear threats by political leaders, racism, predatory sexual behavior by those who pretend to know better….and the list goes on. But then you have this small act of generosity in a small corner of the globe: Willing Hands doing its’ weekly gleaning at an area farm with volunteers. November tractor work can still be cold, uncomfortable business. But for a moment, my heart was warmed by the work of my fellow man.