I’m a Greenheart Now

Farmer Paul and Farmer Aurora take a hike.

The phone rang. It was a fellow I’d spoken to earlier in the week about a flatbed trailer he’d posted for sale on Craigslist. “I’ve got a guy here who wants to buy it but I gave you my word I’d sell it to you first so I won’t sell it to him if you’re still interested.” This took me by surprise and I thanked him for the unusual courtesy. Craigslist is not typically the province of gentlemen.

After a long drive I pulled into his driveway. There were two large flags on the porch, one with stars and stripes and the other with stars and bars. An enormous 4×4 came gunning down the dirt driveway. In my low slung Volvo station wagon I imagined I was soon to become monster truck fodder. At the last moment the behemoth swerved in front of me and came to a menacing stop. The driver looked down at me. “I’m here about the trailer,” I said.

“Are you going to pull it with that thing?” he laughed. “It’s in the back, follow me.” I considered getting the hell out of there but made my way through the tidy ranch. Out of the car I may have had the gentleman by a foot but he was 250 pounds of muscle and mustache and not the sort with which to trifle. The trailer was ideal for hauling our tractor and it didn’t take long for us to agree on a sale. I offered to pay him upfront and return with my big truck to drive it away but he wouldn’t hear of it. Just come and get it Friday, it’ll be here, you can pay me then, he said. He was keenly interested in our business and farm and we talked easily for half an hour about the CSA, farming, land, pomegranates, labor, waxed boxes, houses, machines. His flags waiving in the cool breeze.

In the old days, I knew every member of the Greenhearts CSA. Aurora and I did every delivery ourselves. Can’t do that anymore, too many folks, too much farmwork. I like to see the list of members, though, scroll through email and read the names. Names from all over the world and some I cannot place. I look over at Aurora, on her computer late into the evening, hard at work. I fell in love with her at first sight and we have never been apart from our very first date. A special girl, the lovechild of a post racial world, a pure San Franciscan. I’m different. Grew up elsewhere. Taught early the most terrible words and the toxic prejudices of the past.

That’s why I’m a greenheart now. I’m not intellectual enough to stipulate the connection between social and ecological justice, just smart enough to know how petty are the distinctions to which we still cling in this climate of uncertain change.

I’m going to buy that trailer on Friday. I’m going to give it a good home. I’m going to use it to grow food without chemicals or pesticides.

I’m going to use it to feed my fellow man, no matter what flag they fly.

Farm Hands

Farm Hands

Farm hand.

I notice things. It’s my job. Constantly looking and judging. The weather, the salesman, the potatoes, the numbers… Robust and thriving it lives. Weak and underperforming, I whack it with a shovel until it dies. Farming is judgmental work.

It’s part of my nature to judge a man by his hands. I can’t help it. Despite exhortations to this day from my mother who disdains judging people by physical characteristics (she wants to know what school you attended) I go straight to the hands. It stems from a complex, I’m sure. If I’m in a group of young professionals downtown or at a cocktail party I obviously have the hands of a working man and become self-conscious. If, however, I’m out at farmer Paul Hain’s and we’re battening down a tractor to a trailer with heavy chains and a rusty snatch block, in comparison, it’s quite obvious I have the hands of a loafer, possibly a dilettante. And I become self-conscious.

I like the elder Farmer Paul’s hands, his tough old mitts, especially because despite being a lifelong farmer with years of grubby toil and acres of walnuts and passels of chickens and greasy old iron machines and muddy irrigation pipes and flaky orange oxidized metal heaps all over the place his fingernails are always clean. How does he do it? He hand washes a couple hundred eggs every day with a scrubby brush.

I myself found a bristly brush in the automotive section of Ace Hardware that works fairly well on hands… as well as hubcaps and bumpers. It almost does the trick.

I notice things. It’s my job. Constantly looking and judging. The weather, the salesman, the potatoes, the numbers, the effects, the lines, the meters, the accounts. Robust and thriving it lives. Weak and underperforming, I whack it with a shovel until it dies. Farming is judgmental work. I can tell from fifty yards if a farmer wears Wranglers or Levi’s and whether or not he’s in his Friday night jeans or his Monday morning blues, just by the shade of indigo.

I noticed farmer Phil’s gait today as he walked across his farmyard, which recently received a fresh layer of gravel. A very tall man whose work is on the ground, he’s got a case of the bends. Not quite a stoop, but the cumulative effect of a long career getting up and down off tractors, in and out of trucks, leaning over to be a kind and patient listener to smaller people. Hey, there’s an idea. Maybe I’ll try closing my eyes and listening better, just shove my damn hands in my pockets, close my eyes, cock my head and listen… and then see what I can learn.