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On an Organic Farm in Michigan

Martha Camarillo Greg Kruszewski and Robin Mailor

Photo: Martha Camarillo

Greg and Robin named Three Roods Farm after a well-known homeopathic doctor in the area (Dr. Marion Rood) and in honor of their three daughters. Greg had also discovered that a rood is a quarter of an acre and, as it happens, three-quarters of an acre is the parcel of land he initially dedicated to the vegetable garden, so it’s all very om.

Let me confess. My first day, I did not think I would make it. Do you know how arduous it is to be a farmer?Even a fake farmer?Even a fake farmer on a farm where the real work does not start until around nine in the morning because Robin and Greg have non-farm jobs two or three days a week that keep them on a late schedule?Collecting eggs wasn’t so bad, though sticking one’s hand underneath the bottom of a hen is a bit icky. And yanking thistles out of the daikon radish bed would have verged on gratifying had I not been haunted by the anecdote I’d heard over coffee about the apprentice who accidentally plucked a rosebush from the garden on his first day. Shoveling compost, however, was relentless, and hauling gallons of water to the outer pasture for the sheep was sudorific and backbreaking. Actually, it was not so much the first day that almost broke me as the first night. My quarters were in the barn, where I slept on a futon, just feet from the indoor chickens and sheep. The livestock and I were not alone, for there were also bats and bugs. There was a bathroom, if you can call a room with a non-flushing compost toilet and no running water a bathroom. And oh. The barn did not smell like the Van Cleef and Arpels perfume I like to wear. On a positive note, I have a newfound respect for Joseph and Mary.

And then things took a more felicitous turn. Greg roasted a duck from their stock that had been in the freezer for a few months. We had just-picked beans, cilantro, eggs, and berries. All delicious. We spent a lazy day at the Lavender Festival, a sweet country fair attended by around 200 people on a field surrounded by—what else?—farms. Here all things lavender (soap, sachets, shortbread, aromatherapy reflexology kits, diaper bags) could be acquired and two cute alpacas could be petted. The following day, the CSA subscribers came to the farm at 9 a.m. to help harvest and collect that week’s yield, which included garlic, kale, romaine, radish, sorrel, pattypan squash, and yarrow. It was in the late morning that I almost accidentally killed the subscribers. I’d been asked by Greg to escort the group a mile or so down a path to pick sour cherries. We had nibbled on more than a few berries when Dear, the militant vegan neighbor who had joined us on our expedition, dramatically spit out a mouthful of the fruit. "Don’t anyone eat these," she yelled. "They’re poison! This is the wrong tree!" As it turned out, she was wrong but until that was confirmed later by Greg, a fright came over Three Roods Farm.

How much I don’t trust dramatic vegans was not all that I had learned in my five days on the farm. I learned that kale grown in hot weather is more bitter than fall kale, that spreading a tarp over land kills the weeds, that chickens are really, really, really stupid, that small-scale organic farming is a very fulfilling way of life for some but not for me, and that after five days of physical labor, it would have been nice to sign up for wwoaos—a.k.a. World Wide Opportunities at Opulent Spas. For more on Three Roods Farm and other apprentice opportunities, go to wwoof.org.

Patricia Marx lives on artificial sweetener.

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