Chelsea Belle Graves
Looking through the rear-view mirror at my parents in the background, I flick my eyes over to the passenger seat. A crumpled map tracing my route from Virginia to Martha’s Vineyard and a copy of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma are my only passengers on this trip. The stained hardcover inspired this trip, and the map is my guide for the journey. The station wagon rattles as I drive towards my summer adventure as a farm worker on North Tabor Farm in Chilmark. Little did I know as I took to the highway, I was off to find a new home, a passion, and a community.
The wagon rattles off the ferry ramp and onto the Island teeming with traffic. I wind my way up-Island toward my summer home, North Tabor Farm. I bump by the farm’s stand, offering Sweet William bouquets and an abundance of salad greens. Shutting off the car, which has earned its rest after a twelve-hour road trip, I’m ambushed by three bouncing children who haul me off to meet all the farm’s critters. I drink in the fields of vibrant greens, the greenhouse overflowing with seedlings, and the simple beauty of the landscape. My hands ache to get busy. The nursery rhyme: “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” runs through my head.
Weeks later. My hands are calloused and my knees and feet are perpetually crusty with soil. I carry a little of North Tabor Farm’s fields with me all the time. I have found my element. I’m thriving and growing as vivaciously as the heirloom tomato jungle. I’ve become proficient at the small farm system: working long days in the field, using my best problem-solving skills, becoming more connected to the local community. The farm becomes like a high school love: I never want to leave its side, I think of it constantly and believe that we’re going to last forever. I am in love with a system, closed and sustainable, with the sweat that trickles down my back and my temples as I hunch over a bed of zinnias, and with the people the farm grows with and for.
Today North Tabor Farm stays with me like the memory of a boyfriend, though we have matured and I have begun to think of seeing other people—my own farm. Organic farming serves the three core principles in my life: the environment, people, and myself. The lifestyle, the work, feeds not only my body but my soul. This past summer was my third at North Tabor Farm. I have gained knowledge and skill as both worker and leader in the field—skills I intend to use to begin my own farm one day.
Farming is my way to care for the earth, others, and myself. In Wendell Barry’s Unsettling of America, he writes of farming, “The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and after all our most pleasing responsibility.” For me it is all of that and I know it’s a love that will last.