>Harvest

>We start early, before the temperature begins to creep up and everything – the harvest and those who pick it – starts to fade in the midday sun. Vancouver Island is at a high latitude, so the sun comes up around 5 AM and doesn’t go down until about 9 in the evening. Luckily, the light doesn’t keep me from sleeping all the way till 7, when I wake up to CBC (the Canadian version of BBC) on the radio and stiffly move myself out of bed. The going is slow because I started learning to ride horses on Wednesday. It feels like somebody’s taken a rake to the muscles of my inner legs. (As far as my progress in riding goes, my instructor summed it up nicely after the first lesson: “You did good today,” he said. “You showed up.”)
Aftermath of my extracurricular activities aside, harvest day is probably my favorite time around the farm. So I stretch carefully, shower, and head up to the campground office to make myself some breakfast. Because the office is open from 8 in the morning till 9 at night, we hardly do anything at the house but sleep (and write!). I savor my berries and yogurt as I sit with Ann and Andrea, who are already laying out the game plan for market this week. Market is on Saturday, and instead of hauling our produce all the way into Port Alberni, we simply hold it here, where we have a somewhat captive customer base (campers) and the space to make it an event. We hold a pancake breakfast and hayride; the kids play with the goats while their parents take a stroll by the river.
But that will all take place tomorrow. The produce is the main act, and it’s still waiting in the garden for us to retrieve it. We finish our coffee, gather up some buckets, and head down the hill, border collies herding us along.
Crystal is already in the garden and Connie arrives shortly after. We are an all-girl vegetable-picking machine. Andrea heads to the potato patch – she loves digging around in the dirt. I grab scissors and start on the kale and swiss chard. Connie hits up the greenhouse for cucumbers and tomatoes, and Crystal pulls the netting off the long rows of carrots. Half an hour later, I’m still lost in the brilliant red stems of the chard, feeling slightly overwhelmed and mentally full. Every time I pick vegetables my mind moves immediately to washing, chopping and cooking them, in any way I know how and a few I don’t think are possible (chard muffins?). After thirty or so chard plants, I get the dizzying feeling of there simply being too much food here for any one person to eat. I guess that’s the only way I can part with it come morning. As I fill my last bucket with greens and throw up my hands, Crystal comes walking down the row, a bright orange, freshly washed, perfect carrot in her outstretched hand.
“Second breakfast?” Indeed.

It’s getting late in the summer, and the garden is in full production mode now. This is only the Collins’ second year growing produce for a local market, but there is certainly no lack of variety. By the end of the morning we have the truck loaded up with greens, potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, squash, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce, peas, rhubarb, strawberries and flowers. We unload in the office – which also houses a small commercial kitchen – and start washing and bagging. The unfortunate side of the local market is nobody seems to want to buy anything that’s not in a bag. If we do leave it in baskets or buckets, they’ll bag it themselves before they buy it.
I excuse myself from this somewhat depressing process to start making lunch. I have a little challenge going with myself to use the most vegetables in one meal as possible. With a little storebought ginger and soy sauce, I squeeze seven into a giant stir fry (record: eight veggies). We take a bit of a break and eat outside on the deck in the last bit of shade. It’s getting hot – the thermometer reads 30 Celsius. Up until a week or so ago this meant nothing to me, and it actually made the heat easier to bear. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. In India, nobody ever really knew what temperature it was, so there was no complaining. Well, my mother was kind enough to email me a handy conversion chart and I now know that when it’s 30, it’s not just below freezing but in fact 86 in the clunky old Fahrenheit system. And when it’s 30 at noon and just getting started, it’s going to be a hot day.
Back inside, it’s time to switch the A/C on. With the freezers, refrigerators and oven going all day, it can get hotter inside than outside without the aid of this wonderful little invention. Feeling more comfortable now, I start on the bread and spend the afternoon registering campers with floury hands. Breads are my experimental addition to the farmers’ market, and so far, it’s been a mild success. The best part is, we keep the ugly loaves and whatever doesn’t sell. Contrary to popular belief, breadmaking isn’t actually that difficult or time consuming. You just have to be able to hang around the kitchen for a few hours, so campground management actually is a good side activity.
Campers are an interesting lot. They fall into three main categories: those who are on vacation and so are determined not to fuss about anything so that they can have a good time; those who are on vacation and so are determined to be completely picky about everything so that they can have a good time; and teenagers who come from town to throw parties at the campground. Any afternoon will produce any combination of these types. I had the good fortune to be eating dinner while some partying teenagers came and rented a couple sites. We’re all pretty tired of the loud music, piles of trash and general obnoxiousness that comes along with these customers, but Ann and Bob were ready this time. They raised three kids and can be pretty scary. Sitting in the corner, absorbed in my bread and cucumber salad, I even felt a little shaky in my boots as the two of them loom over the group of would-be rabble-rousers.
“Now, you’re not going to have a large group of people down there, are you?” Ann asks, though it’s more of a statement than a question. The kids are wide-eyed and innocent.
“Oh, no.” Having been in their shoes more than once only a few years ago, I know that deceptive tone all too well. I can almost see the thought bubbles resting above their heads, and they don’t contain words but pictures of beer and thumping stereos. Bob sees them too and walks over to the counter.
“No music down there,” he tells them.
“None at all?” they whine.
“Absolutely not. You don’t want us to come down there at three in the morning to tell you to shut it off, got it?” A mafia contract killer could not have sounded more threatening. They’ve got it. They shuffle out. Yet another crisis averted – we hope.

I finish eating and walk down to the house to read a bit. Before bed, I help Bob move the “chicken tractor”. This ingenious little pen, which holds all our meat birds, is open at the bottom so the chickens can scratch at the grass. It gets moved once or twice a day, so they can fertilize a new patch of soil while getting some fresh grubs to eat – a win-win situation.
After the moving is done, Bob heads out to the pasture to move irrigation pipes. I walk up the hill, worn out and not sure where my farming mentors get the energy to work the 15-hour or more days that they do (Ann is still up at the office). As I pass the barn, I hear a friendly but demanding “meiow!” It’s Buster, the friendly black-and-white barn cat. He proves irresistible. Instead of going inside, I sit with him on an old picnic table that overlooks the farm. From here, we can see the garden, the pasture with the horses and cows grazing, the forest beyond and Mount Arrowsmith towering above it all. It’s a view that takes my breath away still after almost a month living here. I watch the sun turn the mountainside pink and gold, the cool evening air taking away some of my fatigue. Buster relaxes on my lap, his purr rumbling against my fingers. It’s one of those perfect moments that seem to arise so easily in this place. Despite all the work that goes into planting, watering, weeding and harvesting produce, I still can’t help but find it miraculous that so many good things come out of the simple inputs of soil, manure, seeds and water. As long as that formula continues to work, we’ll never go hungry here. And that’s a pretty good feeling.

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