Writing and Outreach Intern A. Grace Steig ‘15 reflects on the meditative nature of volunteering on the Farm:
Many Fridays at midday, I leave the work of Yale behind with each step up the hill toward Yale Farm. The walk is not a short one, taking Hillhouse Avenue and then Science Hill to completion, and if I were to rush the sweat would collect on my back. So I meander, in ritual, cleansing myself of the past week, its obligations, its ego. Along the way I sustain myself with small wafers of nature: oak leaves and acorns, dropped almost on my head by squirrels. On this sunlit pilgrimage, I pass lower idols – halls, houses, laboratories – without a glance. The last stretch in the sunshine is bliss, and I slow just a bit to enjoy my freedom from work before passing beneath the concord grapevine draped over the Farm’s arched entrance.
The Yale Farm is nature in a deliberate urban space, an acre arranged in 2003 by Yale people who love living things. It is concentrated chaos, where plants grow with no chemicals. They are tended but could naturally thrive or, just as naturally, die. I go to the Farm often but without a schedule. I go, and I devote myself to its work, in body and spirit.
In September the rows and rows of leafy greens grow endlessly. There are the heads of romaine lettuce alongside Nevada, radicchio, pirot, freckles. The subtle speckles to their leaves bring delight, as do the edges’ frills, like fleur-de-lis. I squat alongside these greens and make my efforts with a little work knife, taking the heads with the greatest of care, trimming those leaves that would rot the rest. See them, fleshy and open, showing and sharing all of nature’s nutrients in their whorls outspread. They have so much to give, and I take it, lovingly.
There are broccoli raab and the leaves of broccoli plants. Across the Farm are arugula, butterhead, mesclun. I hold a few plants upright with one hand and slice with the other, an imprecise horizontal trim; this handful I bunch in rubber bands. The greens in rows below, I work on with my knife in smaller cuts, taking only some leaves and leaving a plant with a chance to flourish. Below is fordhook chard, and bright lights chard – see what a rainbow the leaves make, a deep healthsome green through yellow, orange, and on to fuchsia, rosy in the allure of nature’s heartfelt love. They are indeed bright as neon lights, carrying the vigor but none of the glitz of the city. In this break in the urban, how much pleasure they give in their growing displays, full of the joy of life from the ground.
The afternoon sun wants all creatures to be in it. From my greens to the house finches in the trees to me, it has much to share with every being. Most of the students take it as a surprise gift; it seems not to exist on lower campus. But on the Farm all are warmed by it. Receiving the sunshine, who can help but be content?
A row down from the other greens are my beloved kales: curly, winterbor, and Tuscan, known colloquially as dinosaur. Dinosaur kale! It lives up to its name with its long dusty green leaves, slender with muscular curves, rippled and wrinkled like the necks of ancient peaceable lizards. Ah, dinosaur kale! A lifeform could be no more spectacular if dinosaurs themselves still roamed the land, if O.C. Marsh shepherded a living Apatosaurus to his alma mater and led it to the Farm.Both he and the dinosaur would appreciate the break from academic study, perhaps gain a bit more life themselves from munching. The greens give me so much good. Merely to sit in their midst is to be close to the heart of nature’s health, to taste its nutrients. And working along, as I pull off a leaf too frayed or spattered with holes to be sold, I eat it with slow enjoyment.
On the Yale Farm, in the sun one day, I sweated as I worked. My shirt back was sticky, my throat parched. With very little trouble I could have gone for a drink, but, stubbornly, I knelt to finish my task first. My vision swam; I focused on chard.
In this row a few plants struggled. It hurt to see. Though definitely fordhook chard, they had no giant leaves characteristic of the variety. Their green fell short of deep; shallow it was, a green in name only. I sought the explanation, feeling affronted and shorted, for their condition. Ah, aha! Beneath, many wilted leaves clung, and tiny offshoot stems sprouted already-doomed leaves. Could it be these shoots, left to their own, diverted and drained earth’s nutrients from the plants themselves? These chards, I couldn’t take from. These, though, I could help. I cut off the shoots that drained nutrients and left the green leaves, which could now, in time, flourish. I treated the afflicted one by one. In this labor, I harvested not a single leaf, but the work was good.
For the many who devote themselves to it, the Farm is a meditation. More accurate, it is karma-yoga, the yoga of selfless work. The Farm is what it needs to be, for me, for so many. In rows of green, how can any people retain the egos they held in the classroom, the selves that kept them distinct from other creatures being warmed beneath the sun? No, they must give themselves totally to the growth of others. Here is one path up the hill to enlightenment. It is hours of toil, sometimes without immediate, tangible gain. It is the slow shedding of ego in the trimming of chard.