Pumpkin Harvest

PumpkinsThe farm was quiet at nine-thirty on this Saturday morning in late September. Sun crept in through the open barn doors like the tide coming in. Inside, the air was still cool and moist from the night before. The wood of the barn, just built the season before, was still yellow as though freshly cut and hewn from the tree. The week’s harvest was arranged around the base of the barn’s big center beams, as if to remind us what it takes to build a barn, a community, a farm. With the crisp morning air, and the rich hues of the vegetables spread out there, Erica and I could not help being reminded of our recent entry in to autumn. Here in New England, the vegetables change color before the leaves do. The bright yellow peppers, orange carrots, purple eggplants, white leeks, yellow corn, and green cucumbers, of the early summer have been replaced by maroon onions, burgundy potatoes, olive colored squash, and violet beets, all caked with dark earth. Erica and I gathered our share, noting that these late season vegetables weigh much more than their predecessors, and discuss what we can store in our basement, what we will have to pickle, and what we will eat during the week ahead. The canvass bags on our shoulders, bulging at the seams, smelled strongly of dirt and veggies.

After picking out our share we wandered out into the fields of pick-your-own crops. Walking through the rows of flowers, most headless now after a summer of blooming and clipping and decorating kitchen tables, Erica and I marveled at how the farm has changed. Fields that once grew green beans, are now inhabited by rows of curly kale, bok choy, and vitamin greens. We paused for a moment to watch the morning sun cascade through sprinklers, looking for rainbows over the lettuce. This incredible piece of land, leaned up against the Holyoke Range, has produced so much this summer. Surrounded by such bounty and such beauty, it is easy to forget the tremendous labor that has gone into these rows. Looking at the thick paddle shaped leaves of the collard greens, it is easy to think of the sun’s energy and forget the farmer’s energy. But this land has not just benefited from good weather this summer, but also good stewards. The crew of farmers who planned and planted, trimmed and tended, watched and weeded these fields have become our friends. Erica shares canning secrets with Abby, Jeff was once in SCA. When we sit down at night with some salad or stir-fry, it is only thanks to their hard work and their persistent care, that we eat so well.

As ten o’clock neared, the farm filled with children and families, and the barn began to bustle with friends discussing the past week. At some point we all made our way out to the pumpkin patch to help the farm manager, Dan (Farmer Dan), harvest the pumpkins and collect them into big wooden bins. After a few short instructions on proper pumpkin handling the adults climbed into the bins and kids flooded like sunshine into the little field. Testing each other’s strength, the kids heaved progressively heavier pumpkins into their little arms and waddled towards the wooden bins. Like ants carrying twice their body weight these kids held the massive orange orbs up to their chest and hugged them like they were hanging on for dear life. Once at the bins they gave one last push to lift the pumpkin up to the bin’s edge where an adult stood ready to nestle the pumpkins against the wooden slats. The kids’ wild exuberance was perhaps best evidenced when they came across a pumpkin that had already begun to rot in the field. The kids, most of whom came equipped with knee high Wellingtons in colors that harkened back to early summer veggies, jumped up and down on the orange squash, casting seeds and mung into the air.

Within twenty minutes, more than 4,000 pounds of pumpkins laid stacked in the wooden bins. Little orange mountains along the edge of the field. The trampled rows were woven by the empty stalks and vines of the pumpkin plants, interrupted now and again by the remains of a devastated pumpkin helped along in its rotting by a pair of size 4 rubber boots. In other places the yellow squash blossoms that looked like old wrinkled trumpets peered out at the beleaguered rows. Erica said you could fry them, or stuff them, and eat them, but that it was too late in the season. At the end of the day, the flowers looked like old women, and the field looked like a big empty house, as the children walked away still laughing with pumpkins in their arms.

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