Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Will work for food

In spite of the fact that I am no longer technically on the road researching sustainable food at farms and gardens across the country, I still find myself up to my elbows in dirt and string beans fairly frequently these days. Yes, while I have yet to secure gainful employment -- which has the potential to greatly interfere with my cooking and writing aspirations unless it is the right kind of job -- I find myself volunteering in exchange for food. It's been working out pretty well, this bartering system.

This past Saturday, for instance, I cajoled my neighbor Henry into joining me at City Blossoms' Girard Street location for a little cooking in the garden: we harvested goodies for baba ghanouj and a lovely tomato salsa, which we prepared and enjoyed with pita bread and lemonade with Mia (who manages the community garden) and the other volunteers. Then yesterday I found myself back at Clagett Farm, this time picking bell peppers on a dripping hot August morning as part of my workshare. Gail had kindly offered me a ride from her place in nearby Petworth to the farm (located in Upper Marlboro, MD), as well as a ride back with my overloaded pannier and an additional crateful of organic veggies and fresh cut flowers. The farm's only 15 miles from downtown, but the roads looked a little dicey. And Gail works there so she was going that way anyway. And, okay, I'm a slacker: I'd rarely biked and farmed on the same days during my cross-country farm trip, and I'm feeling a bit beaten down by the DC summer heat.

To those who believe they can't eat well on a budget -- that a diet filled with lots of fresh, organic, local produce is out of reach -- I suggest you check out Clagett Farm. They offer CSA shares, a program that doles out weekly boxes of seasonal fresh goodies from May through November, for significantly less than what one would spend at the farmers' market (or even, believe it or not, a grocery store). It works out to around $20 per week, or around $10 weekly for a low-income share. (I know! What a deal!) Or you can work in exchange for food. Yep. Each 4-hour volunteer shift, what they term a "workshare," earns a portion of the farm's bounty. This week's share included melons, beans, garlic, squash, peppers, and cucumbers, plus all of the tomatoes and eggplant and fresh herbs I could carry, and some sweet corn that was added to the "for volunteers" pile (and which is currently simmering with potatoes on my stove as part of a savory, creamy summer chowder). They grow a LOT of food. There is so much food, in fact, that in addition to supporting your friendly neighborhood bicycling foodie and a couple hundred CSA shareholders, some 40% of the farm's output is donated to local charities in the DC area. And yet it is still smaller and more diverse than your standard conventional farm. Amazing.

So now you're probably wondering how you can get involved and get your hands on unlimited local, organic summer squash. It seems the farm welcomes volunteers all year round, and especially on CSA harvest days (Saturdays and Tuesdays) during the growing season that runs from mid-spring through late fall. You'll find yourself sweating, sometimes profusely, yet folks can take as many breaks as needed so long as their active work time adds up to four hours. The tasks are moderately challenging, but hardly slave labor. On Monday, for instance, after the morning pepper harvesting the group chatted while feasting on fresh, cold watermelon at the veggie wash station before heading out into the (never ending) bean fields after lunch.

So what's keeping you from volunteering at this impressive local farm? You've got excuses, I've got retorts....

Have a day job: Check out their Saturday shifts or bank a few regular shifts during holidays.

Don't have a car: The farm has an informal carpooling setup. (I wouldn't recommend public transit, though. It took Meghan and I nearly two hours when we tried that last time.)

Not into hot weather: You can come by in the fall for some of the work "winterizing" the garden, or in early spring months to help with indoor prep work. (You can bank your hours and redeem workshare food pickups when the harvest season begins.)

Not strong enough for farm work: Inquire about cool-weather work like seeding starter trays in the greenhouse. (Easy on the body and actually kind of interesting, especially if you have OCD tendencies.)

"Be sure to call a few days ahead," Gail insisted when I mentioned wanting to post something on the blog about the almost-too-good-to-be-true workshare program. (This is so that staff can plan appropriately in terms of tasks and management.) So now you know. Get out there and get yourself some tomatoes!

1 comment:

  1. I've always wondered what the end of the blue line metro looked like, and now I know.


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