Harvesting by Hand

I touched your food.

Don’t be offended or worried. Lots of people touched your food. Hope you rinsed that lettuce.

I’m working as a novice apprentice on an organic farm in Riverhead, Long Island. Every day at 7 am, I walk with my fellow apprentices to the fields, where we harvest crops for 4-5 hours in the morning. It starts out cold, the sky dark, our hands chilled by the morning dew on the vegetables.

My favorite in the morning is the arugula. We squat in the mushy dirt along the beds of arugula, take out our harvesting knives, and cut the stems in handfuls. As they are cut, their spicy smell surrounds me. I bite into a leaf or two, enjoying the fresh crispness, the cool refreshment.

The morning wears on, and our backs grow hot as the sun beats down. We walk over to harvest the Swiss Chard. Huge leaves that are greener than green burst from neon yellow, pink, purple, and red stalks. We bunch a variety of the stems, creating rainbows.

We need around 500 bunches – at least 380 for the CSA members, and then 40 or so for each Greenmarket and the farmstand. We count as we go, our hands now warm from the work of cutting, cropping, and bunching. We carry the crates up to the processing area, where we sort what goes where and get everything loaded for market day.

By 5:30 or so on Friday afternoon, the trucks are loaded for markets. 300 pounds of tomatoes, 40 bunches of Swiss Chard, 2 crates of arugula, mesclun, 2 kinds of beets, winter squash, golden zucchini, cilantro, garlic, green and purple lettuce, kale, collard greens, potatoes, onions, and radishes. All picked by hand, bunched by hand, sorted by hand, loaded by hand.

I touched it. I pulled those beets from the ground. That lettuce on the market table – I cut that head from the sandy ground, washed it in cold water, and placed it there, on the table. My hands are covered in the dirt where your dinner grew. You don’t know me, but I touched your food. How many hands made your meal tonight?