In order to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s case of mistaken identity involving the poor English pea seedling, I’ve spent my first week of work honing my weed identification skills while yanking them unceremoniously from beds with whimsical names like the “Four Directions Garden,” the “Peace Garden,” and the “Clothesline Garden.” The names of the weeds themselves inspire exciting mental pictures: I now recognize wispy, ubiquitous witchgrass; butterfly-attracting milkweed; and the edible leaves called lambsquarters. Tiny boxelder trees spring from the soil, unwelcome between the blueberry bushes, and prickly thistle and stinging nettles make me appreciate my work gloves more and more every day.
We pull clover when it appears next to the roots of the fruit and vegetable plants, but let it run wild in the yard, where Elizabeth’s three horses gorge themselves on greedy mouthfuls of it when we take them out of the paddock for grooming. “It’s like steak for them,” she says as she combs the sticky burdocks out of Benjamin’s mane; “full of protein but only good in limited quantities.” Elizabeth and Worrill taught me how to rub the nubbly curry comb in circles over the horse’s neck, back, and sides to loosen the dust and dirt from his coat, then to whisk first a hard-bristled brush and then a soft-bristled one across him “to undo the mess you just made.” Worrill and I leave the hoof-picking to Elizabeth, since the horses are fidgety from the flies and keep lifting their feet to swat at them from underneath.
Each day is punctuated by meal breaks, which on this farm maintain equal importance to garden work. In her former (city) life, Elizabeth ran her own catering business, and the pleasure she takes in creating delicious, innovative vegetarian meals drawn largely from her own gardens shows through on the plate.
I’ve been starting my days with one of her blueberry-banana-bran muffins followed by yogurt drizzled with maple syrup that her neighbors collected from trees along the road they share, and strawberries picked fresh from the plants in her yard. When the lunch bell rings (literally–there’s a large bell hanging outside the front door that she clangs to let us know lunch is ready), Worrill and I throw down our gloves to go enjoy lentil soup and a plate of local Vermont cheeses (for example) on cooler days, or whole-wheat wraps filled with homemade hummus and lemon garlic aioli, just-snipped basil, cilantro, and arugula, and creamy slices of avocado on hotter ones. Dinners this week have included black bean chili with cilantro and sour cream; a polenta casserole layered with fresh tomato sauce, Vermont cheese, and sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, and onions; and Thai veggie pizza that Elizabeth gets for free from a family-owned pizzeria in Middlebury in exchange for providing them with topping ingredients, cut flowers, and pizza recipes using local and seasonal produce.
I haven’t even gotten to dessert yet, but that deserves a post of its own…