The Farming Addict: A farmer's 4-year-old son heeds the harvest calls
Don Zasada and his wife Bridget are the farmers who run Caretaker Farm, in Williamstown, Mass. Two weeks ago, Don sent a remarkable email to the 261 families who comprise the membership of the community-supported agriculture center in rural Berkshire County, Massachusetts. In it, he wrote eloquently about their 4-year-old son Micah's dedication to farm chores. In the accompanying three-minute video, a rather shy Michah -- just entering pre-school -- talks with his dad.
By Don Zasada
“Make sure you put the bottoms up first for the lower level then the bottoms down for the top ones.” Usually, a 4-year-old son would have a different greeting for you when he is calling from Maine to say goodnight. Not ours. Not this year. He wants to make sure I remember how to pack the lettuce in the harvest lugs even when he is on vacation with his sister and mom.
You see, what we have right now living at Caretaker Farm, (in Williamstown, Mass.) is a farming addict. As the season has progressed, Micah has slowly passed more and more of his days out in the fields with me and the crew. He has breakfast with us at 6:15 a.m., listens to the meeting we have at the end of the meal, and then joins in the fun. The days that I try to get some early office work in before heading outside are usually met with incessant pounding on my closed office door and pleadings of “Dad, we need to get outside to work!” or “You said one more minute, five minutes ago, let’s go to work!”
Distribution days are magical for him. After placing the lettuce in the harvest lugs, he pulls the bottom leaves off the chard plants, fills a lug with kale leaves, cleans the top off some carrots, removes the red peppers from the plants, “helps” in the wash station, sneaks in an afternoon cookie, and then joins us in our afternoon tasks or hangs out with other buddies near the sandbox.
Micah thrives while assisting with groups. After patiently listening to my sustainable farming spiel, he helps lead the tour of volunteers around the farm to orient them to the land before the work block. Then, he jumps around the field assisting where needed or stopping when he sees an interesting bug. After Micah worked one morning harvesting potatoes with an orientation group from Williams College, the students told me they wanted to add him to their facebook group.
Early last week Micah and I had our first real opportunity to rely on one another out in the fields. I needed to lift some rows of potatoes in order to then spread some winter rye grass as a cover crop in the field. This needed to happen quickly because we were going to receive a bit of rain and we needed to spread the grass before it started. All of the apprentices were doing other things and I just had my buddy alongside.
I got off the tractor and said to him. “Look Micah, we’ve got a lot of potatoes to harvest. It's just you and me. Are you ready?” He just slowly nodded and smiled. So, up on the tractor I jumped and began to pull forward as a metal implement ran through the soil and lifted potatoes to the surface. Micah then scampered all around like a rabbit picking up the potatoes and placing them in a box that he then dragged behind him. After a couple of beds, the apprentices joined us and we were able to finish the work before the rain. We really could not have done it without him.
It may not last. I’m not sure how anyone can sustain this level of interest in anything. Someday this might seem like the most detestable work in the world to him and the thought of joining us at 6:15 AM would seem crazy. Perhaps it will prepare him for other meaningful work in his life. Maybe it will go back and forth and one day he will farm this land with his children and grandchildren.
But right now, this little guy is deeply attached to this land and he is harvesting a lot of your vegetables with much excitement, love, and care.
See you on the farm.