Mid-summer is upon us. The tomatoes are ripening, the sweet potatoes have vined out, and the onions are starting to flop. With everything progressing as it should, there is comfort in knowing we have once again navigated through the uncertain waters of spring. The flip side, of course, is that midsummer can be a grind. The tasks are repetitive and the heat oppressive. I’m no runner, but this is what I imagine the midsection of a marathon to be. In our initial years, when crossing the finish line was far from a given, I would count the weeks down to the season’s end. In recent years, however, we’ve developed a more sophisticated approach to keeping our spirits up in the dog days of summer.
For the most tedious jobs, we make sure we have a full crew on deck. Zucchini harvest is no one’s favorite, but four times a week we're at it, making sure the fruits don't morph into killer baseball bats overnight. The big, delicate leaves are covered with needlelike spears that leave the your arms covered in welts, but we share the burden so that no one harvests alone, and no one harvests more than three times a week. Bean picking is another tedious job. You can easily spend hours in a squat position as you inch down the row. It’s easy to overlook beans in the jungle of leaves, and just when you’re sure you’ve got them all, you find six that you missed, causing you to second-guess all your picking thus far. As with zucchini, you don’t want to pick beans alone. A crew keeps you motivated, and there’s usually good conversation to be had while you're inching along.
We’re lucky to have a full crew this year—three full-timers and two part-timers. There's an incredible multiplier effect when it comes to field workers. If two people can handweed 50 feet of carrots in an hour, three people can handweed 100! In drafting the weekly to-do list, I seek to maximize this effect. The key is not getting bogged down by monotony. There’s no avoiding the zucchini or the beans, but there is some leeway with weeding, planting, and other odd jobs. By assigning each day with a diverse mixture of tasks, you can shift gears just when energy starts to flag. Last Thursday, for example, the crew harvested for the afternoon CSA pickup, netted two rows of blueberries, hoed several rows of lettuce, handweeded the beans, and transplanted basil, all before lunch. After lunch, they continued chipping away at the weeds in the herb garden while I set up for pickup.
If repetitive harvests are what make what make mid-summer a grind, they’re also why we’re in business. What CSA member doesn’t love boatloads of basil, cucumbers, and beans? Now that we have Sundays off, I’m back in the kitchen as I haven’t been in years, rediscovering vegetable qualities I believed were there but never had time to explore. Yes, smaller cukes are sweeter. Yes, you can roast garlic scapes just like anything else. Yes, dandelion is a good stand-in for broccoli raab. Knowing how much work goes into these harvests, and recalling all the tidbits of conversation that accompanied their journey from field to wash station, makes the whole grind worth it.