Growing Tomatoes in the Ivory Tower

DaveThier mar9 rhythm.jpg

Photo by Sean Fraga

A farmer has to know rhythms--when the first frost comes, when to plant, when to hoe, when to harvest. Here at Yale, we learn those rhythms, but we've also got a few extra ones to contend with. Tests, papers, concerts, parties, and that natural curve from a hopeful Monday to a devastated Friday all factor into the running of an academic farm. For the past two weeks of this writing, there have been midterms, so the farm hasn't had a lot of volunteers.

We adapt. Usefully, midterms fall before planting time, so the farm takes its break while we pray for ours. During the school year no college student can be expected to wake up before noon on a Saturday, so we start work then and save the big tasks for the bleary-eyed crowd that stumbles in later in the afternoon.

There are other things that are important--midterms or Milton, say--but at the farm you get the sense that the tomatoes don't really care.

The bulk of spring planting needs to be done somewhere in between graduation and the beginning of our summer internship at the farm, so we start a little late.

If it's quiet now, it won't be later. As soon as the weather gets warm and classes enter that magic period between spring break and the dawning realization of finals, we'll have a big work crew again.

Student farmers find a place where the rhythm of the academic calendar and myriad syllabi seem ephemeral and contrived next to the consistent organic processes of the plants we grow and the soil we grow them in.

A little ways down the hill from the farm there are other things that are important--the relative ages of trilobites, or Milton, say--but at the farm you get the sense that the tomatoes don't really care. There are papers due, sure. It's actually nice to know, though, that the carrots are not going to give you an extension, not even if your printer breaks.

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Dave Thier

David Thier is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Republic, AOLNews,,, and South Magazine.

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