From Cubicle to Farmer's Field

More

Photo by Alexis Arieff


Deadlines make me daydream of farming. I've been a reporter in Washington, D.C., for several years, and I enjoy it, but last winter I looked out the window a lot. I imagined August heat and standing in rows of corn stalks under hazy blue silhouetted hills.

Sure, I had some predictable motives, like pastoral idealism and Michael Pollan. I'd become fascinated by the local food movement, and I was trying to eat seasonally from the Dupont Circle farmers market. Beyond that lurked cubicle ennui--and my ancestors. I kept envisioning a kerchiefed matriarch and wondering how to explain to her what I'd done that day. When there was no way she'd understand, I felt sad. And if she found out that younger generations had lost the ability to work the land? Oy.

But it wasn't all whimsy. I'd worked on a produce farm in Massachusetts in 1997, between high school and college. I stooped to pick strawberries, lugged baskets of green beans, and snuck breaks in the walk-in cooler. During semesters in South America, I harvested coffee and coca and tended turkeys. Missing all that, I took a couple of weeks in December to groom herb beds on a small terrace farm in the British Virgin Islands. Tough gig.

My parents freaked out. They wrung their hands over the economic crisis and my potential homelessness and starvation. At least, I pointed out, I'd know how to grow food.

Then, walking to work one morning, I stopped. I stood on the sidewalk and thought, "I am going to a building where I'll sit until it gets dark." The idea wasn't depressing, just absurd. It reminded me of a friend who looked forward to changing his office's water cooler, which he called relatively primordial.

I decided to talk to Emily, a seller at my farmers' market. When she said she needed one more person this season, it was hard not to feel fatalistic. The next Saturday at 7:30 a.m., I biked in the rain to borrow a friend's car. I drove 70 miles west to The Farm at Sunnyside, in Washington, Virginia.

lipka june2 little girl post.jpg

Photo by George S. Lipka

Emily and I strolled through the hoop houses and the foggy 420 acres: orchards, brambles, tilled fields, ponds, and pasture. Later that week, she offered me room, board, and a monthly stipend for the summer and fall. I sat, thought, sought a lot of advice, ate Sunnyside kale, and decided I had to do it.

My parents freaked out. They wrung their hands over the economic crisis and my potential homelessness and starvation. At least, I pointed out, I'd know how to grow food. When I told them I might be able to get my job back in October (no guarantee), I got a package of sun-protective clothing from L.L. Bean.

So I'm becoming a farmer, sort of. I took a bunch of chard out of the fridge the other day and wondered if, on the farm, I'd pick some for a few days and store it, or pluck it from the plant every time. Extreme local food! I could set a place in the field and eat right there.

If the real August heat makes me daydream of air conditioning and shift dresses, then shucks. I'll still learn how to grow a decent artichoke.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Sara Lipka is a journalist with a local food habit. Since 2003 she has written about college students for The Chronicle of Higher Education, in Washington, D.C. Last year she lived and worked on a farm in Virginia, and this year she is starting a school garden in Maryland. More

Sara Lipka is a journalist with a local food habit. Since 2003 she has written about college students as a staff reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, in Washington, D.C. Last year she was an intern for The Farm at Sunnyside, in Washington, Virginia, and this year she is starting a vegetable garden at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland.

Sara formerly interned at The Atlantic and has since interviewed authors about Roe v. Wade, libido, and settling. She graduated from Duke University summa cum laude in 2001, then spent a year in Chile as a Fulbright fellow, researching political theater.

An avid cook, Sara usually travels with a tiny bottle of truffle salt and keeps trying to concoct new combinations of ingredients. She has worked as a papergirl, camp counselor, umpire, and cashier at the Cosmic Cantina, in Durham, North Carolina, where she never got sick of the guacamole.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In