The education of a farmer, and the vital role of the organic farm in his community, by Chaskey, steward of the cooperative Quail Hill Farm.
In 1990, Chaskey started work in Amagansett, on the South Fork of Long Island, on a turf farm of long standing, though such places are now endangered as real-estate values for choice lots have skyrocketed. Fortunately, a few forward-thinking souls set aside parcels for growing vegetables, thus maintaining some of the original atmosphere of the area, and it’s Chaskey’s job to apply the knowledge he gained as a gardener in England during the 1970s and ’80s to this new patch. He is equal to the task. His steady, direct voice details the everyday working of the farm, and he doesn’t hesitate to admit the awe he feels before the earthly enterprise. This is a community-supported agricultural experiment, where a number of local citizens have agreed to share the risks with the farmer, and, impressively, the community takes on the floral, faunal, social, health and political concerns of the project—in a word, the stewardship of it. Chaskey describes the frank, practical tasks of growing food as a not-for-profit undertaking. He unfurls the cottage wisdom of garlic’s providence, describes the fixing of farm implements (“there are certain tasks, at least in this lifetime, that I am happy to leave to others”), the satisfactions of a good tool, the procedures of cold-soil planting, creating the ideal compost, taking up battle with nut grass, the importance of equanimity when facing the vexations of tomatoes. There are moments when he gets overly pixyish—“last night our fields felt the first light touch of Jack Frost”—but it’s impossible not to admire his unfazed manner of talking to stars, earth, weather and sprouts.
Nothing less than a vision, not original so much as eloquently expressed, of farming returned to its roots, and of the mighty pleasures it can give.