Updated: Dec 19, 2022
My first year of farming has been a journey of self discovery. While I encountered many challenges, I learned many lessons along the way.
The Universe will provide your every need
When I started The Esther Manor Farm, I had no clue how tropical plants would grow in Central Virginia. The many steps of farming- soil preparation, seeding, nursing, transplanting, controlling weeds, managing pests, irrigation, harvesting- were quite overwhelming. But various people showed up at appointed times to provide what the farm needed. Virginia State University School of Agriculture helped conduct a soil test to assess the soil fertility. One neighbor helped clear two acres of land while other neighbors loaned us farm tools. Two expert growers of Cameroon origin supplied some seedlings and gave great advice on how to grow tropical crops. Seasonal workers also came at different points. A Cameronian tropical crop specialist made raised beds and planted vegetables while an African American retired military officer helped plant cocoyams. A father and son farmer duo spread compost and made beds for the corn and peppers. Two university professors in North Carolina with research interest in tropical crops, visited and gave recommendations on pest control. Meanwhile my household managed the weeding, watering, and harvesting, processing, and delivering produce to customers. And this made for a great first season with the universe meeting us at our every place of need.
Farming and Nature Strengthens the Soul
Working on the farm helped me connect to my soul on a more profound level. Spiritually, I respond to the rhythm of nature from sun up to sun down. On a typical day, I get up at 6 a.m. to the gentle sun peeking through the trees. As I load my wheel barrow with farm tools and head out to complete the day’s task, I hear the chirping sounds of birds and insects. Meanwhile the morning dew, a silk over the farm, is the first gift to the new day. My five senses are activated as I stroll towards the farm and take in the lovely scent of the trees and flowers. Daily, I am reminded of the ethereal beauty of Mother Nature. I feel nature’s mirror reflecting itself from within my soul, showing me how it has served the people and generations before me. I understand nature has elevated me to the role of provider as I care for plants that will feed my community. Esther Manor Farm prepared me a seat at Nature’s table, reopened my eyes to the beauty of nature and gave me the right to see my own.
Farming is Faith in Action
With climate change blurring the lines of the four seasons, farmers take a leap of faith as each planting season comes with its own risks. Hoards of insects devouring crops, too little rain, too much rain, rain at the wrong moment, a hailstorm or frost on the wrong day in spring can wipe you out. My first year of growing I had hoped to complete planting by April. But shortage of farm labor gave us a late start and prolonged planting season to the end of May. I remember bemoaning to a fellow grower in Virginia that my growing season will be shortened because of our late start. Instead, she remarked, “You are lucky. You missed the late frost in April that killed my crops.” And just like that I was reminded that The Esther Manor Farm is on God’s timetable.
Farming is an exercise in patience
Farming is fundamentally about waiting. After putting the vegetable (njama njama and water leaf) seeds in the ground, a month went by and I did not witness any visible results of the work. Each day, I would look at the fields and just see brown dirt. At first sight of buds sprouting from the soil, I was thrilled. I remember that day vividly. I squealed with delight as I ran to the fields saying.” You are here! You showed up! Welcome!” When I recounted this to other farmers and garden enthusiasts, they told me I am not crazy at all. All farmers talk to plants. Waiting and praying that the seeds take hold is an exercise in patience and the joy that engulfs you when your first plans sprout is indescribable.
Growing food gives you a greater appreciation for farm workers
Folks often visit the farm to harvest. Parents would come with their children and excitedly show them the fresh plants that are used in traditional dishes. But picking produce requires a-not-so pleasant encounter with bugs and mosquitoes who waste no time in drawing blood from unsuspecting visitors. Customers who find that they are allergic to certain weeds and other plants on the farm may find parts of their body itching. Covered, protective clothing is necessary when doing any work on the farm. The most arduous task for visitors is bending continuously to pick vegetables from the beds. In order to fill up a 33 gallon bag of vegetables visitors would require at least one hour of labor. After this exercise, exhausted customers would often remark about their new found appreciation for farm laborers who have to work long hours to ensure supermarkets have fresh produce on the shelves.
My first year of growing was an incredible experience. Armed with new knowledge and lessons, I am ready for next year. I hope you will join us too!