I am passionate about exploring — and not only exploring but absorbing all the world has to offer. Since the start of COVID though, travel has come to an abrupt halt and this has left me seeking adventure in my home state of Virginia so what better way to explore it than to focus on the top highlight of my state and that is farming.
First background on me: Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to work in a florist shop. I remember the first job I applied to: My mom drove me to a busy downtown Richmond florist. I had just gotten my license but I was crippled by the mere thought of driving through the city’s one-way streets. “If you get this job, I am not going to drive you to and from work every day,” my mom threatened and so we made a deal that this would be a one-time nicety. The sad part of this story is that I never got a call back. And it broke my heart.
However, as I’ve grown older, I realize I do not want to work in a flower shop — Cut flowers die. I yearn to be there before the shop. I need to get my hands dirty planting seed, I want to see the green sprouts rise above the ground, and I dream to cut flowers and tote the bunches of beautiful blooms back in buckets so that those blooms can bring happiness to others. Yet, it is not solely flowers — I have an overwhelming love for herbs and so I desire to learn their healing properties. However, overall, I crave to work outside with both — to feel the sunlight warming my back, the rain drenching my clothes, and the weight of extra layers when the temperature dips. My body demands physical labor. Essentially, I want to work on a farm.
This is why over the summer last year I set out to fulfill a long-held dream, and what better place to achieve this than in Virginia where agriculture is the state’s largest private industry by a vast margin.
In fact, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “Virginia agriculture reportedly has an economic impact of $70 billion annually and provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.”
Not only this, but Virginia’s agricultural production is reported to be one of the most diverse in all of America.
Virginia agriculture also has unbelievable statistics: There are 43,225 farms; yet, for every consumer dollar spent on food, less than fifteen cents actually goes to the farmer. This is why it is so intensely important to buy local.
Another interesting fact: About thirty-six percent of Virginia’s primary farm operators are female . . . and I happened to find a local farm that is owned by Ash Carr, a self-taught female who is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to plants . . . and who (incredibly) said I could volunteer.
Her small Virginia farm — called Hazel Witch Farm — grows herbs, flowers, and seed in a low-till and chemical-free way so in my overwhelming enthusiasm to work and learn, I documented my farm lessons. Why I waited to post these writings, I am not sure, but get your tools ready because we are farming . . .
↠ Volunteering on the Farm ↞
The reason I fell in love with this farm is because of the passion behind it: The goal is to raise the plants from seed then harvest the seed so that the seed can be re-planted again in a cycle-of-life process. Farming this way allows the plants to adapt to the area, which is important because when plants are imported from a different state or country, they struggle to survive due to not being native.
A Lesson on Working on Farms
One of my first lessons came in learning how to work. Because farm work is intense — as a job and on the body — proper precautions need to be taken. One is to reduce the body’s amount of movements, such as reducing bending, picking up and putting down tools, even pulling rubberbands in and out of pockets. When movements have to happen, it is important to activate core muscles, which allows work to be done more efficiently.
A Lesson on Bunching
Who would have guessed there is a recommended way to tie a rubberband when harvesting plants? Not me . . . until I was taught. Instead of placing the band around all stem ends at one time then twisting it to go around again — the band should instead be looped through one stem end then the entire rubberband (smooshed together so nothing more is inside) wrapped around the bottom of all stems before placing the final loop through another stem end. By wrapping this way, when you find the end, the band is super easy to pull off and the plant stems do not risk being damaged. It’s wizard work going on here, y’all.
Back to my lesson though: Her farm is a buzz of movement and sound from numerous animals, though it does take awhile for this buzz to happen — When harvesting in the morning, sleepy bees splay their bodies on flowers to warm. I learned bees love hot temperatures so they get cold when night sets in. By the time the sun comes up in the morning though, they become happier, warming their little bodies before being able to set off again.
“Would you like me to still harvest the Echinacea then?” I asked the owner.
More on Echinacea in a moment though . . .
A Lesson on Harvesting Echinacea
Now back to Echinacea: This plant can be used for many medicinal purposes, such as those for colds; upper respiratory issues, illnesses, and infections (coughs, bronchitis, etc.); and inflammation.
A Lesson on Transplanting, Well, Plants
From cutting to planting, the first plant I transplanted was Zinnia, which is an annual flower that loves the heat so much so that it blooms all summer. There are many different colors (such as the Oklahoma blush and salmon that I got to plant) but transplanting any plant is the same . . .
The most stressful part in any plant’s life is transplantation (is that even a word?) because it is not natural — Nowhere in nature will plants be plucked from the ground and re-planted into a new hole. Because of this, great care needs to be taken and this is where I learned the most important lesson of the day: Do not pinch or even lightly hold a plant’s stem when taking it out of a planter. This will cause the plant’s xylem stem cells (the vascular cells that bring water, nutrients, and support to the plant) to bruise and that causes the stem to collapse upon itself, which then causes the plant to die. Avoid this by lightly pinching the two opposite-side leaves closest to the roots then delicately lifting the plant from the planter. Worst case scenario: A leaf is ripped but the plant regrows leaves; it cannot re-grow a new stem. Life-changing lesson here.
After hours passed, it was time for me to go home and so — covered in sweat and dirt with a light sunburn — I called Andy. I was bubbling with excitement about every flower, every herb, and every lesson . . . so much so that by the time he returned home that evening, my excitement was still uncontainable and so I made him sit down to hear all of my stories again. He’s a good man and I love him, but what I also love is farming so head on over to my Part Two farm lessons . . .