In August, we bring a set of new full-time writers to the blog. Please welcome Jack Kamps (’16), who will be writing for us on the 12th of each month. Jack has been paid to do many things, such as teach preschoolers, pastor youths, schlep things in warehouses, bake pastries, design curriculum, serve coffee, maintain gardens, and fix computers. Jack is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary—though they tend to spend more time working on PTS’ small farm, plotting a future cheesecake business with their spouse, and listening to/talking about the latest Witch, Please episode than doing their homework.
We begin most of our days at the farm with twenty minutes or so of genocide.
Earlier this season, before we harvested the potatoes, it was not an entirely unpleasant task to pick off the sluggish orange-red potato bug larvae and drop them in our buckets of soapy water to drown (not the best way to go, I know). This part of the season, we mostly worry about the shield-shaped and flamboyantly patterned harlequin beetles. These relatives of the more demure stinkbug employ evasive manoeuvres worthy of a skilled trapeze artist, dropping from one leaf to the next when we move in for the kill.
Harlequin beetle eggs, looking like tiny, retro-futurist stacks of black and white checkers, are much easier to remove from the underside of kale or collard leaves—and the knowledge that they’ll soon hatch into escape artist beetles fuels our resolve to pick off as many egg clusters as we can. Too many times this week I’ve peeled back the row shade cloth from the (now pungently rotting) kale to find leaves weighed down by harlequin beetles of all development stages. Despite the time we’ve spent removing our carnivalesque adversaries, the current succession of brassicas are most likely a loss.
I’m personally still a bit squicky about stepping on the fat, four-inch long tomato hornworm caterpillars and feeling them burst; I usually end up throwing them at the ground with enough force to split them open like little oblong water balloons (only marginally less worse). I breathe a sigh of relief every time I follow a trail of blunt tomato branch nubs to find a worm taken over by a type of parasitic wasp, little puffed rice looking wasp egg bundles covering its body (I really should be horrified by this, rather than relieved). The wasps will actually be useful little pollinators—after they hatch and eat their way through the host worm.
Of course, it’s not only bugs that threaten our projected crop harvests. Grass, pigweed, bindweed, knotweed, sorrel, mugwort, and countless others all attempt to fill any available soil. It often seems as though these plant pests can take over a garden bed between one day and another. Although most of these unwanted plants are native—not to mention actually edible—they can’t stay. We pull them and throw them on the compost pile, along with the volunteer tomato plants and ground cherries that inevitably pop up uninvited outside of their designated rows. We monitor the tomatoes and cucurbits for disease, pruning branches and ripping out plants to stave off transmission as long as possible.
Eventually though, time runs out for the crop in question. Whether it has succumbed to disease, pests, heat, or some other factor, the result is the same—out of the garden bed and onto the compost pile. Disappointment is quickly set aside as we note down our observations for next season and plan what to plant next. Both frailty and failure are necessary companions as we respond to the needs of our crops.
Periodically planting sections of the garden in cover crop prevents us from getting too far behind in our weekly harvest schedule—especially when we have multiple successions going of summer squash, cucumbers, okra, beans, and tomatoes. All of these need to be checked for harvestable produce every couple days. Despite our best efforts, however, okra gets overly large and woody, tomatoes drop to the ground and burst, lettuce bolts, and basil goes to seed.
Killing creatures on a large scale—through action or inaction—is a central reality of farm work. Even though we only raise and butcher broiler chickens on a monthly rotation throughout the summer (when we have enough pasture to sustain them), our daily labour involves killing the various pests that threaten our crops—not to mention the crops themselves, when the time comes to flip a bed. Death is the centre of regeneration, inside the compost pile and elsewhere. The question, I think, is not so much how to avoid death—by opting out of killing the beetles or butchering the chickens, by holding on to the kale too long until it rots anyway—but how to respect it, how to make it matter, and how to move on to the next task.
Because the reality of the farm is that none of us gets to opt out, not really.
The land upon which I work and learn and from which I eat is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape, called “Lenapehoking.” I acknowledge the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. In my acknowledgment of the continued presence of Lenape people in their homeland, I affirm the aspiration of the great Lenape Chief Tamanend, that there be harmony between the Indigenous people of this land and the descendants of the immigrants to this land, “as long as the rivers and creeks flow, and the sun, moon, and stars shine.”
Jack Kamps (’16) has been paid to do many things, such as teach preschoolers, pastor youths, schlep things in warehouses, bake pastries, design curriculum, serve coffee, maintain gardens, and fix computers. Jack is currently a student at Princeton Theological Seminary—though they tend to spend more time working at a few local farms, plotting a future cheesecake business with their spouse, and listening to/talking about the latest Material Girls episode than doing their homework.