Mara’s Land Diary: Day 1

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Monday 25 June, 2012

After a quick and jaunty van drive from Appleford train station on Monday morning, we arrived at Cultivate’s market garden. My first impression was of a long, rectangular sloping field full of promise, tended with love and a lot of enthusiasm. Soon after arriving I was greeted by Dan’s (and so by extension, Cultivate’s) very own “urban-farm dog”, whose recent yearly bath had left him a little too clean to pass for an authentic country dog. But to be fair to him, Bertie, like the rest of the team, is only beginning to learn what’s what with this farming lark! And I’m the newest member of the team. I’ll be volunteering with Cultivate – on the land and in the van – for the next two weeks, and I’ll be back again for another fortnight in September to catch peak harvest season.

I was quickly put to work in the polytunnels, getting my fingers coated with a wonderfully sticky green crust whilst pruning and twining tomato plants (lovingly nicknamed Toms) back up their climbing supports.  A good place, might I add, to get hot and sweaty as one should in the summer – polytunnels can get steamy!

One of the beautiful things about a co-op, which was pointed out to me by Dan, Doireann and Emma (with me on the land), is that there is no boss, or rather, that everyone is the boss. Which means that you can break when you like for lunch. We were all hungry, so we took an early lunchbreak on Monday. But just before we tucked in, they gave me a little tour of their mini-estate and talked me through their work-in-progress. The polytunnels house the Toms, Peppers, Chillies, Aubergines, Cucumbers and “accidental/experimental” (and very tasty) strawberries. Outside, in the different ten-year rotation patches there were many more veggies, amongst my favourites the rows of many different types of onions and the stunningly coloured salads.

What really struck me was how picky customers are expected to be; salad leaves can be just tooooo big to sell apparently! But this only means more for the Cultivate crew to harvest for themselves, meaning that our lunch, which we ate perched on straw bales, featured freshly picked cucumbers and spring onions.

Our afternoon workout consisted of planting sprightly young courgette seedlings into neat rows that had been marked out by Joe’s inventive and oh-so-flashy technicolour-pink string-device, whilst Dan picked salad leaves for Trinity College. What I love the most about working on the land is that you’re free to chat about all sorts of things, including popular teen fiction, because it’s your hands that are at work.

Half past four and it was time to head home; time to jump back into the van with bags of salad leaves, Bertie (the dog) and a refreshing “oversized” cucumber to munch on the way home.

 – Mara