Confession: I never took out the compost. Out of all the tasks I had to do during my summer internship that might make people complain— hours straight spent weeding, soaking logs in barrels of water to make them moist enough to grow mushrooms, finding cucumber beetles on blossoming plants and crushing them with our bare hands—this was the job I hated most. The composting process is tedious, not to mention the fact that it excretes a particularly noxious scent. So whenever it was time to grab shovels and toss piles of the vegetation into the compost barrels we kept handy, I would find an excuse to be busy. All of a sudden, the tomatoes in the back row really needed to be weeded, my co-workers were really struggling to harvest that five pounds of basil and needed my support, or I just took an extended bathroom break.
Other than my unwillingness to help with the composting process, though, I enjoyed every minute spent working on a rooftop farm. I loved mornings when, occasionally, the other farmers would be running late, and I would have the entire one-acre roof to myself; there is no better place for sitting and thinking than in a row of plants in the process of growing. When my co-workers were there, we would feed the chickens, who oscillated between cuddly and feisty moods. At one point, a chicken escaped from the coop and flew off the roof, which was a full seven stories from the ground below. Alarmed, we all thought that death was certain, until our boss found an article in a local newspaper about a chicken who had found a home in a nearby subway stop. Members of the neighborhood had grown particularly fond of her and had taken to leaving her little treats as she pecked around the MetroCard machines.
In the afternoons, we would all take lunch together, often trading oohs and aahs over each others’ lunches. Working with people who love food means that it’s very likely that half the bagged lunches will be gourmet. We talked and got to know each other well, through conversations about relationships, parents, college, and post-college life. We played games like “farm confession,” where we revealed things like, “Sometimes I smoke weed in the tomatoes,” or, “I often pee in the compost pile when I’m too lazy to go to the bathroom.” I never imagined we’d become so close.
It’s hard to find time at school to partake in the hobbies I enjoy most, activities where I get to make use of my hands, such as cooking and collage making. Working on the farm provoked a constant feeling of awe at the capabilities of the human body; at each point at which I felt I was too tired to lift another bag of soil or clear another row of weeds, I somehow found the physical strength to do so. I was always tired, but in a way that made me feel strong. I felt as though I was using every part of my body—that I was giving purpose to the muscles in my legs and arms in a way I usually do not.
The city makes me anxious. When I chose to go to college here, I didn’t anticipate how much I would miss my front lawn and backyard, the trees lining my street, and my home’s little garden. But I did—I missed it a lot, and I still do, which is part of the reason I sought out the farm. While I’ll often look at a New York skyline and think about how beautiful it is, I can’t help but think about the effortless way an untouched horizon achieves the same effect.
Over the summer, I put a lot of effort into making things grow a certain way. Once, I had to spray pepper plants with a fish emulsion fertilizer that came in a backpack for an overall look best described by all of my co-workers as “Ghostbusters.” I accessorized further with an air cast I had to wear for the first month of farming due to a recent foot fracture. “You look like the coolest girl in the world,” my friend Talia told me. Ultimately, though, as much work as you put into farming, the plants will grow the way they want to grow, and, unlike creations of the man-made variety, the farmer has no choice other than to sit back, relax, and watch them become what they want to be. Farming taught me patience and a sense of reassurance that, yes, sometimes your rainbow chard will turn out bitter, and you’ll have to pull out the entire row and start all over again, and, if you’re as lucky as we were, this will probably happen while it’s raining outside. Usually, though, everything will turn out fine, even without your constant supervision.
Sometimes, in the middle of a weed-hacking session of the most intense variety, I would forget where I was for a moment and look up; each time I did, I was always in awe of the sights my eyes would meet. Immediately in front of me, there was the roof border of brightly blooming sunflowers, as big as your face, and beyond them what seemed like all of New York City—the Williamsburg Bridge, industrial Queens, and the Empire State Building—stretched below me. And everything grew infinitely.