“Back to the strawberries? Again?” my students ask in disbelief. This is the third day this week we’ve knelt in the dormant strawberry patch, painstakingly pulling out the tall grasses and nascent weeds that have entwined themselves with the base of each plant. Our fingers are speckled with tiny, shallow cuts.
When I started training for my summer position leading high schoolers on the Food Project farm in Lincoln, Mass., the strawberry plants sprouted through sheets of photodegradable black plastic designed, as one farmer put it, “to turn a horrible job into a bad one.” The work was hard, but the transformation was visible, rewarding. By week 4, the plastic was in shreds and weeds seemed to return at double the speed. We could no longer fuel ourselves with mere novelty - we had to dig deeper. And that’s when it got spiritual.
Farming, to me, is the ultimate embodied prayer. We sink our hands deep into creation. We are forced to notice the complex interconnected worlds that hum along unseen right in front of us. We plant a seed and trust that it will transform into something abundant, beautiful, and nourishing. And, as with other kinds of prayer, farming demands sustained effort.
Some farm tasks transform a little effort into a lot of wonder. Like when we sifted through the sandy soil for potatoes, nestling them in clusters like dragon eggs while someone followed behind with a bright orange crate to collect them.
And some jobs were grueling, but through them, we proved to ourselves and each other what we were capable of. Like the 95-degree day we spent in a sweltering greenhouse, clearing away barren tomato plants that stretched from floor to ceiling. Dripping with sweat, we kept a steady rhythm and were rewarded with the fruits that weren’t going to market: big, ruby specimens you could eat whole, like biting into a sunset. (To my students’ great amusement, that particular task left my face and hands stained with yellow “tomato tar” for days afterwards.)
But sometimes, tasks were just plain hard.
Every day we went back to that strawberry patch was an act of faith. Even as we complained, we kept doing the work - work that we won’t see the tangible reward for, but that we - perhaps begrudgingly - trusted was worth doing. Next year, when the ice melts and our neighbors tentatively come out on their stoops to bask in the first breath of spring, our strawberry patch will start bursting with tiny green jewels, which will grow, and turn pale, then garnet. Most of us won’t ever taste them. But they will carry our prayer - our energy, our laughs, the times we blasted “In My Feelings” to get through the afternoon, and yes, our eyerolling and complaints - to whoever follows us.
As my second year with Life Together begins, I am trying to remember that there is beauty in the discipline of returning to something, again and again, even if you don’t see the impact, and trusting that somewhere in the discomfort, transformation will unfold that you can’t even begin to imagine.