Bean there, done that

For this city gal, rural life is best appreciated from a distance

As the bounty of the midsummer harvest starts coming to the homes of my neighbors who have joined organic farm co-ops, I start feeling a little envious and a lot inadequate.

For the uninitiated, I'll give you a quick primer. For a few hundred dollars, dozens of local organic farms offer "shares" of their harvest. During the growing season, you are given your part of the copious bounty on a weekly basis. My first year, I stared at the mounds of kohlrabi, kale, bok choy and green onions, wondering where I'd put them all. We radiated good health when the spring greens were in, but as the harvest increased, the refrigerator soon became a moldy mess. Overwhelmed, I gave up on the concept.

A few years later, a friend asked if I wanted to share her membership and I thought, "sharing might work…" I signed up without reading the fine print that explained that, as a farm member, I was required to work on the farm for two full days.

If I had read the contract, I never would have signed up because this would not be my first brush with agrarian life.

The summer I was 13, I was reading the camp section in the Minneapolis Star and noticed an advertisement for a one-week farm camp for inner-city kids. I wandered out to the front porch of our Kenwood home to ask my mother if I could go. At "camp," I endured a week rolling hay in a broiling field while I unequivocally discovered the meaning of hay fever. I was also given the job of feeding the chickens and became rather attached to them until, on Friday morning, the farm mother asked me to help her catch one. Without warning, she wrung its neck, tossed its quivering body into a bucket of water and left me to defeather it. I returned to the city with the firm conviction that I would never be drawn to a life of farming.

So you can imagine my alarm when I received an e-mail saying that I was expected at my farm co-op the next morning. At dawn, I found myself standing at the vegetable-sorting area of my farm. The farmer gave me a large basket and said, "The green beans are in, why don't you head into field 'A'?" I walked uphill to field "A," glanced wearily at the cloudless sky and got to work.

As the sweat dripped down my face and I bent at an awkward angle over the beans, I thought about the Mexican immigrants I had tutored in ESL and how they would have laughed to learn that I was paying for this experience to get in touch with my food. In fact, between my $10 per hour babysitter and my farm membership, I was probably paying more than they made in a couple days for this honor. And that was before the bees came out and my hay fever hit. My nose was running at a swift pace, my eyes were so itchy they had almost sealed shut and I was sneezing to a steady beat.

After the beans, I was sent to crawl through field "B" as I weeded the potato and carrot fields. Then I moved over to field "C" to reunite with the bees as I searched for the remnants of the raspberry harvest. I returned home exhausted and resentful of my vegetables.

Last spring, my friend asked if I was ready to split a share with her again. She had found another farm with no work requirements. Fearing that I might eventually inherit the family co-op farm, I politely said, "No thank you" but promised myself to say a small prayer of thanks for the laborers who bring my leafy fare to the safety of the farmer's market.

Jocelyn Hale, a lifelong resident of Minneapolis, lives with her family in the Fulton neighborhood.