Kind Cultivation.

July 20, 2016

There was something incredibly refreshing about spending the morning with Jed Restuccia and Dale Sharkey at their 50-acre farm in Victor, Idaho. The air was fresh and alive, the buzzing of insects filled my ears, and with every step I could see beautiful produce, young and ripe, peeking its way out of the soil.

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Cosmic Apple volunteers harvest a deep relationship with the earth and each other. (Photos by Cosmic Apple Gardens)

Cosmic Apple Gardens is an organic produce farm with 10 acres of cultivated vegetables and around 12 to 15 acres of pasture ground for chickens, cows and pigs. All of the animal and vegetable waste is composted and used as fertilizer for the next batch of crops. Upon visiting, anyone can see there’s a predominant old-world cyclical harmony on the farm, a sense of respect for nature seemingly absent on mass-production farms across the country. The crops are certified organic and prepared with biodynamic principals in mind, meaning Cosmic Apple farmers pay as much attention to the sky and stars as they do to the soil in order to grow the absolute best produce they can.

Currently, Cosmic Apple is fulfilling roughly 210 CSA shares this year (two-thirds of which are Jackson residents), as well as participating in three weekly farmers markets throughout the summer. The amount of produce that needs to be harvested every day can be staggering, and Sharkey believes having hard-working, happy volunteers is the secret to the farm’s success.

“People come here for a variety of reasons—they want to eat healthier, they want to do more gardening—but I see the real culture of [the volunteers] at lunch,” she said. “They become solid and they really get to know each other. They’re out there for five hours with no distractions, so they get into some really interesting conversations.”

Sharkey said the volunteers aren’t allowed to bring phones into the field, because she believes its important to be acutely aware of what your hands are doing.

“You can’t text and pick produce at the same time.”

I walked out into the fields and met up with the day’s volunteers: Josh, Tree, and Jazz. Workshare manager Noah Novotny said it was the last day for them to harvest this plot of turnips, so the volunteers grabbed some yellow plastic bins and got to work. They were looking for eyeball-sized turnips. Novotny handed me a small one to taste. After the crunch, the texture was smooth, almost buttery like an under-ripe pear. It was the best turnip I’d ever eaten.

“You can’t beat that taste right out of the ground,” Jazz said.

“He’s always snacking,” Tree clarified.

“Only the little ones!”

This is Tree’s third summer at Cosmic Apple and farming isn’t just a “fun and cute” thing for her like it can be for other people; it’s hard work and she thrives on it. Her knowledge of the process is extensive, as is her love for the produce she’s handling.

Without phones or watches, the days tend to go by quickly and are always finished off with an incredible lunch prepared by Sharkey.

“It’s the perfect compliment to a hard day of work,” Tree said.

Comprised of everything the farm has to offer at the moment, Sharkey’s lunches are the stuff of legend at Cosmic Apple. On this particular day, lunch was rumored to be tempeh with stir-fried vegetables, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stick around to sample the majesty.

In addition to lunch, volunteers also get shares of the produce they’re picking, which is a big draw. Sharkey said people come for the share, but they stay for the work.

“They’re really proud of what they do,” she said. “And they know that the harder they work, the bigger their share. And it’s great for me because my kids get to grow up in a place where they see these volunteers working hard and being kind to each other.”

The volunteers arrive at 7 a.m. and work until noon. Earlier in the season, planting is a huge part of the volunteers’ day, while later in the season, harvesting can consume the days. Weeding is a constant task throughout the year, and, thanks to some broken motorcycle happenstance, Cosmic Apple recently got paired up with a star weeder.

Aaron, 20, is from a small town in Kentucky where grew up on his family’s 2.5-acre farm. He and his friend initially planned to motorcycle across the country all the way up to Alaska, but now Aaron’s on his own. He was going to head up to Yellowstone and continue on to Glacier National Park when the front bearing fell off his motorcycle.

“I grew up working 20, 30, 40 hours a week, so this kind of stuff I’m used to,” he said. “Except Kentucky doesn’t have any mountains, so it’s a bit nicer out here.”

He may be a star weed-puller, but Alaska is still his endgame.

Before I said goodbye to the farmers, Sharkey and I spoke about the importance of a positive environment and making sure everyone on the farm, be it farmer, volunteer, guest, animal, or vegetable, is treated with care and respect.

“Once you get that figured out, you can really taste a difference,” she said.

Munz.

(Originally published in Planet JH)

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