Life in season—our first year working on a farm

Asparagus is one of the first crops to arrive in the spring. Using stored energy from the previous year, these vegetables push their way out of the cold ground without the help of a human hand, assuring us an abundant season ahead.

Don’t worry— we know it isn’t really that simple.

Asparagus actually involves a lot of waiting. It cannot be picked right away in the same year it is planted. After a year or two, you can pick lightly, slowly increasing your harvest over the years. Over time, an asparagus field grows to produce a great bounty… but to fully enjoy that bounty, you’re going to need to wait.

Seeing the well-established 10+-year-old asparagus fields at Echollective reminds us of how far we have come and how much more we still need to learn, do, and grow before we are ready to start our farm.

Preparing for farm ownership is a long and meandering journey full of sore muscles, early mornings, and organizational mind-benders. But the fresh food, companionship with fellow growers, the joy of watching plants grow, and our dream make the hard days totally worthwhile.

We know farming isn’t the easiest or most lucrative career, but after overcoming the obstacles and relishing in the fruits of our labor this season, we’re sure it’s the right one. We’re getting ready to make farming our lives.

Spring: Asparagus

At Echollective, spring means harvesting thousands of pounds of asparagus across several acres of land.

Asparagus stalks grow directly out of the ground. It’s is one of the few plants that looks about the same on the farm as it does on the grocery store shelf. We march out to the fields with our asparagus knives and cut each stalk with a swift stroke to the base.

Asparagus can grow up to an inch an hour in prime conditions. We harvested every day during the spring in order to catch them at the right length.

Harvesting asparagus is one of the tougher jobs on the farm. The task itself isn’t so bad, but the repetition of movement can become a real physical and mental challenge. Luckily, we rarely spent more than four hours a day harvesting asparagus, even at its height. There were also more workers this spring compared to past seasons, which made it possible to trade tasks when the days got long.

Though we love asparagus, we weren’t exactly sad when its season ended and we moved on to Echollective’s other major crop: garlic.

Mid-summer: Garlic

Echollective plants multiple acres of garlic every year. There are multiple varieties—some are spicier, sweeter, larger, or smaller than others. We weren’t around when they planted the seeds (a single clove of garlic planted in the fall will eventually grow into a full bulb, ready to harvest the following summer) in October and November, but we were fortunate enough to participate in the harvest.

Like asparagus, harvesting garlic takes a lot of work. The harvest is a lot faster (just a couple hours a day with a large crew). The weather is hotter (mid- to late-July). And the work is more physical as you use your full body to pull each bulb out of the ground.

Fortunately, when you really love cooking with a certain crop, the work is more exciting. We’re the kind of people who at least double the amount of garlic called for in every recipe, so we found a lot of joy in the garlic harvest—the sound of the garlic bulb as it’s pulled out of the ground, the garlicky smells wafting from the drying house, the satisfaction of peeling the layers off a fully-cured bulb to discover pearly white underneath.

We finished the garlic harvest on July 18, a Saturday. It was a hugely satisfying day for the whole crew, as we had harvested thousands of bulbs and stored them away to dry for several weeks. Some will be cut down and turned into food or “sale” garlic while the biggest bulbs are sold as seed garlic for future harvests all around the country.

Seeing a crop that is so often purchased from overseas grow so well right in our home state of Iowa was quite an experience to behold our first season. Garlic gives us hope that the local food system will continue to develop as people begin turning to farmer’s markets and CSAs to supply their staple items.

Late summer: Tomatoes

Tomato season is now (early August) in full swing at the farm. This year, Echollective is growing all their tomatoes in greenhouses. We’ve been highly involved since transplanting them from various pots into rows in the greenhouses back in May. We learned how to prune and trellis tomatoes for peak production, disease prevention, and efficient harvesting. We weeded the beds again and again. We waited for what seemed like forever. Then, all of a sudden, the tomatoes started ripening like crazy.

Pruning tomatoes is one of our favorite jobs on the farm, especially when Tonks comes along to help.

We harvest tomatoes every single day at work and it never gets old. We walk the rows with 2-gallon buckets affixed to makeshift straps slung across our shoulders, gathering handfuls of cherry tomatoes. Echollective grows a beautiful variety of colors and shapes to sell as a mix.

Nearly ripe white, pink, and black cherry tomatoes

They also grow a wide range of heirloom slicer tomatoes. We won’t see a standard, big, red tomato all season. Instead, these heirlooms also come in all kinds of colors and shapes. Some grow into strange shapes, appearing as if they’ve swallowed the tomatoes around them. The flavor is incredible and worth the extra effort of growing such a unique crop.

The future

We are still planning to attend Organic Farm School next year. We still get to live in a yurt! While we love our current job, we also can’t wait to head out to Washington State next spring to learn how to lead our own operation.

Thank you again for joining us on our farming journey. We are so excited and thankful to finally get started despite all kinds of changes in plans along the way.

Please, check back and subscribe to our email list for future updates. In the meantime, be sure to drop in on your local farmer’s market, virtual or otherwise and eat some fresh garden tomatoes!

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