Reflections From A Farm Apprentice

Jasmine Wilborne came to Common Ground as a summer camper more than a decade ago. Since then, she became a junior counselor, teenage counselor, and a member of our adult camp staff. In summer 2012, she decided to step away from camp to take on a summer apprenticeship on Common Ground’s urban farm.

This summer, if you visit Common Ground, you won’t find me knee deep in little ones or spinning a story about my scar. Instead you might find me pruning the tomatoes, weeding the paths or trellising the cucumbers. As a former Common Ground kid, working the garden is like receiving a private tour of a factory that produces your favorite granola bar: breathtaking!

Before I became the Mobile Market and Farm Intern at Common Ground, I regarded my mom’s tiny unruly backyard garden with disdain. I pitied the malnourished plants that thrived on the infrequent sheets of sunlight that settled on their leaves. I found weeding an unnecessary punishment and scoffed at the misshapen tomatoes or curly-ended green beans.

I am a new woman now. My inner farmer is thriving beneath the inspirational rays of Farmer Shannon Raider. Farmer Shannon deserves to have her own song ee-ie-ee-ie-ooh and on her farm there are: fat pearl white Wala Wala sweet onions and curly-headed red Russian kale. There’s a yellow, red and white rainbow chard road and Napa cabbage that peeks through its outer leaves. You’ll be happy to know that Shannon has redeemed my idea of weeding. My first week at the Production garden I regarded her as a little crazy, especially when she would stop mid-sentence to bemoan the (insert name of any New England veggie) and begin plucking the weeds from the surface of the earth. She’s a ruthless murderer and has taught me that some living things deserve to die.

Most days I go to work I rejoice, do a little jive and often say, “This is my job!” This welling up of praise is usually accompanied by looking out over the field. I’m referring to the rows and rows of edible delights, to the deep bright blue of the sky, to the little robin that pops up alongside the strawberry plants, to the cold dew that moistens the tops of my shoes, to the horrific surprise of weeding a path and feeling a quarter-sized arachnid settle on my wrist. I’m talking about the joy of plucking bright orange carrots from the earth, the purple-skinned beets, to the radishes. It’s the refreshing cool of a snap pea bursting sweetly over my tongue, the soul-trembling green scent of a tomato plant or the prickly texture of a baby cucumber beneath my fingers.

And for those of you who might write off my joy as a type of pastoral fantasy, I will take some time to mention some of the pains of gardening. There is the hot sun beating down on your skin and the itchy layer of soil that clings to your sweaty forearms. There’s the tedious rhythm of trellising pepper plants or planting winter squash in rows of brown that never seem to end. There’s the haunting reality, on a glocal scale, that farmers don’t make much and are often drowning in debt. I think there’s a sick irony that we worship the CEOs of major technological companies but don’t know the names of the hands that harvest our food.

Last Wednesday, I attended my first farmers market. There was something thrilling and deeply archaic about selling the veggies we had harvested the day before. I watched as average people sized up our manifested hard work or ran their fingers over the stringy limbs of fennel or pushed their noses into the strong scent of basil. Every other moment I found a thrill that riveted up along my ribcage and ignited my breath with a flare of soul-pleasing, self-fulfillment, and pleasure. This is a luxury, I thought, this, right here, is like a dream job. And while fresh food is still largely inaccessible to the poor and that produce often ends up in the trash and that much of our veggies are produced out of a demand for quantity, not quality, there is a hope blossoming in New Haven and cities everywhere who are crying out for local sustainable food. My worries, though dark and unrelenting, seem to abate when I show up for work and see that Farmer Shannon’s ears are heavy with a tiny bronze shovel and wheelbarrow. One day, someday, everything will be okay.



  1. PotterPowerCY Dec 28, 2012 at 8:00 am - Reply

    I love this blog post! I’m so glad there are people working to bring quality food to market, and such a strong institution to support them!

    I’m busy for now with City Year New Hampshire, but I’d love to come and learn about what you do in the future, and perhaps get involved in 2014. Keep up the good work!

    • joeltolman Dec 31, 2012 at 3:03 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your kind words! We have huge respect for the good work that you and your compatriots at City Year take on. If you’re ever passing through New Haven, please be in touch — we would love to show you around our site.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.