Saturday, May 15, 2010

Asparagus, at a glance

So after a few days on the farm, I'm exhausted but forcing myself to put 'pen to paper,' as it were, and record some of my impressions of my first days.

A lot has happened, from the flight back to Toronto to the car ride to the farm, and my new life in the bunkhouse here. I'll tell you more about these some other time, but for now I'll write a bit about an odd-looking green vegetable.

Let me tell you a little about asparagus, which those less ignorant than I am probably already know. The spears that you buy grow right out of the ground; you're actually eating the young stalk of a larger plant. Asparagus is one of those plants that make me wonder just how it was domesticated. I'd really like to meet the caveperson who went around eating plant stalks until they decided that asparagus would be the right one to farm.

Asparagus is harvested by cutting the stalk off at the ground once it reaches a certain height. It is then put into crates and sent to be processed. The processing consists of sorting them into grades based on length: short ones get sent for pickling, longer ones become the bunches that are sold in supermarkets.

The spears can be harvested every few days when it is hot. Those of you in Toronto will have noticed that the last few days have been anything but, meaning less work for us. However, come late May and early June, the week will be an unceasing cycle of harvest and pack, harvest and pack.

I am told that sometimes, you can start in the morning, finish packing the asparagus you harvested the day before, and go back to harvest that very afternoon.

Once the short spears have been weeded out, the real fun begins. Five or six guys work an assembly line, where asparagus is put on a conveyor belt and passes through a rotating blade that cuts them all to the same size. The asparagus, now uniformly eight and a half inches, is now packed into 1-lb. bunches.

These bunches are packed into boxes with special holes for washing and a paper pad at the bottom. You wash the asparagus when it's already in the boxes, and the water soaks into the paper pad which acts as a sort of surrogate soil, providing water to the asparagus so that it continues to live a hydroponic life until it reaches the store shelves. Thanks, science!

Currently the Ontario Asparagus Drought is entering week two, and showing no signs of abating for the next couple of days at least. Supermarket shelves are bare! Crowds are panicking in the street! (the first one is true, at least. An unscientific survey of the Loblaws I was just at revealed no asparagus on the produce shelves)

While the waiting has been going on, we have weeded strawberries, planted strawberries, irrigated strawberries, shovelled manure onto a rhubarb patch, and so on until we run out of work. We're currently on half-days until the sun comes back out, which kind of blows (although it allows more time for blog writing, which is awesome!)

There's a lot to tell about farm life, and I'm sure that I'll tell you all more in the coming weeks. For now, think of asparagus and exhort the sun gods to radiate their rays of solar goodness or I'll be out of a job!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Adam in Ontario!

I'm writing this from the GO bus terminal in Union Station, waiting for my bus to McMaster University, where I'll be meeting the rest of the Labourer-Teachers for a training week before we head off to our farms. I must seem like the consummate traveller, harried-looking, muffin and coffee resting on a worn-out suitcase, typing furiously on a netbook I produced from an overfull backpack. It's my hope that I can get my thoughts out in the next 20 minutes, and post this on Union Station's excellent wireless connections, the last sure internet connection I am to access before I leave terra firma.

It was my hope to make this a sort of disclaimer, as the blog shifts over to my experiences as a labourer-teacher. The post will be modelled on Josh's far more eloquent entry (read his blog!), which I am shamelessly plagiarizing.

So, without further adieu: I hope that this blog will be informative, entertaining, and an all-around excellent reading experience. I hope that I can bring city-slickers like myself into a world that I know is completely foreign to me even though it is only a two-hour drive from my home. I hope that through this blog, people can see the world of farm labour in Canada, and the work that Frontier College does. If sometime down the road, this blog was useful to someone who was considering the Labourer-Teacher program, I will be very happy indeed.

However, there are a few important caveats here. Farm labour in Canada is a highly contentious issue. Most fruits are picked by so-called 'guest labourers' who are flown up for the growing season from places like Mexico, Jamaica, or Vietnam. Their presence, working conditions, rights and safety are issues that a host of labour unions, NGOs, and grassroots organizations are concerned with. Also, the workers I am working with will be in a teacher-learner relationship for me for the entire time, and therefore confidentiality is of the highest importance.

All this is to say that in order to be respectful to the people I am working with, and to ensure that I do not place Frontier College in an awkward situation, I will not do any of the following things on my blog.

1.Post any names, be they of farmers, workers, or Frontier College staff. The only name you will know will be mine. I'm Adam, by the way!
2.Post the location of my farm. I am working on a farm in South-Central Ontario. Those who know me personally will know where it is; I ask that you not post this in the public domain, i.e. this blog.
3.Discuss situations that involve legal issues that would be compromised by my writing about them.

Hope that works for everyone! I'm super excited to share this experience with everyone, and I hope you enjoy! And now, off to catch my train! Bus? I should probably know this by now!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Leaving 'n' stuff!

There's something about having only a week left in a place that makes you fairly introspective, and at the risk of taking myself too seriously, I'm going to try and capture that sensation. I actually find it to be one of the more distinct parts of culture shock, proving, I guess, that not all of us follow the 'curve.'

The last time I was leaving for a while was in 2006, when I went to Brazil and Quebec with Canada World Youth. It was an odd sort of experience, in that I was graduating high school at the time, and so when I left, it was with the realization that I wouldn't see most of the people I was leaving behind. But I was fine with that, being an angry 18-year-old whose favourite memory of graduation was skipping it.

You know what's the weirdest part of being about to leave a place? How normal it all is. Two weeks ago, I was studying for an exam, like I always have. Now I won't be doing that for nearly two years. I'm on duty on residence as I write this, holding the on-call phone and ready to respond to calls until 9 AM. This will literally never happen again, but it seems completely routine. It's like there's some kind of disjoint between what is happening now and what you know will happen.

On a lighter note, things Adam hates:

2.Health insurance

...and other things which, while vital to his survival, are really annoying and hurt body and soul.

Next time: Adam in India becomes Adam in Ontario, as I head out for Frontier College training! Stay tuned!

PS: yes, this was written on Monday and spent a few days gathering dust. I've been disorganized, sorry.