This is the second installment of our two-part series, Growing in 2020, as two of our women farmers reflect on their experiences working throughout the pandemic. To read Part 1 written by Jess Brobst, Dairy Herd Manager, click here.

Therapy and Privilege in the Setting of a Pandemic

by Jessica Dodd, Assistant Vegetable Manager

A takeaway I treasure from farming during the onset of this ongoing pandemic was the depth at which I came to know each person I was working with on the farm. And I don’t mean this in the direct sense of really knowing their story, their personality, becoming friends…. It is still something difficult to describe to you, reader. It perhaps had to do with literally feeling so much beside others who were also feeling so much while we all tried to do so much in the face of a pandemic. Our sensitive edges were visible to teach us about each other in a new way, as we moved through a new event with an openness to workplace vulnerability and intimacy that would gift us unexpected unification as a farm team of “essential workers.”

In the vegetable production, we often joke that a day in the fields (transplanting, harvesting, hoeing…) is often handled by the crew similarly to a long car ride. Everyone starts off enthusiastic and talking a lot, ready for the task, ready for the trip. Then comes the expected lull where we all go quiet/internal, and everyone is just thinking in the same space as time goes by (200 more plants in the ground or 200 more miles driven). And then someone starts up a new conversation as they get pulled from their wandering thoughts, or they want to share something they’ve seen or we need to do something (go get more harvesting totes or pull over to go to the bathroom).

We get to know one another in this time. We talk into our histories, and we learn each other’s ways by watching each other respond to all the daily needs of this great project that is caring for the land and the plants and animals we place in/on the ground. You begin to work alongside each other in that same comfortable car-ride silence that always ensues, and you know everyone is aware of everyone else’s rhythms (in the field or in the car).

The pandemic isolated us from each other in many ways last year. We were unable to engage socially in the same ways as before and could not even visit our families and close friends.

Many people spent extra time this past year on Zoom, FaceTime, or phone calls with each other to fill the gaps. Unconsciously, we found that our co-workers often took on the roles normally filled by family and friends. Our in-field road trip conversations traversed well beyond their normal depth, and we found ourselves grappling with larger questions. Shouldering the force of the unknown, we often confided in each other as we harvested or hoed, and we turned to one another for support at unexpected times, thus forging us into a new sort of family unit.

Two of our apprentices plant lettuce starts in the field. Photo by Nina Barry.
Photo by Nina Barry.
Sometime in the fall, I began to wonder why our farm team did manage to unify so well. We were not without problems and there were certainly times when the crew met the edges of burnout, both physically and mentally. Despite this, we found our way through challenges and managed to grow into something new. Was it because we shared this mutual responsibility of care for the animals and plants that did not know the pandemic as we were learning to know it in a human way? I often found that my work tasks (bunching herbs, hoeing beds…) and work environment (sunny fields along water with fresh air) were therapies and privileges in the setting of a pandemic. Maybe it was the shared nurturing of plants and livestock that gifted our farm team more potential to grow through difficult changes and heal, to hold on and to hold up in a pandemic.

Our Farm Team, minus a few apprentices who’d already left, standing in our newly constructed greenhouse at the end of the Growing Season.