By: Nyssa Collins, NC State correspondent
A good turnout can bring twenty volunteers spilling out of cars. We are students and professors from NC State. We are parents and kids of any age, and families from the neighborhood, wondering what the heck is going on. We are school groups, church groups, and service groups (Haven House reliably sends a solid team). We are individuals who don’t have farm and garden experience, and wish we did. We arrive by van or carpool or bicycle any Saturday morning at 9:00am to the Food Shuttle Farm at 4505 Tryon Road.
The assembled crew – wearing fanny packs and sipping from water bottles – gathers around Sun for assignment. On the to-do list for the third Saturday of June:
- Suckering and tying tomatoes
- feeding the worms
- turning compost
- spreading mulch between the rows.
A tomato sucker grows between the main branches of the tomato plant. They are tricky to spot because they look very similar to tomato branches and eventually get flowers and tomatoes of their own. Suckering is popping off the adventitious (out of place) branch with clippers or your hands – which will soon turn green from touching tomato plans. Why pull off tomato suckers, if they will grow tomatoes? Because they are SUCKERS: suckers of energy and sunlight from the rest of the plant. Growing these extra branches is inefficient if you want a few big and juicy tomatoes. It’s like if you have too many hobbies – you’re so overbooked you can’t do any of them well.
By 11:00, tomato tying and suckering is done, and the conversation invariably turns to food. (This is because we are starting to get hungry!) Any serious student of food and health somehow finds his way to the farm, eventually. For this reason, you can’t find a better place to trade recipes or learn how to cook a vegetable. Before humans get to eat lunch, the WORMS get to eat lunch.
The day is sure to wrap up by noon or 1:00, because it is already near 90 degrees. We’ve done some important work that would have been much harder with fewer people, and even managed to learn a couple of things. The day’s end doesn’t mean work on the farm is done: volunteers come out 7 days a week. After a hard morning’s work, most volunteers head home for the day. Some sit for a picnic in the shade with new friends. They’re resting up for more farming in the afternoon!