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A Farm Workday: rad roots and other Purple Carrot curiosities

The Purple Carrot Farm hosted a volunteer workday on Sunday, October 18 as part of Bennington’s Fall Weekend. 

The sky was unobstructed by clouds as it hung over the Farm and accented the harvested roots and tilled soil, waiting to be worked on by the day’s volunteers. Just beyond the square gate into the Farm stood five Bennington students huddled in a circle—all wearing masks—watching as staff member Dane Whitman taught us how to plant various bulbs.

Tilled soil stretched dozens of feet, lined with a tape ruler and crates of garlic bulbs waiting to be planted. We first sorted two variations of garlic into different buckets to be planted in separate sections of the lot. 

All went quiet as Dane began explaining how to plant the garlic bulbs. We crouched down to watch the small hand shovel dig straight down into the soil, and pull back toward Dane to create an angled crevasse in which the bulb will rest.

“The bulb must be planted this side up,” said Whitman, referring to the frilled side opposite the root. The tape ruler laid along the soil indicates where these crevasses must be made; enlarged numbers on the tape instruct us to plant each bulb six inches apart. 

Knees tucked in the cool soil, we began digging and planting bulbs down the line, constantly reassuring each other that we have not accidentally planted multiple bulbs per soil pocket. Some students pick through the bucket of bulbs at a brisk pace as they recall memories of Bennington past and embrace the nostalgia of their hometown, whereas others plant slowly and steadily, admiring the scent of cool soil and fresh grass as they enjoy a private moment of self-care. 

There was a good balance of energies at the Farm’s work day; adamant, ambitious students worked fervently to finish the day’s work while others planted and harvested to absorb the soothing and healing qualities of farming.

Once the different varieties of garlic have been planted, students push the tilled soil over each crevasse and then over each row, to level and flatten the plot. A blanket of hay is carefully laid atop the land in preparation for the coming seasons, to insulate the bulbs and prevent them from sprouting too early.

A handful of students broke off to begin harvesting a variety of roots, planted opposite the garlic bed. Dane Whitman helped us identify which leaves belong to which root; “The stiffer, glossier-looking leaves are beets and the rounder, softer leaves are dock.” We dug our fingers into the soil, staining our skin, and tried to locate the crest of the bulb to pull it out. 

Some beetroot bulbs are small pearls, approximately one centimeter in diameter, whereas others are fuller and, well, bulbous. Two crates quickly filled up with beets. Though they were caked in dirt, the sun highlighted the deep red bulbs peeking through to the surface as they were stacked atop one another. 

One row over sat dozens of daikon radish bulbs eagerly waiting to join the neighboring beets in another set of crates. Daikon radish takes on a variety of shapes and sizes. In some cases, they are longer and thinner than beets, and are more tightly nestled into the soil. They require a more articulated grip to pull them up through the ground’s surface, but when you do you will see an elongated and pointed white bulb. Other times, they will be just as round and full as a beet. Student Hannah Leckrone pulled a radish that narrowed and widened at several points, causing it to look like the leaves were blowing bubbles out of their stems. 

Carrots were harvested next, displaying a rainbow of colors to Dane and the students. Leckrone says, “We pulled carrots of a variety of colors, which was super fun.” After washing and cleaning the veggies, students were able to take away their share from the day. It was at this time that the school’s president, Laura Walker, arrived at the Farm ready to get to work. By this point most of the plants had been harvested, so Walker could only take a bag of vegetables to-go.

In addition to planting and harvesting bulbs, students also prepared the land for future planting after the coming season. “I spread a huge field of cover crop, for fields that will later be fields for something else,” Leckrone says. “To keep the soil good, you have to plant other stuff in it [in the meantime] which is called cover crop.”

Leckrone highlights the benefits she experienced from this work day. “It’s very wholesome to be a part of so many different steps of the growing cycle,” she says. “I felt great on the inside… I’m excited to be a part of it every week.”

New passions and interests came to light as a result. “I realized I like being close to the food I’m going to put in my body. I like picking it out of the ground, and how much better that feels,” Leckrone says. “I was reminded of the fact that picking a carrot, rinsing it off, and eating that carrot feels so good. Planting things with the knowledge that the people around me will get to do that feels lovely.”

One key takeaway: “It made me feel grounded and connected to this area.”

Student Bryce Sullivan says her favorite thing to do with the Farm is planning the herb garden, which is anticipated to house both culinary and medicinal plants.

Another student, Leonie Huppe, volunteers often to help Whitman and visiting Food Studies faculty Tatiana Abatemarco tend to the land, who come every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday to manage the Farm. The Farm is open to anybody who wishes to volunteer, and will facilitate more Sunday work days in the spring semester.

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