Thistle

Duke and Toby bark loudly as singular drops of rain fail to rest on each of the tips of their yellow and black snouts. They are given no attention by anyone other than the dozen or so Gotland Sheep, which sit in a field in the distance. Their responding bahs travel well through the humid air — we can hear them from our tiny patch of dirt and crops a few hundred yards away. Here, resting just a couple hundred feet from Maryland Route 273, with the backdrop of five humble acres of family owned farmland, we’re pulling weeds.

Fair Weather Farm sits just a mile outside of Newark, Delaware in Cecil County, Maryland. Owned and operated by the Bentley family, it is one of just 100 organic farms in the state of Maryland. Since 2008, Fair Weather has been striving to provide their community with the finest, healthiest, and most accessible organic and homegrown products possible.

Fittingly enough, Fair Weather’s survival hinges on the help of the same community which it hopes to provide for. The Farm partners with groups and individuals in order to keep it running smoothly and efficiently. These people, mostly volunteers, provide their services by performing physical labor (harvesting, seeding, maintenance, etc.), or by working as a core group member (publicity, fundraising, education, etc.). Today, I am one of those community members, along with Tiffany, a neighbor to Fair Weather, and a few other University of Delaware students who are members of the school’s Down To Earth Co-op.

It has been a long time since I’ve actually done real, down-in-the-dirt weeding. I’ve weeded before, of course, but my four years at the University of Delaware haven’t provided me much opportunity to sharpen my invasive sprout plucking abilities. I spent my first two years at UD in dorms, where the closest I got to doing any real landscaping was flattening out a path through the tall grass to the shortest point of crossing at the creek next to Gilbert Hall on Friday and Saturday nights. I then spent two years in an off campus rental house, where, apart from the occasional trimming of the lawn in order to avoid a fine, landscaping fell low on the list of priorities. But today, it seems, I’ll be going back to my weeding roots.

A small patch, maybe 60ft x 20ft, is our project for the afternoon. Under overcast skies, but on a thankfully warm day for an unseasonably cool month of May, we get to work. We are instructed to make note of the plants that are actually supposed to be growing in our patch — beets and carrots — most of which are still in the early stages of growth. These veggies, even though only their stems and leaves are visible, stand out from their more invasive counter parts. Their healthy green leaves can be easily distinguished from the prickly, shiny, dirty looking stalks and leaves of the mix of thistle and other weeds. If for nothing else, those weeds need to go simply on the grounds of looks.

But the weeds don’t just look bad. They steal nutrients from the crops, disrupt the soil that they share, and block rainwater and sunlight from reaching them. So, Tiffany, myself, and the DTE group get to work. The weeds are rooted deeply, and put up a valiant fight. Their shields of small thorns attempt to do their part (at least, against me they do… I didn’t bring gloves), but are overpowered. More than two hours pass, and the Eeyore food, or in the case of this farm, Gotland sheep food, is excavated. The plot looks clean again, and the carrots and beets breathe a sign relief into their newly under-crowded soil bed.

The crops are the only organisms breathing new air here; so am I. The few hours of weeding provided me with a much-needed break from the rapid-fire pace of college, of my upcoming graduation, and of the not so far off real world. They also further introduced me to something I have started to become acquainted with over the course of my final semester of college: green living.

We all know there are tons of ways to live green: recycling (material), conserving (energy), reducing (waste), reusing (resources), investing (money). But there is one word that’s not often included in that category: observing (nature). How rarely do we take a moment, better yet a minute or an hour, out of our day to stop and look at what’s around us. Aside from a beautiful sunset, or a day on the beach, how often do we really notice nature? Do we ever pay homage to the carrots, to the beets, to their dirt, or even to the thistle? No.

The EPA’s website outlines numerous ways to live a greener life, all of which are very useful, and should be employed by each and every person in our country. What it fails to tell the population to do, however, is to look around — to stop and smell the roses, if you will.

Should it have to? Probably not.

If everyone took the time to experience the natural world for just a few short moments each day, then maybe each of those –ing ending words from a few paragraphs ago would come a whole lot easier. Everyone might not be fortunate enough to have access to an incredible place like Fair Weather Farm, where work with nature is plentiful and thistle is endless. But everyone does have access to simpler things: the sun, trees, animals, water.

Would it be nice if the EPA reminded us to observe these things every day? Sure. But it’s not going to. No matter what our motives (money, health, genuine care for the Earth, or the need for something, anything to care about) we all need to take it upon ourselves to take the time to stop and pull the thistle.

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