Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back On The Farm

I've been neglecting the blog. There's a bunch of excuse why, but in the end, they are just all excuses.

Side note: I remember as OPS having an ENS tell me "No excuses, ma'am," after not coming up with a safe flight course for a second time in a row. The first time I thought my head would explode when the ENS asked for a "mulligan." I think I calmly explained that there *were* no "mulligans" allowed in the real world when people's lives and safety were at stake. Ok, maybe not so calmly.

That's what I'm reduced to...telling sea stories about my days underway. Sigh.

But one of the things I've been doing with my time is going back to the farm I worked on when I was in high school and college. Larriland Farm is a 285 acre, pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farm in Howard County, about an hour away from where I live (For those of you in the DC/Baltimore area, I highly recommend a visit...family friendly, beautiful setting, stunningly fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables). I've written before about Lynn Moore, the President of Larriland, and the influence she had on me. So one of the things I was really excited about coming to DC was the opportunity to visit the farm again.

I went the first weekend I got to town. It was either that or rattle around in my empty house and likely go to Target and spend another $150 on stuff I may or may not have needed. On the drive there, I did the math and realized it had been 17 years since I had worked there. 17 years!! I'm not supposed to be that old! I started at the farm a couple months after I turned 14, worked there for six summers and falls straight, took a summer off, and then went back for my last summer when I was 20. I had been back to visit the farm once or twice in the intervening years, but not very frequently.

I rolled up on the Old Man, the noise of the exhaust shattering the early morning stillness that speaks to the essence of every farm I've ever been on, and set about finding a place to park. I wanted to get there in time for the morning brief. I saw Lynn from a distance as I was putting my helmet away, and she gave me a tentative wave as I walked toward her. It wasn't until I was much closer that she realized who it was. She said she couldn't figure out who it was driving around the parking lot, only that she knew she knew me.

We didn't have much time to talk right then. The farm rolls on and opening time was just a few minutes away. I had made it in time for the morning brief.

The morning brief on the farm is when Lynn tells the workers what's available for pick-your-own, what's available in the market, what should be coming up next, discusses any issues (crop failures or disappointments, customer behavior, worker behavior) and assigns duties for the day. The morning brief hasn't changed much in 20 years.

As I stood there listening, it was comforting to hear the same lectures on how to get customers to pick a ripe peach v. a green peach, how they have to lift the leaves of the raspberry brambles up to find the ripe berries underneath, and how corn will always have worms this time of year. And that customers can be frustrating at times, but they are what keep the farm going, so they must treated with respect. A few weeks later, I almost choked with trying not to laugh when Lynn did her signature customer puppet show, where she takes her left hand with her thumb between the first two fingers like a leeetle head, and then slaps it silly with her right hand...just like how you want to do to some customers sometimes when they are just not listening.

Don't get the wrong impression...Larriland is *all about* customer service. Some days it's just easier for the workers than others.

Another thing I realized during the morning brief is that I borrowed a lot of my public speaking mannerisms from Lynn. The broad, expansive hand gestures, the little quirpy (quirky + quip, it wasn't just a typ0) jokes, and the sense of purpose of getting through with the message.

I've had a delightful three weekends working there so far, and am completely looking forward to the madness that is October (hay rides, pumpkin fields, apple cider, straw bale maze, apple fritters, decorative gourds, scary cartoon figures on the pond). Some of the other workers wonder what on earth I'm doing there, though. I had one of the women who work there ask me, "so you're an officer in the Coast Guard, why are you working here?" And technically, I'm not working, I'm volunteering. I get free goodies (all the fruits and veggies I can pick for FREE!!).

I know it baffles the teenagers working there that anyone with a choice would go back, but there is a true sense of peace I find there. They are good people, with a beautiful farm, and delicious produce. After four years of fast-paced, high pressure jobs, going in and packing a 1/4 peck bag of peaches well is restful. I know the farm (or at least I remember the farm), I know Lynn's standards, and I know I can meet those standards without too much effort expended.

Lynn sent me out with her husband, Merle (see, the farm is totally a family affair), to update some signs in a field she didn't want people going into. Merle gave me a refresher tour of the farm, so I could brush off the dust about which fields were which. We got the signs placed where they needed to be, and then headed back to the market. I put the tools away, and filed the signs I took down where I thought they should go according to the labeling system on the bins. Lynn came in a few minutes later, looking for the signs we had taken down. She was ready to look everywhere but where they should be for them, and looked slightly surprised when they were put away, and I could find them quickly. We had a brief talk about expectations; how I knew what her expectations were, but how she had spoiled me by setting my expectations so high for what to expect from workers. It is *so cool* to be able to go back and have these conversations with someone who helped shape me as a manager.

Class is about to start, so I need to finish this up. I'll keep going back to Larriland as long as I'm welcome. Mostly because they're good people there and the farm is beautiful, but also some for that sense of ease, of knowing where I am in the world and that I can contribute to something I think is worthwhile.


Uncle Heathen said...

how about some pics during your visits?

Just a Girl said...

I'll see what I can do about pictures. Good suggestion!

Liomoana said...

Wish I could join you at Larriland! I do miss the people (maybe not the customers so much) and the fresh peaches and other produce.