Ward Sinclair left his position as national correspondent
at the Washington Post newspaper in 1989 in order to become
a full-time farmer, along with his partner Cass Peterson.
They had purchased Flickerville Mountain Farm & Groundhog
Ranch in 1983a rundown farm of 65 acres in Fulton
County, Pennsylvania. For the next five years they gardened
part-time while continuing to work full-time at the Washington
Post. Then they started fulltime farming in 1989, selling
to an organic wholesaler, to restaurants, to farmers'
markets, and finally to customers in what they called
a "subscription service." Later they learned
that these weekly veggie deliveries were a variation on
a marketing idea from overseas called Community Supported
Agriculture. Their farm was one of the first working examples
of a CSA in the United States. Ward wrote essays on farming
for the Washington Post's food section from 1989 until
1992. The essay reprinted here is one of those, written
on November 22, 1992. Ward farmed until his death in 1995.
| It was a thoroughly miserable
job on a thoroughly miserable fall day and the farmer, crawling
on all fours in the dirt, thought he was entitled to ask why
he had forsaken the warm comfort of the city for this kind of
The job was one that must be done every fall when the crops
are inremoving the long strips of black plastic mulch
that warms the soil, retains moisture, and stifles the weeds.
The Truckpatch seems unable to operate without this plastic,
yet it is the bane of the farm.
The edges of the plastic, imbedded in the dirt, shatter and
tear. Muscles strain to break it loose. Dust or mud flies in
all directions. The farmer's knees get bruised, his shoulders
and arms ache, he is a human dirt ball. He wonders: Why bother?
Who needs this grief?
But by the time the plastic removal is finished, Thanksgiving
has drawn nighmeaning another year's cycle of planting,
nurturing, and harvesting is completeand the farmer can
consider his lot with a better sense of perspective.
So inured has the farmer become to the challenge of making each
year a success that he cannot conceive of himself ever again
sitting behind a desk, being paid well to do a job that had
simply become too easy.
Here in the Truckpatch there is not desk, the pay isn't great,
and the job is never easy. But it offers something vital to
every manthe freedom to succeed or fail on one's own.
There is no one else to blame when things go wrong, no place
Yet over time, as friends and strangers have come by to look
at what the farmer and his partner have wrought on this small
acreage, they, too, question why one would voluntarily surrender
the relative ease and affluence of a city job for this sort
There are many answers, but the simplestand this the farmer
hopes all will consider as they vicariously celebrate the harvestis
that growing food is one of man's highest yet most basic callings.
Now that may sound a bit highfalutin', but the farmer has come
to know it is true.
Pulling that dreadful plastic, the farmer also has come to know,
is one of the prices he must pay for admission to this most
exclusive of circles. And in that sense, the task becomes less
Now, too much can be made of the presumed religiosity of a farmers
life and often is, usually by denizens of the city who do not
know about working on all fours. But in fact, there is something
sacerdotal about life in the truckpatch.
Being here and having become part of a microscopic universe
in which he is a key player, the farmer has come to know that
some great power guides us all and fie on those who choose to
work counter to this power. This knowledge is comforting and
The farmer cannot describe the magical aroma of healthy soil,
just turned in the spring. He is at a loss to articulate the
emotion of watching the first germinating seeds pushing up through
the earth's crust. Without sounding terribly saccharine, he
would not try to limn the joy caused by abundance in the fields
or the union he feels with Nature when the crops flourish.
Nor is there a way, really, to portray the pleasure he feels
when utter strangers praise his tomatoes or his broccoli. Yet,
such praise has come to be more meaningful and important than
any accolades he might have received for news articles he crafted
in another life.
Curiously, this all came to the farmer almost by accident. Years
of traveling the country, meeting inspirational figures who
by example were showing how man could work in harmony with great
power and be the better for it, were moving influences.
Important, too, was the realization that the best and the brightest
and the most successful more often than not were people who
had come to agriculture as a second career. They were not fettered
by the biases and bad habits of past farming
generations, which were perpetuated by large institutions or
transmitted genetically. That realization gave weight to the
works of Louis Bromfield, the novelist, who said that some are
born farmers but shouldn't be; others are born farmers but don't
realize it until they've done something else in life.
And so, with the help and encouragement of friends, we started
to farmand never looked back. Not even knee-deep in dirt
on a cold fall day, grappling with a chunk of plastic.