When I answered an email asking whether Farmer John and I would be able to speak to a woman’s group on an upcoming Thursday morning, I explained that, especially this time of year, we’re far too busy during the a.m. hours trying to get as many leafy crops harvested as possible before they begin to wilt into oblivion as the day heats up. I told her we need all available hands to get this done.

As soon as I typed it I realized the sentence needed a bit of a qualifier, so after the word ‘hands’ I inserted the parenthetical “(and I mean that literally!).” I didn’t want her to think I was using a slang term for “farmhands,” which might make her wonder what that had to do with us. To be sure, I pointed out that John’s and my hands were included in the group.

The definition of farmhand is “a hired hand on a farm.” (Go figure.) Thing is, I don’t care for that word really, and never use it to refer to the people who work at the farm with us. And when you get right down to it, John and I are farmhands as much as the next guy anyway — the proceeds made from the farm pay us, just as they pay everybody else.

Actually, the only group name we ever use around here is when we refer to ourselves as “humans.” This is something every new person we hire learns, usually their first day on the job. See, as we harvest vegetables for the farm stands, we make a point to tuck some away for all of us working the farm as well. We need to eat too, right? So along the left wall of our walk-in cooler we keep containers stocked with goodies for everyone to take home, with enough left over for John and me. This is the “human food.” For us humans.

Never have we called it farmhand food. Nor have we referred to it slangily, as in “hand” food. That sounds more like a platter of crudites (finger food?) than dinner and after a full day working the farm we’re way hungrier than that.

We humans are notoriously rough on various parts of our anatomy — knees, back, neck — yet nothing is as apparent to the outside world as much as the abuse we lay on our hands. Farmers’ hands are infamously lacking in the soft and supple department.

The appearance of our hands is a dead giveaway of our humble profession, so much so that sometimes they’re required as proof. Like when Mary was at her father’s place of business and one of his customers wondered what she did for a living.

When she told him she worked on a farm, he asked, “Are you a hippie?” (Perhaps he was thinking of a different kind of farm, one that grows something other than vegetables.)

After telling the guy she was no born-again 1960’s flower child, he demanded to see Mary’s hands. Apparently they were verification enough, as he declared Mary “a real American.”

Wow. That, from a cursory look at someone’s hands. I wonder what he’d think of everybody else’s hands at the farm? Each pair is unique, after all. Some hands even sport hands of a different type altogether.

Get it? A watch. The hands on a watch. Granted, it’s a truly old-fashioned way of telling the time but surprisingly, this hand belongs to the second youngest hand (sorry) working here.

I’ve yet to figure out why the hands of a farmer makes him or her a real American. Farmers exist in every country, all over the world. It’s a good thing, too. Like I said earlier, we all need to eat.

Whether they’re real Americans or faux Americans (whatever that might be), I’m just grateful for the group of hippies…er, humans who work with us on our little farm. Those are some mighty important hands. And I mean that literally.

* * *

Here’s what our hands will be bringing to the Wednesday farm stand:

The first bunches of garlic scapes (they’re early this year!); more of those sweet carrots; green onions; green garlic; young leeks; bunches of chard; bunches of purple beets and golden beets (looks like we’ll have lots of them!); heads of Summer Crisp lettuce; Romaine; Butterhead lettuce; bunches of purple kohlrabi; lots of lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; spinach; escarole; and the first of the sweet white turnips.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)