Sure it looks nice, but I would kick it over in a heartbeat. (courtesy of www.illinoiswildflowers.info)
I did a familiar thing on Saturday. I was at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery yet again, this time for the first session of Central Illinois Farm Beginnings. The students were being led on a tour of the farm, and Shea Belahi, who had been kind enough to speak to them earlier in the day about the start-up of her business, was showing them her vegetable plots. Despite her hard work, she consistently has robust sow thistle plants growing wild along the edge of her field. Covered in small thorns and producing hundreds of windborne seeds per flower, it’s an obnoxious plant. So I found myself, yet again, vigorously kicking the base of the plant first with the toe of my boot in one direction and then the heel in the other direction, succulent stems splintering and eventually breaking, arresting the development of future seedheads and laying the ready seeds on the ground where they can’t blow so far away.
I call this “farming by the foot”. It’s not the first time I’ve kicked over sow thistle, nor is it the first time I’ve weeded with my feet. In fact, I use my feet in the farm setting frequently. This may sound obvious. After all, how could you not? I have found, however, that they don’t just get me from place to place. They are a part of my toolbox.
This first occurred to me many years ago while working for Cooperative Extension in Maine. It was my first time planting potatoes on a large scale. With four 200-foot rows ahead of me, an aching back behind me, and only hand tools at my disposal, I slowly invented “the potato shuffle”. By kicking the mounded soil running along both sides of the row over the newly placed seed potatoes with a side-to-side sweeping motion of my feet, I was able to finish the job as efficiently as a hoe and give my back a break besides. Furthermore, I was able to turn this into a sort of dance, and even snap my fingers and sing along, removing some of the drudgery of the afternoon.
Since then, I have actively noted all the ways my feet come into play. Sometimes it is for destruction, as with the weeds. Sometimes it is to act as an extra hand when a gate needs closing or an animal needs blocking. For a very skinny guy like me, having dexterous and relatively strong legs (thanks cross-country!) can also help me compensate for my shrimpiness, allowing me to lift boxes and bales with the help of a well-placed toehold. For this purpose, I always try to have steel-toed boots on the farm. They’re as much good for safety as for maximizing the utility of my feet.
I don’t work on a farm anymore, but I still find myself marking rows and knocking out weeds with my toes in my home garden. While I have a garage full of tools that I love and have invested in deliberately, I still look first at my hands, and then down at my feet, and marvel at what opportunities I carry with me to get the job done.
Post-script: Yes, Stephanie wrote a few weeks ago about her “strange preoccupation with hands”. No, this is not starting a theme. I don’t think. It is possible I suppose that Cara will next extol the virtue of kidneys or Magdalena will wax poetic about eyebrows, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.