A corner of the farm that continues to weigh heavily on my mind is the north end of beds 1-3 in the northwest section.
[insert picture, if we can find one]
This was the last uncultivated plot of land that we owned within the farm’s footprint as of summer 2015. We were ready to produce more. This land was not beautiful, it was not a public gathering space, it was a nuisance. It had a thickly matted stand of ailanthus in the corner near the fence. It had a patch of japanese knotweed hemmed in on one side by the edge of the alley and its paving, but the south side of the knotweed patch was only separated from the cultivated beds by about 40’ of unmanaged scrub.
In a dreamworld, we’d have gotten a backhoe and excavated that area, and replaced it with clean soil (see: the cadillac option of land redevelopment, a la Detroit Market Garden circa 2011). I’ve since become a lot more comfortable with renting & using earthmoving equipment, and ordering dump loads of materials, but at that point I was not. I think I had only just admitted to myself that we needed to employ steady staff.
So those beautiful staff, mostly Shelbie-now-Ollie and Bianca, as my memory serves. The hours of hard physical labor of digging and clearing, yeah that’s something they were grossly underpaid for. Their infrastructure is their bodies and maybe in a perfect world I would have treated them as contractors and they would’ve received enough for a reasonable percentage to contribute to the cost of the overhead they have to bear for their own bodies.
And, over and on top of that physical labor they were doing was the mental blocks they were helping me overcome. I’m not sure why I was so absent from the physical labor at that time. If it was really summer of 2015, then it would’ve been because I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy with Asa. Asking other people, who you respect and know you’re underpaying, to do physical labor that you are not yourself participating in… it’s tough for me. Pregnancy was an ok device to help me engage with that difficulty and get over it enough to learn to employ people a lot.
So anyway, yeesh, back to the synthetic chemical question. Right.
So I knew this wonderful person from book club who had done some time as a crew member for a big scale landscape crew. She had her pesticide applicator’s license and we talked through an appropriate chemical and application for these pernicious problems.
So after the tree people (shoutout to Singing Tree, Detroit’s finest tree crew) came and removed the ailanthus to their level of vigor, then we put some nasty herbicide on the stumps, and poured actually into the hollow stems of the knotweed patches that had been cut down.
I’ll look up the name of the herbicide if anyone asks, but it’s not one I’ve committed to memory. Happily, to me, this is the only name of something I applied anywhere on the farm that I don’t know. It belongs to a class of chemicals whose existence I don’t dispute, but who I don’t interact with much at all. Nor should most of us. They’re poisons.
So after the herbicide did its thing for whatever amount of time my expert friend thought it should, we laid down landscape fabric and covered it with approx 3’ of compost. Where did it come from that time? Detroit Farm and Garden, don’tcha know. Thank goodness I had them during the initial building phase of this farm. I can get by now without them, but having them in town sure helped.
So we hypothesized that growing crops on top of this situation should be fine. But we saw effects. When roots got to a certain point, the plants just stopped. Stunted. Didn’t grow anymore.
Shoutout to Ollie for observing and naming what was happening.
So now, on our little 1/4 acre farm, we keep about 20’ of bed 1 & 2 and 10’ of bed 3 in dill & calendula, to be our cover crops.
Other than this choice I’ve always made organic choices. I use organically approved herbicides & pesticides & fertilizers. BUT… I’m not gold star. That spot is always there under the ground, making its poisonous echoes heard.
I’m not mad at myself for doing it, but I don’t think I would do it again. Kind of like when I did an unpaid internship for a “strategic communications firm” and my sister’s boyfriend called me an unpaid foot soldier for evil. I’m glad to have an insider’s view of both those processes, because they’re so dominant in our society, but I’m grateful that it’s not my way of being.