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"Sweating for Spuds" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, July 2011

It was, of course, one of those hot and sunny days when you can't unstick your clothes from your skin, and when clods of dirt turn to mud pies on your sweaty legs. Corners of shade were a treat worth hustling to get to, and jugs of water didn't stay full for long. The bugs, in moderate and not-quite-vicious abundance, set the pace. Head down, with legs walking, arms lugging, and hands mounding compost all as rapidly as possible, the bugs couldn't distract the focus.

Potatoes were earning my full attention this particular Thursday in June.

Here at D Acres, you see, potatoes are an integral component of our forest-to-garden conversion process. The work alluded to above, is the hilling of our special spuds. This happens once a month during the summer until the harvest is upon us. And let me tell you – the more hands the better.

This year we planted 295 pounds of potatoes; the task of hilling is not a quick one. With Josh, Regina, and I, plus our powerhouse of seven interns, it was a day and a half affair. Even promises of an end-of-the-day, oh-so-sweet, what-could-be-more-refreshing swimming hole trip couldn't make it happen any faster. It's a physical task, and there is no appropriate preparation for eight hours of carrying, emptying, and re-filling five gallon buckets other than buckling down and doing it. But we've made it through spring training, so to speak; our July hilling should be all the easier…

In my own mind, trudging between rows of green leaves and paths of clover, history offered a helpful perspective. Access to this particular pasture is limited, surrounded by a stone wall of yore. It is - wonderfully and inconveniently - in a fine state, necessitating the hauling of each compost-laden bucket up, and over, and down the sturdy stack of rocks. The compost could only be driven so close to one side, the potatoes only so close to the wall's inner edge. So each bucket covered a path of history, a testament to the work that had once created this pasture, a reminder that it's interim as forest and it's present return to field is just one more cycle of history.

As we contribute our farming acts to this unfolding chain of land use, potatoes provide an agricultural re-initiation for the field. Potatoes, and their preference for growing in dirt mounds, make them an excellent first crop. To hill them, we shovel truckloads of home-grown compost into five gallon buckets, then mound this (and large quantities of mulch hay) around our blossoming plants. This process, while increasing the productivity of the potatoes simultaneously creates raised beds along the contours of the field. By the end of the season, we are rich in organic matter just where we need it most.

Step by step, plant by plant, bucket by bucket, we are returning richness to the soil. Each addition crosses the stone wall, a stoic witness to much change, and an ode, perhaps, to what once was and what may be once again.

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