A Day in the Life of a Farmer
As the Farmers Market manager, my job basically consists of making sure my vendors are situated for Saturdays, our customers are happy, and that the brand is growing in a positive way. My “Type A” personality thrives here, as I have a list of goals and to dos that I focus in on. I’ll be honest, because of the nature of my job, I’m often guilty of having tunnel vision. If it’s not on my list, I find that it doesn’t cross my mind much. Recently, though, I’ve realized that in order to further progress the Market, I must also progress my own understanding of the investment many of my vendors put into being present on Saturday Mornings….so, for my own personal growth as a leader of the Market, and for your entertainment, Hammond, I set out to volunteer with one of my Hammond Farmers Market staples, Poche Family Farm. This is my experience taking on a day in the life of a farmer. Enjoy.
My alarm sounded at 6:50am on Thursday, May 10th, and I reluctantly roll out of bed. After completing my usual morning routine, I recall the clothing instructions Mrs. Charise Poche gave me the day before. I select a newly purchased long sleeve dry fit shirt, some lightweight fishing pants, old tennis shoes, and a ball cap from my closet. I apply sunscreen to any exposed areas, grab a banana, and take my Swell bottle full of cold water out of the fridge on my way out the door at 7:25am. I’m feeling great! I am not a morning person by any means, so any time I’m out of the house before 8:00am is a win in my book. I punch in 51287 Lamarca Lane in my GPS and pull out of my driveway. Thirty minutes later, I’m pulling onto Poche Family Farm’s land. I’m welcomed by a flock of chickens eating freshly harvested tomatoes in their coop, lovingly named the “Chick Inn.” I hear the rustling of gravel, and I’m soon greeted by Mrs. Charise driving one of the farms’ golf carts. Based on the rate of which she was moving, it’s clear that the Poches got to work as day began to break at 6:00am! She smiles and waves before heading inside the house, bringing me back a small package with something bright blue inside. As I open the plastic, she explains that this is an item she and her daughter wear to protect their neck from the sun’s intensity. I thank her, and as I put my newly acquired garment on, I stand a little taller, feeling as if I graduated from beginner to novice just by looking the part a bit more.
I ask Mrs. Charise to fill me in on any activities that I’d missed and describe what was next on the agenda. She explained that they started their day by feeding the animals. This is the very first thing they do every morning. They have a couple of cats to assist in controlling the rodent population, 3 dogs, and of course the chickens. After this, Mrs. Charise and her daughter, Camille, picked cucumbers. She explained that while they do not continually pick the same type of crop every morning, they always begin with the newest, most delicate plants. This is because as farmers move around the farm throughout the day, they can spread disease among the plants. The youngest are the most vulnerable. Mrs. Charise explained that because of the dry weather, the farm has not experienced much in the way of fungus yet. They do have an abundance of dust and dirt, but the plants don’t mind that. The Poches always begin with picking before moving onto other duties on days that are not strictly set aside for harvesting, i.e. Mondays and Fridays. These are the day before the Crescent City Farmers Market and Hammond Farmers market, and preparing is an all-day event. If there isn’t much to harvest, the family will divide and conquer, but during the busy season, primarily May and June, it’s all hands on deck! Or farm, rather.
After my debriefing, we headed out to the strawberry field, passing hand built high tunnels on the way. These impressive “hoop houses” can be closed on all sides while still permitting access to the dirt. While not much different than growing in the field, these tunnels do allow farmers more control over certain variables. We then passed some blackberry trees, a pond, and a cover crop of iron clay cow peas. This crop puts nitrogen back into the soil when tilled, assisting in the Poche’s efforts to become sustainable. We came upon the beautiful rows of Sweet Charlie strawberries and got to work. Here, I was given a crash course in strawberry picking then coached through my first row. While in the early stages of picking, the Poche’s had some guests from the Link Restaurant Group stop in. Mrs. Charise gave a tour to the group while I shadowed. Here, I learned more about the high tunnels and the crops that were currently in ground. At a glance, it’s difficult to know what was what, as there was so much greenery! As Mrs. Charise spoke proudly of their shoshitos, celery, sunflowers, basil, eggplants, and heirloom and cherry tomatoes, I was able to better identify what I was looking at.
After the guests headed back to New Orleans, Mrs. Charise, Camille, and I resumed picking berries over the course of a couple of hours and chatted about life. Each member of the family originally began their careers elsewhere, but somehow, the farm called them all to where they are today. During this time, I began to understand the family’s passion for their work. It was truly inspiring. Now, don’t let my pleasant memories fool you, the labor itself was no joke. Oh, and let me remind you, it’s summer in Louisiana. I was melting faster than a Popsicle on the Fourth of July, but my game face was on and complaining was just not an option as far as I'm concerned. While picking, I observed both women’s technique and alternated between what I’ve branded as Camille’s “side crouch” and Mrs. Charise’s “over and lean.” No matter the stance, though, there was no trick that made this process shorter or easier. It was, again, a process, and that was something I grew to respect throughout the course of the day. Shortcuts aren’t a thing on the farm. Picking is hard work, and my back and hamstrings reminded me of this days afterward. Although I was slow, Mrs. Charise joked that I had youth on my side and that, with practice, I could be as fast as Camille. While picking, I briefly met Billie, Camille’s older brother. Remember what I said about dividing and conquering earlier? I didn’t see him again til lunch.
After picking, we headed over to what they called the “pack house” to unload the berries. This simple task escalated quickly when the brightest dog in the bunch unlocked the yard gate, giving her siblings a chance to escape and chase a chicken. Y’all, I can’t make this stuff up! We all went into panic mode, grabbing any animal we could to avoid a food chain disaster. While not completely typical, this gave me a glimpse of the types of “surprises” the family encountered during the day-to-day. When things quieted down, Mrs. Charise made a round of sandwiches, rang the dinner bell, and the Poche’s flocked to the patio table. Here, I met Mr. Albert, Mrs. Charise’s husband. We chatted about the history of the farm while Camille and Billie strategized on what to plant next. I learned about how the family had incorporated an additional growing season as opposed to the traditional single season. This has them planning ahead constantly. Because they keep sustainability in mind, they are careful to rotate crops accordingly to protect and respect the soil. After lunch, I assisted the women in placing a shade cloth over the green house, a task that took 3 people and 2 ladders. Afterwards, we planted seeds to be placed inside. Mrs. Charise filled containers with soil and Camille packed and watered while I placed a single King Arthur, Cosmo, Cucumber, Amaranth seed in the proper cell container. This process can be a bit tedious, but when paired with much needed shade and great conversation, the time flew by!
I then got a sneak peak of the family’s freeze drier, which has opened up a new realm of possibilities for the farm. The fragrant smell of ginger filled the air as Mrs. Charise explained the process. I could’ve stayed in the room all day, seriously, it smelled that good! Ginger, turmeric, and strawberries were a list of recent successes, and they hoped to branch out even further! After that, we picked a few squash, the Poche’s packed me parting bag filled with produce, and they thanked me for spending me day with them. It was 4:00pm, and although I was exhausted, I couldn’t help but smile as I exited down the driveway. The patience and graciousness the family showed me as I inserted myself into the family’s business for the day was heartwarming. For many, a cartoony version of a man in a straw hat with a wheat stalk between his lips is what is imagined when the term “farmer” is brought to the table. It’s often paired with a misconception that this field of work (no pun intended) is for those of lesser intelligence. To say that this generalization is wildly inaccurate is still an understatement. The amount of thought and care that goes into planting and caring for each crop is astounding, and it can be done be men and women alike! The labor is anything but easy, and you genuinely have to be ready for whatever curveball you’re thrown.
When you enjoy fresh produce in your favorite meal, thank a farmer. When you enjoy fresh protein, thank a farmer. When you enjoy beautiful plants and forestry, thank a farmer. To my farmers at Poche Family Farms, thank you for an amazing day and experience. I admire you, your work ethic, and your dedication to community more than I can express!
Buy local! You can catch the Poche’s at the Hammond Farmers Market every Saturday from 8am – 12pm. To stay in tune, like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram and Twitter!