14. April. 2015
Clad in unflattering denim shorts and an oversized t-shirt, I walked around with my face stuck to my iPhone. Google Maps was leading me God knows where (as google maps usually does). Around me were endless clusters of pine trees, a small creek, quaint little homes I could only describe asHäuschen or little homes, (think Hansel and Gretel). In shape locals wizzed by on racing bicycles, waving in a friendly manner as they passed. Had I not been trying to make it on time to the first day of my internship, the whole scene would have been something straight out of a German fairytale.
After 20 minutes of walking Google Maps said I had arrived at my destination. I was in a field somewhere, which could have been correct had there have been people there waiting for me. Please don’t die on me phone, I thought to myself dialing the number of a woman named Clara. I resented having to resort to a phone call. I didn’t want to interrupt anyone’s work, and moreover, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had actually used my phone to physically call anyone, let alone a German stranger.
Our conversation started out in German and then transitioned into English when Clara noticed I was unable to describe my physical location. Then, it became clear to both of us that switching to English wasn’t really helping much either, but eventually we were able to talk me through getting back to the main road, where Clara came to pick me up.
She was there within minutes, and greeted me with a big smile, like a person picking up a relative from the airport. “People always get lost trying to find us. I keep telling Chris we need a big sign or something.”
I apologized profusely for taking her away from her work, and she said that it was nothing. They were about to finish with their Kaffeepause soon anyway. When we parked I was greeted by a few other people. They were all so nice that it was actually confusing. Perhaps that’s what happens to people who enjoy their work and find it meaningful. Upon arriving I was expecting to be asked a few questions about myself to see if I was qualified to work there, but instead I was asked if it was okay that my sneakers would get dirty.
“They’re really nice!” said Clara. “I’ve never seen sneakers so blue before. We have some old hiking shoes here if you want to borrow them.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “They’re pretty old. I’ve run in them a lot so I don’t mind if they get dirty.” I didn’t feel comfortable borrowing the shoes. I had already made her come out to get me with her car. What I hadn’t realized yet was that sharing was the way of life at the Lebensgarten.
Clara’s boyfriend and co-worker Chris showed me to the supply shed, a big wooden box on wheels, where he handed me some gardening gloves and a strange weeding tool with a long handle that somewhat resembled a pitchfork. I was handed off to a temporary worker Daria, a recent graduate of English Literature who was looking for a new direction in her worklife. She was so thin, but it became apparent that work on the farm had made her strong. Today we were going to remove the Kreuzkräruter (dandelion weeds). I nodded, pretending to understand what that meant. We walked out onto a dry plot of land where she showed me how to use the pitchfork tool to loosen up weeds. She stuck the fork into the ground next to a weed, jumped on top of the fork on one foot, then wiggled the tool around and pulled the weed out.
“Easy,” she said. “But it’s important to get all the roots out. Otherwise it will just grow back. Well, some of them are going to grow back regardless, but hopefully less.”
(She was right about the weeds growing back. They always always grew back.) My hands touched the cold wet earth as I pulled the uprooted weeds from the ground. Earth worms crawled between the spaces and I threw the extra dirt stuck to the roots back to the ground, sticking the weeds into a designated bucket. The sun shined brightly across the horizon and I realized I should have brought a hat with me.
An hour later Chris came back to give me a tour of some of the plots. On a few fields, plants grew that weren’t for the purpose of eating, but rather to put nitrogen and other similar nutrients back into the soil. In a different season they would plant crops on them. As we walked through the farm Chris explained the importance of maintaining biodiversity in their farming. I was told to only walk on the sides of the plots to make sure not to step on crops. Good to know.
We stopped in front of a huge pile of dirt next to a parked tractor. Chris handed me a shovel and we began loading compost onto it. Before starting, Chris asked me if I had ever used a shovel before.I lied and said yes. The compost plot we were shoveling was approximately 3 years old and I felt like a three year old pretending to know how to use a shovel. When we finished Chris told me to hop on the side of the tractor, knees facing to the back for a short ride to the other side of the farm. Even though we were riding at snail pace, it was exhilarating. I felt like I was in a movie, or perhaps just a documentary about rural life.
When we got off, Daria was there and showed me how to distribute fertilizer across the soil. The fertilizer was in pellet form and was contained in buckets. We walked all across a plot of land throwing handfuls to the earth in a similar motion that people would throw bread crumbs to birds.
Afterwards, Daria and I poured compost off the tractor to cover the fertilizer, which doesn’t sound difficult, but the tractor was moving the whole time. From the driver’s seat, Chris would tell us when to put more or less depending on how much compost we had left. A comfortable rhythm developed but I felt so self-conscious I was doing it wrong. I didn’t feel accomplished when the day ended, but when we were finished Daria had a big smile on her face. “See all the work we did today?” she said. In that moment it did not sink in that I had in some way contributed, because I felt I had done everything wrong. In time I would come to reevaluate my standards for what an accomplishment was. In time I’d learn that it was never about right or wrong, but about community.