By Alex Tone, Farm Fellow
I’ve learned a good few things since I started at AMI: how to cultivate squash beds, the difference between shelling beans and pole beans, how to cook for twelve people, the capital of Latvia, how to walk near a cow, and much more. Threading these things together is a deeper understanding of ripeness, and how the right timing can significantly shape the way I relate to others and the environment.
Ripeness was a fairly new concept to me when I arrived at AMI. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, ripeness is “the quality of being ready to be collected or eaten.” I could give you that definition, but I couldn’t tell you whether an eggplant or an apple was truly ripe or not. I was never the one doing the picking, and the ripeness of the foods I ate was up to someone else I’d never met. Understanding ripeness is crucial to harvesting: a tomato with green shoulders is not going to taste the same as a fully ripe one, and a sugar pea that hasn’t had enough time to fill out is much less sweet than one that has. Getting to know the vegetables we are growing means understanding what conditions and help they need in order to be ready to leave their stems.
There’s a gentle and loving patience that comes with this kind of waiting. To keep melons from rotting on the ground, we turned each melon to let it fully sun itself, until it let itself go from the vine with the barest of touches. At the height of tomato season, we harvested tomatoes nearly every day, checking the spread of red on their sides and rooting on the growing fruits of plants we had accidentally topped. Those of us who watered the mushroom buckets growing by the Timberframe gave updates of their progress to bated ears until we were all delighted one morning by a heap of lion’s mane on the breakfast table. In being present for the entire process of growing - from imagining to planting to tending to harvesting - ripeness has come to mean much more than “the quality of being ready to be collected or eaten.” I now understand it as a state of being in which something has reached its most true self, be it a fruit or a friend.
When you spend a lot of time with vegetables, you can’t help but see the similarities between them and people. I’ve noticed members of our cohort who were initially quiet and shy bloom into thriving parts of our community and its energy. I’ve seen initial sparks of connection deepen into profoundly loving friendships. With time, communication, and shared experience, what started as eight strangers seems to have ripened into a true community.
It took me a while to understand the importance of this. I walked into the Fellowship expecting a community to immediately form, and was confused and frustrated with myself when it (predictably) didn’t happen. Coming from university, where many of my friends were like me, I thought that connection was simply a question of time and effort. I didn’t understand that differences matter in whether and how people become friends, and I feared that my lack of lived experience was going to keep me from forming the deep friendships I wanted.
What I didn’t understand was that we needed time to ripen. Over the last four months, we have eaten, worked, played, and learned with each other on a daily basis, building memories and shared understandings while maintaining our individual autonomy and perspectives. We know how to understand each other’s energies and needs, when to step in and when to give space, and how to provide love, support, and accountability to each other. The richness of difference in our cohort - in abilities and strengths, financial backgrounds, experiences as people of color, expressions of gender and queerness, and much more - has since become one of the most meaningful parts of this community to me. We have incredible teachers, here at AMI and beyond, from whom I’ve learned so much, but I have grown the most the members of this cohort and what they have taught and demonstrated to me.
Harvesting the sweet corn last month came with a special kind of joy. We planted the corn seedlings in our first week at AMI, and watched it leaf and shoot upwards while we learned to become better farmers and activists. The corn went in the ground when we were still getting to know each other, and by the time we pulled out their full ears, we were a team. As we shucked and ate the corn right in the field, making corny jokes and pointing out kernels stuck in each other’s teeth, I felt a depth of connection – with the people, plants, and ecosystem of AMI – that only comes with the time, attention, and loving patience that creates ripeness.