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Sowing Carrot Seeds: a Reflection on 18 months on the Mountain

By Julia Loman, Phase II Fellow

I remember the day I first tasted a carrot straight from the ground. It was a sunny October day in 2016, in a small urban garden in Detroit. I closed my eyes as I sat in the grass and crunched on the sweetest carrot I knew I’d ever eaten. It was this carrot, I think, that set me on the path to becoming a farmer.

The garden in Detroit where I began to fall in love with growing food.

I remembered that carrot as I spent days falling into the rhythm of picking greens for salads, exploring the garden for dinner ideas. The freshness of the food-- the indisputable life force still coursing through it-- was a revelation to me. Though I grew up blessed with fresh vegetables and parents who relentlessly introduced them to me until I grew to enjoy them, almost all of what we ate came straight from the grocery store. Garden produce-- free, less the cost of seeds and the time to tend to it-- bordered on miraculous to me.

I remembered that carrot as I moved through various jobs and homes, especially when I didn’t have a garden and found myself buying $0.79 bags of carrots from the grocery store. They didn’t have the same crunch or sweetness- they were no longer bursting with life like the garden carrots. But, I bought bags of candy-striped beets from the grinning farmer at the market on Saturdays and when I could, grew little kale plants with my housemates. The abundance that these small gardens provided defied the feelings of scarcity that capitalism engenders, and it was with great delight that we were able to share our bounty. My affinity towards plants turned slowly into a rushing need to grow food.

I came to AMI in 2018 unsure if I could really stay in one place for a whole season, unsure if my body could handle the work. But I was in love with the food. Spring greens graced the table daily, as well as an abundance of carrots, beets, potatoes, and canned goods saved from the season before. The freezers were bursting with frozen veggies to tide us over while the garden was still young, and I felt so cared for by the Fellows who’d come before and saved this bounty for us.

And, we sowed carrot seeds. Seeding five rows in 60-foot beds by hand, ½” apart, with fellow Fellow Grace, was a lesson in patience that took most of the day. Thinning them as they grew was yet another reminder of the tender care required to produce great food. We were rewarded later in the season with overflowing wheelbarrows of beautiful orange, red, yellow, and even purple carrots.

By the end of the season, my mind was churning with plant spacing, bed preparation techniques, starting and transplanting methods, and more. I was thrilled to be placed on the Allegheny Farm for my Phase II year, and started dreaming of the spring carrots I would grow in the high tunnel.

The February high-tunnel… not yet looking like a growing space!

When the soil temperatures rose above freezing in the high tunnel, I brought a basket of seeds- carrots, greens, and onions- into the high tunnel. Though the doors were icy and frigid wind blasted outside, the sun heated the insides with a gentle warmth. Layered in sweaters, coats, and scarves, we sowed seeds of hope for warmer days in long, straight rows. Would the carrots even germinate? I didn’t know, but I dedicated nearly a whole row to the dream that they might.

Seedlings in the high tunnel beginning to grow.

Finally, one day in June, I pulled up a few of the thick, orange roots alongside the new Phase I Fellows who had arrived in May. Sure, the garden carrots of Detroit had been a totally different food than the bags at the grocery store, but these carrots were incredible at a whole new level, their sweetness enhanced by the still-frosty nights. I closed my eyes and saw a thousand colors as I munched on this carrot, more delicious, I was sure, than any vegetable I’d ever tasted. I looked at the row, thick with feathery green fronds, and imagined the bounty that lay beneath the soil.

A spring harvest, including the beautiful high tunnel carrots.

The Fellows were thrilled with the carrots, and they flew off the table of our Farmers Market stand into the eager arms of our customers. They graced our first CSA boxes and fed us for weeks. The sheer abundance left me in awe. There was plenty to enjoy and plenty to share. In harvesting those carrots, I felt a deep satisfaction in not only being able to enjoy the fruits of the earth myself, but in the fact that my own hands could cultivate food to feed many people.

I’ve learned so much about the beauty of living well during my time on the mountain. I know, now, how much better everything from kale to carrots to sun-ripened tomatoes taste when they were harvested only minutes before eating. The heat of a wood fire has warmed my bones deeper than electric heat ever could, and the crisp spring water has refreshed me. The silence of the mountain has left room for the wind to ring loud through the forests. I’ve tasted pizzas of handmade dough, lovingly topped with creative, eccentric combinations of all kinds of veggies. Most importantly, I’ve been surrounded by friends and coworkers around tables over countless meals, delighting in the moments we share together.

With all this goodness in my heart, I leave AMI. I know not all of the world is so idyllic. But now that I know, deep in my soul, what is good, I will seek it out and do my best to create it on the “outside.” I have received gifts of wonderful abundance, which I can’t wait to share with the new friends and communities that I have yet to meet.

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