Dusky Sky Over Family Farm

On my first day of work at Dayspring Farm, it rained all morning. I felt sheepish in my green raincoat and hiking boots, grinning my “hellos” to the year-round staff I met at the farm’s weekly meeting. My professor and mentor, Charlie Maloney, had been kind enough to offer me some work at his family farm when my other summer plans were canceled due to COVID-19. After learning about the numerous benefits of ecological growing in Charlie’s class on Sustainability and Agriculture at William & Mary that past spring, I was thrilled to have the opportunity.

So, setting out that morning, I drove the 40 minutes from Williamsburg, to the Middle Peninsula of Virginia, crossing the concrete bridge by WestRock Paper Mill at the point where the Pamunkey River flows into the York. Mountains of castrated trees stood out against a grey sky that began to spit rain. SUVs and pickup trucks pounded across the way. The cranes that worked the mill lifted the trees into a loud machine that fed a light-tan pyramid of pulp standing three stories high. This water and its shores, once lush in native vegetation that would have rejoiced in such a cooling rain, now sat trapped beneath cement. These trees would never dance again; they were separated from their roots and branches, lying supine to be grasped by metal. I felt an emptiness I’d come to perceive as a sense of permanent loss.

Arriving at the Farm

I arrived. To keep a rookie dry on his first day, Charlie and the managers assigned me to weed the ginger in one of the farm's four high tunnels. I crawled on my hands and knees and listened to the droplets drum on the tunnel’s plastic roof, reflecting.

Amidst a pandemic that had shown me — more than anything — how far removed we’ve all become from the very land beneath our feet, the scene at the paper mill deepened my concern. And here I was, alone again, tending to baby ginger in a rainstorm. It wasn’t more than two days ago that I’d been with my family, curled up on a couch in the suburbs of Arlington, where I’d grown up. Where was I now? My lower back was screaming, and the weeds seemed to multiply with preternatural vigor right before my eyes. I’d almost finished my first row when Charlie came to check on me.

The man is a 70-year-old meteorite: short, strong, and pensive, who has been farming at Dayspring since he and his partner, Miriam, bought the land in the 1980s.

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