News From the Farm | May 14, 2018

I wanted to learn what work was when I started as an official employee at Full Belly Farm eight years ago. Not work at a desk for lots of money, but work with my hands for myself. This kind of work is very romantic. To fall in love with toil. To trust in the abilities of my mind and hands, and to have faith in it all. 

If hands could tell stories, my grandpa’s hands would write whole books. He spent his life devoted to his cows and his farm, and his hands are the living proof. The cracks and scars, dirt and grease are all volumes in his library. As grandchildren growing up, we would all take a shot at trying to squeeze his hand harder than he could squeeze ours. His frankfurter fingers would wrap themselves twice around my outstretched hands and we would lock eyes and begin our duel. After squeezing my absolute hardest, Grandpa would flash me his “that’s all you’ve got?” smile and then gently squeeze my hand until I could no longer feel it. I would giggle and run off thinking that I’d do anything to have some hands like his. 

I am only beginning my lifetime of work here at Full Belly Farm. Some of my favorite days that I have spent have been the days that I’ve worked my hardest. Shearing our sheep every May is probably the most painstaking, backbreaking job that I do. This year, I finished our flock of 80 ewes in under two days. By the end of the second day, after shearing 45 sheep, my jeans were soaked with lanolin and I could hardly stand up straight. I couldn’t help but wear the biggest smile of the season as I looked out on our freshly shorn flock, happily grazing on lush pasture with their lambs. It has taken five years to become somewhat proficient at this task. Each year, despite all the work, my hands are transformed by the lanolin in the wool – they become the softest and cleanest they can be. The sheep’s way of thanking me, I suppose.

Nearly two years ago, my wife and I welcomed our son Waylon into the world, and by default, this way of life. Waylon has embraced our farm community with open arms. He knows many of our crew members by name, and shrieks happily jumping into the arms of any of them. He wanders the farm as if he owns the place and is continuously amazed by the things and people we sometimes take for granted. Raising a baby on a working farm is also extremely challenging. My hands now not only work for myself, but they work to keep my son safe and happy as he navigates through the richest and most incredible childhood experience one can have.

I grew up on this farm surrounded by examples of what work means to me. My mom and dad both carry hands with them that have endured decades of exhausting labor. Thousands of farmers markets, tractors fixed, flowers picked, boxes packed, trees pruned, diapers changed, meals prepared – the list goes on. And after all this work, year after year, their tired hands are still the most loving, generous, and determined that I know. I’ve also been shaped by the hundreds of eager young hands that have come to our farm over the years to experience our internship program. Growing up, my siblings and I dined with, played with, learned from, and laughed with these special folks who came in and out of our lives, leaving deep impressions on all of us and taking with them a bit of Full Belly dirt under their fingernails. 

I am inspired daily by our team of farmers. Many of them have committed their entire adult lives to our farm. Just like Waylon does now, I spent my boyhood days jumping in farm trucks with Celso or Fernando, heading out to the field to lend a tiny hand and feel a part of all this hard work we accomplish together. My proudest joy is to now work alongside these men and women who helped raise me, and share with them the evolution of the seasons and the farm as a whole. As you unpack your CSA box this week, remember to be grateful for the hundreds of hands who have planted, picked, washed, and packed the bounty of your box. I have a long journey ahead of me as a farmer at Full Belly Farm. But my hands are ready to write their story.  

—Rye Muller

Melons on the move.