So Long, South Philly

I’ve been home from the Phillies v. Cubs game for over an hour, but I can’t sleep.

My house is a disaster. Bags of food, clothes, housewares and junk are piled sky high in the living room. I spent my afternoon assimilating my compost into the back alley dirt instead of trying to clean my walls. I haven’t finished moving stuff up from the basement, or taking my pots and pans out of the kitchen, or pulling posters from my wall. I’ve given no thought to disassembling the dining room table or cramming this disaster into my car.

Though maybe not right away, I’m going to miss South Philly. Its sketchy corner stores and wary neighbors have been a part of my life since my sophomore year of college, when Nate was living down here and we were causing all sorts of ruckus. Ricky, our most friendly neighbor and scrapper extrardoinaire, is openly sad to see us go. In the past 48 hours I’ve had my last Tony Luke’s sandwich, Benna’s  Open Fire, Noche pizza, La Colombe coffee, Wired Beans baked good, Conshohocken Café wrap and Citizens Bank Park hotdog. Needless to say, I’m feeling more than a little queasy.

This morning I dumped a mess of un-moveables out on the curb that vanished within an hour. I’m meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in eight years to pass on some furniture in the morning, when Glenn Wagner makes his guest appearance in town for all of two hours. I had my last Back on My Feet Run (and I didn’t cry – though barely), and I stopped by La Salle to catch up with a couple of friends and former bosses. And if I can get this mess from my house into my car and my parents’ truck tomorrow morning, I’ll be ready to roll.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m excited. It’s just that right now I’m feeling a little more melancholy than farm ready. Everyone in my world has been incredibly supportive, and the past two weeks have done nothing but prove that over and over again. At an Adams clan wedding last weekend, about a hundred aunts and cousins shared their excitement and wished me luck on my new adventure. Nate threw me a really sweet going away party with some city friends with similar sentiments.

Last week, I came home from a Sixers game to find this perched on my desk. My darling roommate Olivia, who has been nothing but wonderful despite my leaving, strikes again.

My dear friends and coworkers at Child Advocates had a lovely sendoff for me and our interns on Wednesday. Potluck, ahoy! As I melted into a delicious, starch-induced coma, my boss Frank handed me a bag of farm gifts – gardening tools and gloves, a really phenomenal utility knife and the sweetest words from my coworkers. Sonja sent me off with a bouquet of sunflowers (my unspoken favorites), Chris made me a beautiful necklace, and Sandra presented me with a totally adorable “Farm Chick” shirt that was enjoyed by all.

I was doubly pleased to catch my boy John Cusack as a Stephen King character in this photo - clearly also wishing me luck.

Bob, my wonderful office mailman, also brought me a delightful sendoff gift. Bob is a member of the Pennsylvania Gourd Society – one of the only guys and one of the only Philadelphians. He’s been sharing all this interesting info about the nature of gourds – how the EPA uses them to absorb toxins from sites, and how he grows and crafts his work. So I was totally thrilled when he arrived Wednesday morning with a Mini Martin Gourd vine for me to take on my travels, and a small ornament he’d decorated. Stay tuned for more on this – I will certainly be keeping you updated on our little gourd’s progress.

Best mailman ever?

Thursday night I met up with some of my runner gals, work gals and other friends, and my BoMF friend Sarah gave me the most helpful gift of all – a native’s map and guide to Port Jervis!

Inside the folder are lists of town highlights, surrounding area hot spots and pamphlets and trail maps for hiking. I am totally stoked to explore.

It hurts to leave my amazing second families. I know I shouldn’t really feel that way – Philly is only going to be three hours away. But I didn’t study abroad while I was in school and I’ve never traveled very far from the people I love. I’ll be back a ton, for sure, but something about this move feels more final than the others – maybe that’s why I am sitting here, this close to midnight, unpacked.

So long, South Philly. We had a good run. I’ll be back to visit you soon – with vegetables!

-Farmer Liz

Dreaming of Dirt

April 17, 2012, 6:00 am

The sun has been rising steadily over South Philadelphia for the last hour or so, shifting the black outside into formless gray surfaces across our backyards. A grill, a concrete divider covered in matted green ivy, a fence slowly come into focus as 6:00 am approaches.

I have been lying here listening to the tenuous cries of feral cats, mounting birdsong and my own breath in the muggy morning air. A bean tree has created its crooked, stubborn life in the partial dirt alley behind our house, and starlings and, today, a wayward seagull have paused to give a call before moving east toward the water.

Ninety degrees in April? Unfathomable. How this uncanny weather is about to affect my future is anyone’s guess, at least right now. Lord knows I’ll have to start figuring all that out soon. But right now I’m not thinking about weather reports.

I am thinking about dirt.

Two weeks ago my family, Nate and I dug up thirteen shovels of dirt from a two-acre perimeter on the property in the Lehigh Valley. We carried it home, mixed it together and laid it on newspaper to dry overnight before shipping it off. Penn State will test it for phosphorus, arsenic, nitrates and a slew of chemical words whose boxes I checked without understanding the names. Soon we will have some guidance as to what is happening in that shale land that may become my home, and hopefully we’ll be able to figure out how to coax it to life.

As 2012 rolled in this year, I knew two things for sure: I was unhappy with my work, and I was, for the first time in five years, growing disillusioned with the city. I talked to Nate, I talked to my friends, and I talked to my parents, and for the first time in a long time I started to think about dirt in a big way. And it felt right. I started sending out applications to organic farms for work at the end of January.

I started visiting farms, reading books by farmers and articles about high tunnels and farmstands. I e-mailed the Food Trust for a farmer’s market application, knowing full well that we are probably years pursuing this issue further. I drove to New York to interview with Keith Stewart and his wife. Keith is known for his work and runs a well-established farm that he’s been tending since the 80s, and for the next six months I’ll be working for him along with a handful of other interns I’ll be meeting soon.

My success, failure and love of dirt at the end of all of this will determine my next move, which at this moment may include creating and operating a farm. My parents, who have always been amazingly willing and able to roll with the punches their daughters have thrown over the years, went from coolly skeptical to wildly interested over the past three months. This past week my father assembled nearly a dozen rain barrels and my mother attended her first Exploring the Small Farm Dream class at a Penn State extension office. The guest speaker talked about creating CSA shares for people in the SNAP food aid program and running classes and summer camps to teach kids the importance of sustainability, and I could hear the excitement in my chest reflected in my mom’s voice. For the first time, I started to believe we might pull this off.

Last June I joined Back on My Feet, a running group in the city that partners with homeless shelters instills a sense of self-worth and purpose through running. Three days a week I leave my house in the morning dark and run to meet my team at Broad and Bainbridge, where we run with guys from the Ready, Willing and Able shelter nearby. This team is what I will miss the most when I leave – I know that unequivocally. These guys have pushed me to try harder, to run faster, to dream bigger than I ever have before. Without them, I never would have realized how much I needed to shake up my post-grad existence, or that I want to be working and living and sweating outside instead of feeling my eyes give out behind a desk and a computer.

When I told them I was leaving, my guys immediately started to call me “Farmer Liz.” This blog and this journey are in honor of them and everyone in my world who has encouraged me to take this plunge (and to share it with them). I hope this undertaking will, at the very least, pleasantly distract you for a few minutes a day. Maybe you’ll start looking for some dirt of your own. Regardless, stay tuned. It’s sure to be an adventure.

-Farmer Liz