An Accomplishment Measured in Potatoes

At points I’m adverse to talking about food.  That’s right.  I don’t always love it.  There are times when seeing a bunch of kale does nothing for me.  During this period of working as an intern rather than a full employee, living on someone else’s property, knowing my time in any location is transient—I’ve found it can be easy to lose interest. I long for some ownership: my work, my home, my product, my land.  That is something I do miss about grad school.  My writing was mine, and I was building my research on a topic that I had created.

Today, Brenton took me around his field.  He was showing me how he labeled his rows, which crops were ready and which needed more time.   He drove me up and down the fifteen acres in his mud-splattered maroon minivan, with a cracked windshield and questionable braking capacity, vociferating about his business ambitions and jumping out occasionally to examine a row of crops.  As we came to the end of a block, two beds of stout, leafy plants waved up at us.  Brenton came to an immediate stop (as immediate as possible in that van) and shouted, “oh the potatoes!”

He fell to his knees and stuck his hand wrist-deep into the muddy soil, laughing.  Ten seconds later, he had three baby red potatoes in his hands.  I would say he “gushed” at this point, but I’m afraid it’s too understated.  The man was euphoric. 

“Are you surprised?” He asked, leadingly.

“No,” I said.  “NO?!”

It was honest.  What do I know about growing potatoes in Texas?  But, he explained, no one else in this area has potatoes right now.  Most potatoes are harvested in Texas in the spring.  This was the first time he, or anyone he knew, had grown autumn potatoes on a large scale. 

Alright, that’s pretty neat then.  But by his reaction Brenton may as well have pulled diamonds out of the soil.  Will I ever be that excited about potatoes? I’ve put seeds in the ground and watched them grow.  I’ve harvested them, sold them, and watched them fade off.  But I have yet to do it with any purpose.  My work in farming has so far been for someone else, under someone else’s systems, for someone else’s profit and name.  That might explain my lackadaisical reaction to the potato phenomenon of ’09.  This realization has led to another one: that farming is intensely personal.  It’s like academia in that way.  Breakthroughs in my writing and research exhilarated me because they were products of past hard work, and open doors to new, exciting opportunities. Those breakthroughs can be compared to Brenton’s potatoes.  Brenton wasn’t just excited about tubers; he was excited for his career, for an experiment that paid off, for the acquirement of new knowledge.  In other words, it wasn’t just the potatoes, it was what the potatoes represented.  Legitimacy.  Achievement.  Status.

I remember that feeling.  Of progressing in something I had made my own.  I’ve taken a step backward in that regard.  I’m back to learning rather than doing.  I’m bound to bump up against my own sense of pride during this process.  I’m also, though, pursuing a path that I chose, and I have to be okay with not knowing exactly where it will lead.  I’m trying not to define myself too precisely.  But I do hope I have a potato-worthy breakthrough of my own, soon.

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