The importance of keeping track

Blog editor Talia Ralph throws a bit of organization into the beautiful chaos of farming.

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a neat freak. I’ve definitely spent more of my lifetime tidying my kitchen or lining up a magazine layout than I have with my sleeves rolled up, hands covered in mud, knee-deep in compost.

dirty hands
My dirty hand: just a normal day at the farm.

Being a student on the NYU urban farm this fall has made me realize how much I love connecting with nature, though it’s also reminded me just how unruly nature can be. Pests pop in from around the city to nibble at our crops; remay covers blow away in the harsh November winds; and double-digging soil isn’t exactly the neatest of activities. How, then, do I reconcile my slightly OCD, Type A tendencies with my new job as student farmer?

By keeping track, of course.

When we harvested our summer crops back in September, I was given a pad and a pen by our fearless professor, Laurel, and told to write down what we were pulling out of the soil and what we were keeping:


When we planted cover crops in October to keep our soil healthy and full of good nutrients, I marked down what each row contained and how each crop was sown, either with our trusty Earthway seeder or with our own bare hands:


And now that our winter crops are cozily underground, we’ve got a chart for those too:


And when Laurel mentioned that we’d need to leave a legacy at the farm in the form of our choosing, I forwent building something concrete (though I do love a good construction project) in favor of building and maintaining this blog, our Twitter, and our Instagram.

As a journalist and designer, this is the stuff that comes naturally to me. Though I might still be learning my way around a bed or a wheelbarrow, I know exactly how important it is to get things down on paper (or laptop). If we want to plan next summer’s crops, we’ll be better equipped to intelligently sequence our harvests if we know what we grew last summer. By having a record of what we planted this fall, we’ll be able to track which crops do well in these crazy New York winters and which are better left to our friends in warmer climes.

Best of all, through these charts and this blog, we’ll have a recorded history of our farm. Though our little slice of farmland is still new to veggies, herbs, compost and shovels — as am I — it is something we want to leave to the NYU family for generations to come. In five, 50, or 200 years, I hope our little charts will serve as more than just guides for students and volunteers about what went where. They’ll be the beginning of a long, fruitful story about a farm, where students experimented, learnt, and yes…got dirty.

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