I Leave The City To Work On A Farm Every Summer—Here Are 5 Things I've Learned

Turns out that hard work is also the perfect respite.

August 17, 2017
woman with cows

Every summer for the last five years, I have left the big, busy, smelly city for the countryside. I trade metropolitan comforts—public transit, bubble tea, 24-hour pharmacies—for the lowing of cows, waist-high thistles, and sunsets that seem to stretch to both ends of the horizon.

There, on a small organic farm, I plant, harvest, fertilize, and otherwise reconnect with the earth which, in the city, is hidden under several feet of concrete. It is an annual pilgrimage I make for my own sake, but farm living brings about some amazing changes in those who shift from city mouse to country mouse.

(Like what you're reading? Sign up for our newsletter to get health insights, clever kitchen tricks, gardening secrets, and more—delivered straight to your inbox.)

eating a tomato
Zero Creatives/getty
You eat better

The first summer I went farming, I flew to the East Coast and worked on a black currant farm by the sea. The farm also had a small garden for the family’s use. It was green bean season when I arrived. I had eaten green beans, of course—to me, they were a bland, soggy, grayish side, a substitute for something better. The green beans I tried at my East coast farm were nothing like that.

They had a snap to them, and then a burst of flavor: sweet and earthy. I couldn’t stop eating them right off the plant. The experience made me wonder what other vegetables I hadn’t really tried. The average meal travels an estimated 1500 miles to reach your plate. There’s a lot of time for it to lose its character on the way. Once you taste fresh food, it’s hard to go back. There’s nothing like plucking your salad ingredients right out of the earth, and knowing what they are really meant to taste like.

Related: How To Grow A Three Sisters Garden

woman sleeping
Tom Merton/getty
You sleep better

Farming is hard work. Maybe the hardest work. There are no days off, and mother nature has an annoying habit of ruining that hard with a hungry black bear (bye, beautiful raspberry bushes), or a scorching summer (why are you so small and sad, onions?), or curious rabbits (could you not have left me a single spinach, rabbits?). A farmer needs her sleep.

At home in the city, surrounded by light pollution, I go to bed shortly after midnight and get up roughly eight hours later. My farming summers, however, are punctuated by restful sleep that starts around 10 o’clock and ends shortly after the sun rises. There is true darkness in the countryside that makes for deep slumbers, and following the sun cycle leaves me more wakeful through the day, and more thoroughly tired at the end of it.

Related: 5 Herbalists Reveal Their Go-To Natural Remedies For Stress, Poor Sleep, And More

harvesting veggies
Monty Rakusen/getty
You waste less

When it takes you three months and 12 gallons of water to raise a single potato, you are going to eat that potato. If it’s misshapen and bruised, you’re going to eat that potato. If it’s moldy on one side, you’re going to slice off the mold and eat that potato.

And then you’re going to compost that moldy half, and that compost is going to turn into nutrient-rich soil that will nourish your potatoes next year. When we are connected to the food we produce, we don’t want to see that food go to waste. With an estimated 30-40 percent of food in America never making it to the plate, it is all the more empowering to grow your own, and use it all.

Related: 18 Food Scraps You're Throwing Away That You Can Actually Eat

Felicia Coulton / EyeEm/getty
You get your vitamin D

Being outside makes you happy. This fact is popping up in scientific journals now, but any kid can tell you this already. It feels good to be outdoors, to have the sun on your skin, to breathe the fresh air, to be soaked by a torrential storm.

Being outside increases “happy hormone” levels, provides vitamin D (in which an estimated one billion people globally are deficient), and the physical activities associated with spending time outdoors—walking, gardening, swimming—come with a slew of health benefits of their own.

harvesting veggies
Hero Images/getty
You are humbled by the earth

Two summers ago, I planted a long row of leeks on a farm on the shores of Lake Huron. The seedlings were delicate threads of green, about as tall as my index finger. When I put them in the ground, they drooped over. The breeze ruffled them and made me fear they would all be ruined. I watered them carefully so they wouldn’t be swept away.

Last summer, I returned to see the overwintered leeks. They had reached their full size six months after I planted them. Now, they were well over an inch in diameter. I couldn’t believe what they had accomplished. The process of growth is amazing to witness: seed, sprout, stalk, flower, fruit. Being on a farm challenges you to think of your food as a process, and deepens that question, “What’s for dinner?”

Related: 5 Surprising Ways Gardening Improves Your Health

After a few short weeks of farm life, my mind and body are altered by this new way of living. I feel taller and less stiff. I smile more easily. I am less anxious and more patient. I have fewer cravings for processed food and more cravings for fresh food. I am better-rested and in tune with my body’s needs. I return to the city on a natural, fresh-air high, determined to carry some of the lessons I’ve learned into my city mouse existence.

Every year, I live a bit more like a farmer.