Don’t Diss the Scallions

Scallions bunched with red rubber bands
Captured scallions

I’m terrible at girly stuff. That’s why I’m having trouble with the scallions. They have hair. Hair I’m supposed to corral into three twists of a rubber band. Two twists — fine. But on the third I snag strands of scallion hair back under the band, then snap off a healthy bulb when I try to fix it. Oops.

It’s week two at Henry Got Crops, the urban farm where I volunteer to preserve my sanity and maybe earn part of a community farm share next summer.

Pulling off Henry Avenue onto the newly graveled driveway, I’m greeted like a hero. Emma is walking up from the fields to my right, smiling and waving. Angela stops, runs over and puts her arm around me when I get out of the car. “You’re back!” she exclaims. I knew the farm and I were meant for each other.

Before my shift begins, however, I need a pit stop.

“Where’s the toilet?” I ask Angela, and she pauses. “Um, kind of, behind the greenhouse down there, at the edge of the field. No one can see you.” Even in a city, a farm’s a farm. I try to appear unfazed, as Emma arrives.

Angela: “She can go down at the edge of the field, right?”
Emma: “Well, Josh is harvesting down there today so no. [thankfully!] There’s the cow barn, though, a stall there…”

A stall?! Are people just going in a cow stall? Life on the farm is a bit more rural than I expected. “There are two toilets.” she continues, “One is working.” Oh. Phew.

Photo of a farm washing shed, large white tub at back under lattice window, trestle table with plastic white bin at right, plus greenery.
Washing shed. Though not this one.

That business sorted, I head to work. Last week I was in the cool, outdoor washing shed, separating loose, floating arugula leaves from harvest debris. I start there again, this time in the scallion tub, prying dirt from bulbous scalps and hair, pinching off yellow and straggling leaves. It’s sociable in the shed — there are three of us today–myself, Angela and Meredith–working on lettuce and scallions.

Soon, however, Meredith and I are sent indoors for scallion bunching. Inside are trestle tables in an L-shape, short arm parallel to the cold storage refrigerators. Two scales sit at the junction of the L. On the wall behind the long arm is a handwritten whiteboard list of that week’s produce and their weights. Plastic bins and slatted, wooden crates are stacked against the opposite wall. Fluorescent lights shine overhead.

Bunching scallions is pretty simple stuff — you grab some, weigh them and add or remove bulbs until you have about 1/3 lb. After that, three twists of the rubber band and toss them in the bin.

But that damn hair. I’m hoping Meredith doesn’t notice. Oh the guilt over every bent leaf and busted bulb! “It’s like putting your daughter’s hair into a ponytail,” she says brightly. I’m not certain I could put my own hair into a ponytail.

A man holding his little girl upside down -- she's smiling and her hair hangs down.
Upside down daughter

Then Meredith is called back to the washing shed and I’m left alone with my scales and my scallion guilt. With no one watching I’m free to experiment. Gravity turns out to be the way forward. Turn them upside down and let the hair fly free! Scallions are more amenable than daughters this way. Soon I’m triple-banding with minimal scallion damage. I’m in the groove.

From the washing shed outside I hear laughing. It’s lonely in here at the trestle tables. I’ve finished my bunches and need a scallion refill, so I grab the bin and head outdoors. The washing shed is hopping! Two other volunteers have arrived. Angela and Emma wash the lettuce, Meredith and Danielle clear the scallions and Brenda spins the leaves. I pop in and out for scallion refills, and take some turns at the lettuce washing.

We wash, spin, weigh, bunch and bin. Clean, fresh produce piles up and gets carted to the storage refrigerator. Two hours pass quickly, and suddenly Emma is there, thanking me and asking if I know where the sign out sheet is.

Maybe next week I’ll do a double shift.