The Mayor & the Kid
From ‘The Kid’ Conal Robinson
This past March, on Friday the 13th, Chancellor Subbaswamy cancelled in-person classes for the rest of the year at the University of Massachusetts. An eerie atmosphere settled upon the campus quad. After hearing the news, my friends and I decided to descend upon the mess hall. This is where we shared laughs, broke bread, and–on occasion–spilled our drinks. We enjoyed our last supper and left with full bellies.
Near the mess hall is a greenhouse belonging to the Umass Student Farm. In the doorway of this glass house stood a hatted man beckoning us in. Once we entered into the filtered light, the farmer showed us his vermiculite bin. He told us to fill our palms with earthworm castings. Then gave us hydroponically grown tomatoes for our pots full of compost. Due to the closing of campus, they were getting rid of all the plants in the greenhouse, and we were the lucky recipients.
The next day I was on my way home, leaving the dormitories–a place where the walls glistened a gleaning shade of pale white underneath our shared fluorescent light–in the dust. Now was the time to take on new dusty roads in my beaming ’98 Cadillac Deville. I picked up a bottle of Green Lovin’ for the ride back. This kombucha was bottled in Greenfield and contains cordyceps, alleged to aide in autoimmune ailments.
Soon enough I was pulling into the familiar driveway. I walked into our house with my tomato plant in hand and my totes at toe. I was back, with a bag full of the ingredients to make Bahn Mis. We had a crusty baguette, a daikon radish from Hadley, a cucumber, a handful of cilantro, and some carrots. Using a knife, I prepared the ingredients. I placed the cut vegetables on bread and took a bite.
Back home and still taking classes, but now on Zoom. I felt like I was in a weird seasonal limbo between spring and summer. It was a technological purgatory.
The town of Holliston held my redemption. For the past two decades I have slept in the same 12’x12’ Ashland bedroom. It was here that I found myself thumbing through Facebook when I saw a posting for a position on a flower farm. The Mayor of Mudville Manor was looking for help. Immediately, I emailed my résumé, and by the next morning I had my hands in the dirt.
Mr. Bobby “The Mayor” Blair welcomed me into his manor with open arms. He had his muddy hands cupping his ears greeting me, as Mr. Blair, in is, his own words, “deaf as a herring.” I have to say that Bob is an especially funny man, and this is coming from the Ashland Middle School joke contest champion.
Tubers are the main item we deal with on the plantation. Dahlias are tropical perennials. They’re like spuds–they grow more fruiting bodies off the main part and send up shoots that flower. Deer love the buds and use their tiny mouths to bite the things. Bobby uses a blend of dish detergent and hot sauce to keep them from nibbling on his goods. This blend works well to keep away everything but the lily beetle known in Linnaean terms as Lillioceris lilii.
Before there was a Mayor’s Dahlia Plantation on 260 Highland Street, there was a vineyard here (and I reckon even before that, the Amerindians were growing three sisters on this land).
The plantation is entrusted to Bob by Jim & Pat Poitras and managed by the Audubon. Different kinds of moths, butterflies, and birds chatter in the air. It is a place of magic. Birds fly between the rows, gliding onto the logs that hold wires waiting for flower blooms. Dahlia is a genus containing many species; Red dahlias are the first to bloom of many resplendent blossoms on the farm.
We start our day in the fields. However, most of us never get the vision of endless dahlia tubers out of our minds. It is tedious work; however, I consider it a “meditation” in labor. There is a shared goal that unites our minds. Together we make our way through row after row till we have bunches of flowers cradled in our arms.
For more information on the Dahlia Farm, click Mayor’s Dahlia Plantation on Facebook.