Tractor Drivin’ Man Experiences Book & Plow

Managing Opinion Editor Dustin Copeland '25 reflects on a summer spent as a simple farm-hand at Amherst's own Book and Plow.

Tractor Drivin’ Man Experiences Book & Plow
A few of the summer crew stand triumphant in front of the skeleton of the hoop house they erected this summer. Photo courtesy of Dustin Copeland '25.

By the end of July, my routine was set in stone: roll out of bed as close to nine as possible to throw on my sneakers (which by then were held together by solidified mud and soil more than anything else) so that I could get to the farm (Book & Plow farm: abbreviated B&P, south of campus, basically heaven) without being too late to fill up my water bottle before the farm van shuttled the crew down to the far fields where we planted and weeded and irrigated and harvested until the time or job came up such that at least some of us would head back to the core site to work further — if there were time and jobs for such before lunch, which would be an hour’s shoveling of calories in preparation for the afternoon’s hotter repetition of the morning’s planting and weeding and irrigating and harvesting, itself ending with the bus route back to campus and my collapse before a shower and the rest of the day that existed and was lived in the shadow of the workday, which encompassed and was greater than all things on Earth.

Oftentimes work was difficult, and sometimes when the sun beat particularly hard and my body protested particularly loudly it was miserable, but even (especially) when it felt that way, the time was sure to come soon after when living would become euphoric, when each unit of myself would realize the perfect unity of purpose and design expressed by its use for farming and I felt rather than recalled the last line of Gary Snyder’s poem about log truck work: “There is no other life.”

That sense of fulfillment was nearly daily on the farm, making it a work experience that I believe is different in kind from most other jobs a person can work. I felt a deeply visceral tangibility to the work that I did on the farm that could not have come solely from the visual proof there was of my work; there was something greater about raising and maintaining crops than even other types of manual labor. It is certain that I still love things like mechanical maintenance, construction, and woodworking, but farming has for some reason a different feeling than each of those. I have experienced intense joy from designing and engineering and fixing in the past, but I have never felt certainty that, if it came to it, I could drop everything and do that work for the rest of my life. On the farm, however, that certainty was a constant.

The thing about that feeling, though, is that it is not at all a reflection of the pure act of farming. I am certain that my conviction in farming’s virtues would have not ever come about had I interned for a summer at any old farm — in fact it’s possible that, had I been working for a much less well-managed one (may mercy be had on any who have been crew on such a farm), I would come away positively hating the farming experience. Maida Ives and Kaylee Brow, the permanent managers of B&P, make the summer job the invaluable experience that it is. Clearly designed for new farmers, the education provided is indescribably good. I came away from the summer feeling technically versed in the basics of how farms are run — even if the physical demands of a “real” farming job are still terrifying. The education about food systems in the area was grounded in the fact that farms practically carpet the Pioneer Valley; no other experience here has made me feel closer to the land on which I go to school and the people who inhabit it. Of non-students I’ve met around the area, most of them have had some connection to at least one farm, and even those without jobs or friends in the industry patronize the farmers markets and actual farm stores that dot the Valley.

The education provided by the farm is not just applicable as a learning experience, as a way of legitimizing my presence in this place I’m not from. By the end of the summer, I felt actually capable in my job — like I actually could judge what needed to be weeded and how effective I was at doing it, like I could harvest and wash and pack a crop according to the order we got, like I could operate our equipment safely and skillfully enough to do any job that was asked of me. That meant, perhaps most importantly, that I was allowed to drive a tractor around! I was (I cannot stress this enough) allowed to drive a tractor around under our farm’s skies, looking at the hills that rise from the gaps in our perfect woods, at the farm that is itself an artwork, flowered resplendent green. There is a beauty to all farms, in the rows and the order and the life, but there’s something about B&P that raises it above other farms, that makes it one of the most perfect places I have ever been in.

My last day of work on the farm was last Wednesday. I walked down towards the Fort River in the far fields for the last time in the summer. The sun beat down particularly hard and my body was certainly staging a protest, but suddenly a smile broke through my face. I didn’t put it there — it was an expression not of my mind but of my entire self, explained not by my thoughts but of the then-central fact of my existence: I was on a farm and my work was good.

I’m not sure I’ve had a better experience than farming this summer in my life, and as such, I’m sure I’ll be spending quite a bit of time up there through this semester and for the rest of my time at Amherst. Everyone, I think, should do the same: go pick a bouquet of flowers and some cherry tomatoes, relax on Tuttle Hill, take the place in with all of your senses. Talk to Maida or Kaylee (or Ana Ascencio, this year’s Farm Fellow!) if they’re out there, or anyone who has worked on the farm. They’re some of the best people I’ve met here, and I’ve learned more from them than almost anyone else. On that note, whether you’ve thought about it in the past or never even heard of farming, apply to work at B&P! It’s kind of perfect up there. I’m sure you’ll love it.

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