As you may have noted (see the tab on this website “Other Joys”), farming is a big part of my life, and Plenty to Go Around is a story that grew in that ground. It will be a richly illustrated chapter book about kids from a summer camp volunteering at the organic farm that grows their vegetables. In the process, they learn about managing insect pests and gophers, and that you don’t have to squish every bug in the field to wind up with a big beautiful harvest. The book ends with the farmer, Mr. Tafoya, sharing a story with them: “Our old people always used to say “una pa’ nos, una pa’ vos, una pa’ los animalitos de Dios.” That means, when we’re planting, we put in one seed for us, one seed for you guys, and one for God’s little animals. There’s plenty to go around.”
Here’s how the story begins:
“Here comes trouble,” said a young woman in overalls and a bright bandanna, hands on her hips, and wearing a sideways grin.
“My favorite day of the week,” said the white-haired man in a beat-up straw hat, and he was smiling, too.
It was the “Camp Jim Dandy” bus, bringing a couple of dozen campers for their weekly volunteer shift. Most of the vegetables at Dandy Camp’s cafeteria came from Tafoya Farm, and the campers helped fill their plates by helping Mr. Tafoya raise his vegetables. The bus growled to a stop, the doors opened, and kids poured out like chips from a popped bag.
“Hiya, Bandanamanda!” a couple of kids hailed Ms. Overalls.
“That’s Bandanamanda Ma’am, to you, squirts!” They laughed and started a dance routine with another two campers: “Bandanamanda Ma’am, huh! Bandanamanda Ma’am, uh-huh!”
“Hi, Mr. Tafoolya!” The gentleman covered his heart with his hat and bowed. “Nice to see you, changos. Mandy, let’s put these guys to work!”
Mandy tightened the knot in her bandanna. With the help of a couple of Dandy Camp counselors, the kids were lined up, hatted, sunscreened, shown the cooler in the shade to get their drinking water and the outhouse next to the barn when they needed to pee, issued weeding tools, and finally marched off to the garden, singing:
“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow, Gonna mulch it deep and low, gonna make it fertile ground….”
Out in the rows, the grownups gave four versions of the same lecture: “Okay, gang, this is a carrot row. Everybody show me a carrot. No, don’t pull it up, just point! Good, Chris, good, Shelley, good …. Now, Jadon, show me how you use your weeder to clean around the carrots and get rid of the weeds. Steady as she goes, don’t be in a big hurry; there you go, nice and clean. Everybody clear on the concept?” There was a chorus of “Yeah,” in the tone of “no problem, we’re old hands here.” “Okay, make it beautiful! We’ll take a break in an hour for juice and snacks.”
The kids plumped down on their knees, which quickly turned green and brown, and started working to clear the weeds away from the vegetables. Big fat worms poked into impossibly tiny holes in the dirt and did a disappearing act. Well-dressed ladybugs lifted their wing cases and buzzed away on their fragile underwings. Pretty white butterflies fluttered overhead, and were snapped up by swallows zooming over the garden.
“Uh-oh,” said Mandy. “Those butterflies are cabbage moths, and if you take a look in any of the cabbage plants – cauliflower, broccoli, they’re all different kinds of cabbages – you’ll see they’ve been laying their little black eggs. When the eggs hatch out – remember The Very Hungry Caterpillar? – those little worms munch holes in all the leaves, from outside to way down inside, and then nobody’s going to want to buy those cauliflowers.”
“What are we going to do?” asked Gracie, who took her job seriously.
“We’re gonna wash those eggs right offa those leaves!” sang Mandy, reprising her high school musical role from “South Pacific.” “You guys from the first cabbage row, follow me to the barn!”
In the barn, Mandy climbed up the shelves along the wall to about twice her height, and handed down four plastic pump sprayers. Each sprayer got a dollop of dish soap and was filled with tap water. With a little practice, a person could generate a soapy jet that made short work of cabbage moth eggs. The sprayer-operators were paired with searchers, who scrutinized every plant for signs of eggs and helped with quality control; then searchers and sprayers would swap jobs. Sprayers occasionally succumbed to the temptation of splatting a bent-over butt, resulting in a chase that ended with the victim taking over the gunnery and the former splatter going back on weed detail…