This first appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.
Summer squashes were a threat to reputation and profit. After harvesting vegetables all morning, we were packing up produce for the patrons of the small organic farm in Iowa.
"You have no idea how hard it is," Bob said almost angrily, "to not make jokes in the CSA newsletter about stuffing customers' boxes full of zucchinis."
He refrained. You never know who might take offense.
Iowa is home to some of the most fertile soil in the world, used mostly for endless acres of homogenous, genetically modified corn and soybeans, destined to become animal feed, high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Our little organic plot, carved out of all the corn, produced dozens of types of vegetables and just as many dick jokes.
We spent the day handling cucumbers. Carrots if you like it pointy, radish for a little spice. Hell, eggplants, too, if you're more about girth.
Why such a crass train of thought? Perhaps because half the produce is phallic and the other half looks like balls. And what produce! A wonderful diversity of heirloom tomatoes in all colors and sizes. Sun gold cherry tomatoes were the best, proving that size isn't everything. Peas and leeks, of course, bridged the gap between the body parts and their functions. It was a lot to think about while intimately handling the beets in the processing room, gently scrubbing the mud from their bodies.
Maybe our mindset was influenced by the plants all having sex with each other, in their own way, with the fruits and vegetables that we eat being the result. Consider the corn orgy. The cornstalk displays its male parts to the world via the tassels standing erect at the top of the plant. The tassels release pollen grains into the air, which, if lucky, land on those silky female parts sticking out the top of the ear of corn, then worm their way inside and help birth a kernel. As with rival human populations, there's reproductive competition. Our humble corn patch attempted, probably futilely, to resist the ravages of genetically modified pollen drifting in from the neighboring plots full of Monsanto's finest.
Or maybe it's the livestock wandering around that create the perverse atmosphere, constantly shitting and pissing and having intercourse. They remind us of life's most basic functions—consume, eliminate, reproduce. Take the cow's priorities: They're happy to spend all day long searching for the most tender and delicious shoots of grass and clover, with not a care in the world about news and politics. As long as there's a salt lick and they get laid once in awhile, you've got happy cows.
Our job was to make sure they are able to fulfill those basic needs—moving them to fresh fields and refilling their water tub after they tip it over in their haste to drink. When they run out of food, they let you hear about it with lowing and moos. When the gate opens to a new field, the calves rush in first and do a little dance, jumping in the air and clicking their hooves. Food then turns into shit, and keeping healthy stool is a legitimate concern of the farmer—let the cows in a field with too much fresh alfalfa and their rear ends become "like squirt guns," in the words of Bob.
Work often meant getting intimately involved with the animals' private parts and body fluids, like on piglet castration day. I've never felt more connected to the earth than when I fell on my backside in the mud and pigshit, trying to capture a piglet who fled between my legs. He didn't know what he was running from, but he had good instincts. Unfortunately for his future reproductive aspirations, pigs think with their stomachs, so a little corn was all it took to lure him back.
There are the chickens, which literally shit where they eat. There's nothing like cleaning chicken poop out of their food and water troughs every day while the rooster goes on a raping spree. Eat, shit, fuck.
And the rams head-butt each other to decide who gets to mate with the ewes, popping boners that look like lipstick tubes. Sometimes, legend has it, they even inspire competition from lonely shepherds seeking companionship. "I swear, I was just helping that sheep over the fence."
Jokes aside, running the farm is a monstrously complicated job. On top of keeping weeds and pests and disease at bay, every vegetable has its specific requirements for water, weeding, soil, and days until harvest. We have to stagger planting times to keep the CSA boxes full with colorful variety. That's not to mention moving the animals to a new field every day or two. It takes some kind of perverted genius to keep everything moving smoothly.
To wit: There goes Sam poking the tractor spike into the round bale, delicately approaching, a bit of flirtation while lining the metal rod up directly with the center of the bale, then gently pushing it inside. He proudly proclaimed it "the closest thing to sex that's not actually sex."
Is it profound, or profane? It could be that we just have sick minds, but the nature of the work prompts the theme. The farm revolves around the most basic human functions and physiological necessities: We're out there crawling around in the mud, planting and growing food to feed people and animals. The animal shit helps grow more food. And yeah, those cows, sheep and pigs are headed for our bellies too. In the form of sausage, if we're lucky. Are we immature, or are all the straitlaced folks so far removed from life's roots to see that it is one big dirty joke? What could be more human than eating and fucking?