Who among us has not tended the vegetable garden in the hour or two before work and thought: ''Blow the job, I'm going to do this full-time!''?
Thoughts wander to some patch of countryside, to life on the farm and to people paying money for your lovingly reared fruits and veggies. The dream fades, downtown beckons.
One couple answered the call. Ward Sinclair and Cass Peterson left Alexandria, Va., for a small farm in southern Pennsylvania, where they grew potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, peas and more, and took their wares to the farmer's markets in the Washington metropolitan area.
Longtime Washington Post readers will recognize the names: Sinclair was the newspaper's agriculture correspondent, Peterson an environmental writer. But the land was calling them, and after buying Flickerville Mountain Farm & Groundhog Ranch in 1983 and farming only on weekends, they took the plunge six years later, gave up their newspaper careers and farmed full-time. Except Sinclair continued to observe and write.
His columns about his new life appeared regularly in The Post's Food section between 1989 and 1993. The columns, in turn, attracted customers to his quirky stands at area farmer's markets, where he attained celebrity status. Those columns have now been compiled in a book, ''Truckpatch: A Farmer's Odyssey'' (American Botanist Booksellers, $14.95). (To order directly from the publisher, call 309-274-5254. The e-mail address is agbook(at)mtco.com and the Web site is www.amerbot.com.)
Sinclair wrote of himself in the third person, as ''the farmer.'' He said it was impossible ''to portray the pleasure he feels when utter strangers praise his tomatoes or his broccoli. Yet such praise has come to be more meaningful and important than any accolades he might have received for news articles he crafted in another life.''
You might think that covering the state of modern-day farming, he would have shied away from such a life. The world he saw as a reporter was one in which agriculture had become an industry, its fruits and vegetables little more than widgets. The family farm was failing, and farmers everywhere were up to their eyes in debt, reliant on government subsidies and one flood away from ruin.
But because he was new to the game, he could play by his own rules, avoiding the traps he had chronicled. He farmed 10 acres intensively and raised fresh vegetables and fruits organically. There was -- and is -- a growing demand for this produce by restaurants, farmer's markets and groups of customers who subscribe to a whole year's produce before it is grown.
But still this was not an easy enterprise. A guy already well into middle age, Sinclair had given up life at a desk for a world that demanded long hours of physical labor.
There also were the psychological stresses of such things as late freezes in April and prolonged drought in July. ''Some nights, deep in his sleep, the farmer dreams about rain and floods. He sees withering plants resuscitating from torrents of water and he sees browning fields turn green again.''
One column dwells on his late-winter to-do list. It makes chilling reading for the sedentary: Three days to inventory, find and buy boxes and cartons needed for the market for the forthcoming year; two days to remulch the strawberry patches; four days to build an equipment storage shed; one day to cut back the raspberry canes. And so on.
He recounts the problems they encountered of finding help, of the exasperation at the destruction wrought by deer and groundhogs. But, clearly, the love of the work outweighs all that, and he speaks of his kinship with his customers and fellow farmers, and of the feel-good rewards of providing wholesome food to others, especially if he can beat farmers in warmer Maryland or Virginia with the first ripe tomato of the season.
Sinclair also describes the solitary pleasures of his paradise: ''In the spring, the nostrils leap at the first sweet whiff of the new-mown clover. . . . In the summer, the farmer has privileges not even known to kings and presidents. The first mature broccoli he eats raw in the field. The first few ripe melons and strawberries go not to market but to the farmer's tongue. . . . In the fall, the farmer is overwhelmed by the profusion of smells.
''Some of the farmer's friends, not privy to these secrets of the truckpatch, worry that his work may be too burdensome, too dreary or too depressing to hold his interest. Not to worry, the farmer answers, for the pay is greater than anyone knows.''
Five years ago, Sinclair was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died two weeks later at the age of 61.
Sinclair's life was cut short. But it was not unfulfilled, or haunted by doubts about what if. . . .
Peterson, writing in the prologue, says: ''For my part, I had only two requests. First, if we were going to run a farm it would have to be an organic one. . . . I'd covered enough toxic-waste and pesticide-poisoning stories to want no part of a profession that relied heavily on chemical crutches.
''The second was that this farm had jolly well better have plenty of space for flowers.''
Space too, of course, for a leap of faith and quiet, heroic endeavors.
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