It's been 10 years now, and Jim Crawford is 37.
He has a wife and small son.
He lives 126 miles from Capitol Hill.
And he hasn't heard a word of Russian in ages.
"I wouldn't call it the simple life," he says, whittling a slice of green pepper for his Famous Cucumber Salad in the kitchen of New Morning Farm. "Boredom is not the problem. If anything, it's too complicated."
He used to be Lt. James C. Crawford, Russian language specialist for the Navy, graduate of Rice on an ROTC scholarship, Vietnam veteran who quit the service in protest over Cambodia.
He used to be a speechwriter for Bella Abzug, a leader in the GI movement, a law student by night.
There wasn't enough reality in it for him.
So he started New Morning Farm in West Virginia, later moved to a 73-acre spread in the green hills of southern Pennsylvania, with his own mountainside, creek and weatherbeaten farmhouse.
The nearest library is 45 minutes away.
"Most of the time we don't miss the city, the movies, the Kennedy Center. For 10 months of the year we come in regularly, and that's important to us. But we would never move back."
June through October, the Crawfords bring two truckloads of produce to Washington twice a week, cutting it to once a week and one truck in the winter. April and May are the planting months, and they don't come in at all then.
"Those are the nicest farming months," says Moie Crawford, who is from New Hampshire and misses the urban life even less than her husband. Sometimes she handles the truckstand at Columbia Road and 18th Street -- it was a vacant lot when Crawford started selling there, now is a bustling farmers' market with official city recognition -- and sometimes she covers the route in District neighborhoods west of Georgetown, announcing herself at each stop with a big bell that starts people salivating for blocks.
It's a grueling day. They wake up around 4 a.m., get home by midnight. Arlo, 3 1/2, sometimes stays with friends on the Hill. That's on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Mondays and Fridays, there is the picking, the washing, the bread baking (Moie has a specially made baking counter in the kitchen, with bins and storage) and finally the packing: the two white trucks are filled to the roof with apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, corn, tomatoes, asparagus, squash, beans, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, plums, peppers, eggs, Mennonite cheeses, cookies, preserves and cider.
"Selling the stuff has never been a problem," remarks Jim Crawford. "We only plant about 15 acres, and we can always sell whatever we raise. We even sell some tomatoes and things to wholesalers. We could make a lot more by finding someone to grow stuff for us, but that would be getting into bigness again. It's so easy to blur the lines."
Some truck farmers buy from wholesalers in the cities. Some sell bananas, coconuts, out-of-season produce from California. The words "farmers' market," "farm-fresh," "organic" and so on have lost meaning as they have become as commercialized as granola. Part of the blame has to fall on customers so ignorant that they will buy sweet corn in May thinking it comes right off the trucker's own farm.
"It's no big problem, but it's irritating when we're selling our first tomatoes and some other truck has bigger ones from California that he's passing off as homegrown," Crawford says. "Our stuff is always our own or our neighbors'. We do sell some bread made by the Women's Community Bakery in Washington. We don't spray, except for tree fruit. We cover things with plastic sheeting, which cuts out weeds but is expensive. The only fertilizer we use is chicken manure from a neighbor. No chemicals."
It is quite a trick, running a truck farm so far from the city. Crawford knows of no others in the business who are as remote and isolated as he is. Here's why:
The summer has been so dry that several crops are in danger. But the creek is still running 20 feet wide, so Crawford has bought pipes and a pump. Trying to save $55 on a pipe connection, he rigged up a rubber link with clamps. The pump ran for a minute, and the clamp burst. Improvising all the way, lacking handy manufacturers to advise him, he had to phone all over the Northeast before he found a larger clamp in New Jersey. He can only hope it will be mailed in time.
"We do have a general store two miles away," says Moie Crawford, "which is a godsend for little things like Band-Aids. But for lots of stuff we have to drive 90 minutes to Chambersburg State College to do mail order."
Gradually, with the aid of bank loans and $13,000 borrowed from customers on the route, the Crawfords are turning what was essentially a dairy farm into a truck farm. They designed and had built a packing shed complete with conveyor belt (and a retaining wall much more massive than it needs to be), a walk-in cooler, produce washer and other specialized gadgets. They keep a few chickens but buy butter and milk from neighbors. There are always experiments going on: the latest are raspberries and popcorn.
"One thing," Crawford mutters, sitting down to a lunch of salad, ham, peach-and-blackberry pie and corn picked minutes earlier, "the food is great. We're so spoiled, we only eat the very best ears."
Over the past 10 years, he has found himself far more deeply involved in the techniques of farming. He loves the freedom of working for himself. It can be a lonely life, and he's aware of being seen as an outsider -- he worries about the local schools, for instance, only natural for the son of a publishing executive and a college professor -- but he has made friends among the other farmers.
"Many of our friends are also people who moved out of the city. Not all are farmers. But they haven't gone back. A few people were caught up in the fad back in the '70s, I guess, but the serious ones are sticking with it. I could do some Russian translating, but that would be a narrower life than I have now. I really believe in self-employment, working on your own projects, being creative."
Moie Crawford is a reader. She trades fiction with friends or drives to the library in Chambersburg. "We have one TV station but it's terrible, we hardly ever watch. We don't have the leisure time for it anyway. We do go to concerts and movies when we get up to the state college. And we enjoy our trips to my family in New Hampshire. Also, my mother has a house in Bermuda we visit sometimes."
They had to put in a gas furnace to supplement the wood furnace when they aren't home to tend it. They added a bath and a picture window, fixed up the kitchen, still have some painting to do. In the summer, young helpers from the state college stay with them, living in cottages down by the creek. On big harvest days they bring in five or six local workers as well. Now, they are down to one youth, the son of some friends in Washington.
Then there are the cats, Eggroll and Duane, and the retrievers, Fritter and his mother Molly, who follows us about with a dried-out and very, very dead woodchuck in her mouth. In the haybarn: a rowboat, two bicycles, 20-foot stacks of empty cartons. In the kitchen: binoculars by the window, a fishing rod on the cabinet. In the living room: a record player and a scattering of Arlo's toys.
Across the fields, the afternoon sun is glinting on the creek, just short of the steep hillside where deer and bear sometimes venture. A locust rattles and fades. The air is so sweet you forget to exhale.
"No," says Jim Crawford, "we're not going back."