Boxes: A Lesson in Maintenance

An empty box made of corrugated fiberboard
Wikimedia Commons

"When you work on a small farm, you think a lot about boxes. You think about sizes, shapes, materials, stackability, cost." And, if you're Stanley Crawford--a writer and farmer living in northern New Mexico--you think about how particular boxes can "become part of the basic character of the farm, an element of shared habits and gestures that make up a small node of the culture of work of a place."

When Crawford began farming with his wife, Rosemary, in the early 1970s, it was a time when sturdy wooden fruit boxes were being phased out among local farmers in favor of lighter-weight baskets for picking, and dressy cardboard boxes for shipping. Crawford acquired 150 of the old apple bushel boxes, "made in the days when nobody thought twice about using 12-inch boards for boxes ultimately destined to be thrown away--the days of seemingly inexhaustible Northwest old-growth timber." Still bearing the bright lithographed labels that had been affixed 20 or 30 years before--Blue Goose, Trout, Big Chief--the boxes served, and continue to serve, for picking and carrying produce, and even for holding up countertops at farmers' markets.

Recently, Crawford took a fresh look at the boxes that have served him for the past 25 years. He put time into repairing them, even painting them bright colors. But mostly, as his essay makes clear, he came to "treasure them for their simple elegance" and to appreciate these fast-disappearing, utilitarian objects for all that they'd contributed to life on his small farm.