Mexico. February 10, 2004
Claire is currently in
Guatemala following stints working on organic farms
in Mexico and Belize. Next, she’ll be heading
to Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina, where she will also
be volunteering on organic farms. The following entry
reflects her experience on an organic farm in Mexico
this past winter.
Jesus finally decided that today was the day we would
build the earth oven. A week ago, I had spent a full
day scraping the flesh from cactus leaves and leaving it to
ferment in a bucket of water. By this point, the stuff smelled
horrid. We had a work crew of seven, and started with sifting
loads of dirt and sand. Then we culled through a pile of rock,
needing ones that had a flat surface to build the frame of
the oven. We used junk rock and some mortar for the center.
The next step was creating the mortar, a mixture of dirt,
sand, cactus glue and a little bit of cement. It’s a
good thing Jose showed up on his lunch break; he’s one
the widest, strongest Mexicans I have ever seen. He kept on
his back brace, grabbed a shovel, and stirred that mess up
like a machine while I added water.
We dragged wheelbarrow loads over to the oven site and started
plastering earth and rock together. A couple of us kept plastering
while the rest kept pumping out mortar; things slowed down
when Jose had to get back to work. By mid-afternoon, we had
the base built and left it to dry before putting on the finishing
plaster and carving the inside for the actual oven.
We were all covered in dirt and cement, so we jumped in the
neighbor’s ceynote, a water-filled cave with a 12-foot
ladder heading up through a small hole in the ceiling. There’s
no better way to rinse off and cool down. I got the exact
recipe for the cactus glue and mortar from Jesus, and I might
use it someday, if I’m ever living near cactus and red
Nevada. June 19, 2004
Patrick is a self-described
"intern over the traditional age" (31; boy
do we feel old). An attorney by training, Patrick currently
takes one day a week away from his job as a legal aid
to volunteer on a CSA in Silver Springs, Nevada. He
is contemplating a shift from a career involving “moral
ambiguity” to “a way of life that involves
honest work, simple pleasures and well-deserved fulfillment.”
It looks like I’m going to have to keep waiting
for the cherries that I had been looking forward
to so eagerly. Mere handfuls were salvaged and most of those
will go to CSA members from local churches. Thus I will not
enjoy the payoff I have been hoping for these last few weeks.
In my mind’s eye, I imagined myself handing free samples
out to friends who had probably been wondering why anyone
would bother volunteering to work at a small farm in the hinterlands
of Nevada’s Great Basin on their day off. The cherries
would have provided tangible evidence of the rewards of such
work. My ‘told-you-so’ moment will have to wait.
Ray and Virginia Johnson, the owners and operators of Custom
Gardens, planted the lone cherry tree in 2001. The Starkrimson
sweet cherry tree bore fruit for the first time this year
but suffered unexpected early attacks from birds, and protective
netting was apparently put up too late.
Farming is never an easy prospect in this high, cold, dry
landscape, and the learning process is never-ending. But the
Johnson’s two-acre organic farm is a green island of
botanical diversity in an ocean of sagebrush, a farm built
on devotion and versatility. When I started volunteering I
was amazed at the variety they produced. In a state written
off by most as a barren wasteland, they have built a small
community-supported farming operation that produces all manner
of vegetables, fruits and berries.
Now, after months of work, I see what a labor of love their
farm is. Together, we tend tiny irrigated patches, two greenhouses,
and even a miniature orchard that includes that lone cherry
tree; a tree that we hope will produce a better crop next
year, when the birds won’t catch us unawares.
Michigan. June 22, 2004
Michael is an environmental
science major at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
He also works as an intern at MSU’s student-run
organic farm, home to a CSA that operates an incredible
48 weeks. Michael says he sees organic farming as a
tangible way to make a positive difference in the community.
There are these classy amber lampposts outfitted
all over the historic part of campus. In the colder
months, they reflect the thin layer of frost that forms on
the pavement just after dusk, sparkling, reminding me that
I am about to trade the warm confines of Agriculture Hall
for a wind that will bite at my skin the entire bike ride
home. Lucky for my skinny bones, it is June; yesterday was
the longest day of the year, and the only thing that shimmers
are the bits of broken glass strewn about the parking lot.
Finished reading some long-overdue email messages about relevant
things going on in my life outside the farm. Pushed through
the double doors, only to be greeted by the familiar amber-lit
area on campus, where most of my classes are held. Thinking
about what it would be like to roll out of bed and ease into
When the day is done, to only have a short distance to the
place where supper is prepared and shared among those who
had a hand in its conception.
To live on the farm without this slight disconnect. I thought
the fragmented feeling would be alleviated when the distraction
of classes and homework was ushered out with the end of the
semester. Then I can really get down, I figured. Open myself
up the blinding “wahoo!” moments as well as the
subtle intricacies farm life has to offer; establish a connection
with the food and the earth.
Yes! The FOOD and the EARTH! But as I enter the month of
fireworks, the only thing that seems to be missing is the
Pennsylvania. June 30, 2004
Emily is interning right
here on The Rodale Institute Experimental Farm in Kutztown,
Pennsylvania. She graduated from the University of Kentuky
in 1999 and joined us after returning from two years
in Kolda, Senegal with the Peace Corps. Emily also works
two to three days a week at County Line Orchard--an
area fruit farm.
Even Rodale-ians dread Monday morning staff meetings.
The Farm Operations crew predictably shuffled into work early
and threw around their weekly grumbles about Mondays and too-short
weekends before sitting down to a routine of giddiness and
bonding time. Despite it being Monday, these folks' devotion
to this organic farm shines through. We chat about the week,
pat one another on the back, and generally figure out which
way to march after the meeting.
My "corners" were assigned this week to the apple
orchards, research pumpkins, and an interminable field of
production pumpkins. The corners are my little Farm Operations
Intern window into what happens on The Rodale Institute research
farm. I dashed off to the orchards with a fellow intern before
anyone could suggest that hoeing pumpkins is best done in
the morning. We were equipped with all the necessary wires,
clippers, Cooperative Extension pest guides and other accoutrements
necessary for scouting out apple maggots.
A New Hampshire couple walking the self-guided farm tour
discovered two sticky interns climbing all over apple branches
and scrambling in and out of EZ-Go carts. We were perfecting
our imperfect design of red semi-circles wired to yellow cardboard
smeared with Tangle Foot. We shared some insights about organic
farming before mutually agreeing that there were, in fact,
no apple maggots among the irritated flies buzzing in the
Nearing the end their three-mile hike, the same couple happened
on us again while we were hand-seeding grass around black
weed cloth. We briefly described the research evaluating the
potential of compost tea to control pumpkin and potato diseases.
(At our third encounter, our new fans were convinced that
Farm Operations Interns manage the entire 333-acre farm.)
And then, after lunch…Monday…slowed…down.
A team of seven had begun hoeing the weeds within the rows
of no-till, no-end-in-sight pumpkins the previous Friday.
We solved all the riddles known between us and named all the
state capitals (excluding West Virginia) before people began
feigning other obligations. All our chatter was spent. This
Monday, the two of us shared nothing but skepticism. Skepticism
about no-till. Skepticism about the technique. Skepticism
about the equipment. Skepticism about the real effects of
weed pressure. Skepticism that there was indeed an end to
the pumpkin patch seeded in flattened hairy vetch.
Just when I began questioning the sanity of driving from
my beloved Bluegrass state to an internship in Pennsylvania
Dutch country, Monday was over. We skipped off to our personal
community garden plots under the orchard hill with renewed
energy reminiscent of that Monday morning farm intern zeal.