Mexico. June 20, 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 near Playa
Del Carmen, Mexico.
The past couple days have been spent moving rocks,
trying to clear the area beside the tree house for a nursery.
Jesus and Tonje have convinced themselves there are ceynotes
on the property, so what started as a simple clearing mission
has turned into a desperate hunt for underground caves with
rivers running through them. Now they have a couple holes
dug up to their necks. The rest of us are hinting at them
to let it go, but to no avail.
We have been sorting our mounds of rocks so that the big
ones are set aside to build the composting toilet and the
medium size ones are used to fortify and deepen the terraces.
You’d think, given how green the jungle is, that anything
can grow anywhere, but the soil is shallow and rocky, and
the ground is uneven. I have also made at least 50 feet of
terrace this week, and my hands are duly scraped and cut.
Our first task this week was turning the compost piles and
cutting more brush to start new ones. My wrist hurts like
the devil after only a few hours of swinging a machete. But
the pile I just turned is ready to go, and tomorrow I’ll
use this new soil to deepen the terraced beds. In the dense
humidity and heat, it only takes six weeks for a pile of veggies,
grass, manure, and Jesus’ “worm juice” fertilizer
to turn into beautiful black soil.
Jesus kindly showed me how to sleep in a hammock properly.
Apparently the key is to lie crosswise not lengthwise, so
nights have been much more comfortable, even if I am perched
20 feet high in an open-air tree house. I’m starting
to like swaying in the night breeze.
Nevada. July 4, 2004
Patrick is a self-described
“intern over the traditional age.” 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 what he terms “moral ambiguity”
to “a way of life that involves honest work, simple
pleasures and well-deserved fulfillment.”
Exhausted from days of hiking, biking and kayaking
in the High Sierra, my visiting brother Daniel and I have
agreed to take a day of rest this Fourth of July. I suggest
to him that we drive out to Silver Springs so I can show him
the farm. Daniel, always easygoing, agrees. He even seems
genuinely interested in seeing the place that I’m always
Daniel has never been to the West before this trip. To him
the barren mountains and sagebrush flats of Nevada’s
interior must seem like another planet compared to the green
splendor of Lake Tahoe, though they are only about 30 or 40
miles apart as the crow flies. When we arrive, farm proprietors
Ray and Virginia Johnson are not home, and only their hairy
behemoth of a dog (appropriately named ‘Bear’)
is there to meet us. I hadn’t thought to call ahead.
Knowing that the Johnsons won’t mind if I show my brother
around the place, I open the front gate and begin to give
him the tour.
Despite my weeks of work, when he begins asking questions
my lack of knowledge concerning all things agricultural is
obvious. I can name barely half of the carefully tended vegetables
growing in dozens of neat rows around the farm. Daniel is
too good-natured to point out my obvious ignorance, but it
bothers me that I have clearly not learned as much as I had
Ray and Virginia have probably forgotten more about farming
than I will ever know. Without them to guide me, I am obviously
floundering, even at a task as simple as giving a tour to
a family member. Though I now know a great deal more than
I did, say, four months ago, it’s obvious that I still
have a long way to go.
Michigan. XXXX, 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 his community.
Research: An evolving (revolving) definition based
on personal experience. At one end of the spectrum
is the type of efficient science introduced to me in grade
school, with the scientific method as the blueprint for success.
Orderly agendas and predicted outcomes are the name of the
game here. At the other is the blazing white coat of a mad
scientist worn by me on my most tormented days of youthful
curiosity. Somewhere in between you’ll find the Student
We are running a CSA farm on a piece of land owned by the
university, so naturally there is a good deal of time/labor/funding
set aside for research. We are working on establishing data
for vegetable production during the winter months—a
critical time for farmers in the colder regions. Experiments
take place all year round under the thin layers of plastic
that simultaneously hold the long-wave radiation in and keep
the cold out. Such experiments include geothermal heating
of the air and soil and comparisons between different compost
recipes and how each influences plant growth. These experiments
are thoroughly controlled and carefully observed, falling
under the “efficient science” category on the
The other types of experiments are performed on a much less
conspicuous scale, when the agents of design (the professors
and graduate students) are at a safe distance on campus behind
open books and computer screens (coming up with more experiments
no doubt), leaving the farm to the mercy of the students.
These “experiments” fall under the bootleg underground
category and can be easily identified in the field by the
unanimous cry of the student farmer’s mantra: Another
Example: “Emily, I ran out of fish emulsion with only
seven transplants left to plant.”
“Um, Michelle, I reversed the planting order of the
kale in the second half of bed seven.”
“So what happens if there aren’t enough cages
for these determinate tomatoes in greenhouse one?”
Rather than think of these small detours as mistakes, I like
to think of them as a lesson in organic farming and the ingenuity,
flexibility and creativity that all farmers must possess in
order to evolve to adapt to variable, often uncontrollable
factors such as weather, daylight, soil conditions…and
Pennsylvania. July 15, 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.
Not so very long ago, in the beginning of this field
season and internship, I was absolutely terrified of driving
tractors. I would peel away trembling from the equipment
barn in second gear to mow off flat fields at a pace not too
much faster than I could have walked behind a push mower.
I could not comprehend the boredom everyone promised would
come after weeks of mowing. How could I possibly be bored
amidst such fear? And yet, those days of second-gear tremors
are distant nightmares now. Today, I am driving this Ford
tractor with all the confidence of a pre-teen farm kid.
Mowing and weed trimming have made me quite the popular Rodale
intern today. Folks are traipsing across fields and approaching
me nonchalantly over lunch for my attention. Tomorrow is the
Rodale Institute Field Day and that makes me the Mowing Woman
of the Day. Everyone seems to have a plot edge that needs
straightening or a funky research design that was completely
misinterpreted by the last mowing.
Mowing right along, it’s nice to get an intimate look
at the research and production plots. I mow off the patches
of cover crop trials that never germinated, peeking over the
edge and formulating my own hypotheses about the success of
field radishes, mixed millet varieties, vetch, and soybeans
in suppressing weeds. Gone are the days when I hopped across
the field like the Lone Ranger, rearing up the front end of
I mow assorted alleys and blocks into organic no-till soybean
trials. No more trembling. No more free falls backward in
neutral down minor slopes while grinding gears in desperation
and reaching my toes for the clutch.
I mow a line past The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial®,
an experiment comparing organic and conventional agronomic
crops that has been going on since the days of my suburban
childhood. I decide to make this time more intellectually
productive and multitask with my French lessons. Est-ce
que vous voudriez boire quel-que chose? Oops, hit a flag.
Stop multitasking. Past beans, past corn, past wheat, past
the vegetable trials we are conducting for a major food label,
reminding me I need to buy some groceries this afternoon.
I pass the potatoes and pumpkins subjected to compost tea
treatments as I make my way to mowing alleys between corn
trials. Ho-hum. Wow! Look at those birds dive-bombing the
mowed seeds I am leaving behind!
Mowing meditation...I think that the mowing season will be