July 26, 2004
Claire is 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.
With the rains come the weeds. Buelo, the
Spanish word for what could be a cousin to basil, is the main
culprit in these gardens. With deep red roots and an invasive
personality, buelo has taken complete terrain control of the
gardens, which have been left untended for too long. On the
flip side, it is the staying force in erosion control on the
I was prepared to mindlessly hoe the morning away when Tina
informed me that there were intentional plantings hiding—or
being smothered—beneath the buelo (a short family could
also be smothered in the buelo). Instead, I found chamomile,
tomatoes, garbanzo beans, avocado, and some good Gautemalan
cooking herbs all hiding in the beds. The avocado isn’t
more than 6-inches high, with smooth, long and pointed pale
green leaves. Growing up in the Great White North there was
a scarcity of avocado trees, and it fascinates me to see tropical
fruits and veggies in their beginning stages.
Besides the tropical baby veggies, this is the first farm
I have worked on that is a combination of organic gardens,
community projects and vegetarian restaurant. “The Alchemiste”
is about a 15-minute walk from the center of Xela, and I can
watch the city bustle through its daily routine while I weed.
It’s a great combination to be on a farm and still have
easy access to the comforts of city life. It takes me a few
weeks before I go a little loco on an isolated farm that makes
the rare trip to town with lots of planning and the usual
physical discomfort of bouncing in the back of a pickup truck
(with 20 or so neighbors).
No, I’ll take my mobility, internet cafes, and yoga
classes any day.
Nevada. July 24, 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.”
Much as I love this work, it isn’t always poetic.
Some days you just have to get done the rather mundane things
that need to get done, even if they don’t directly have
anything to do with farming. But then again, I’m discovering
more and more that farmers have to be good at many, many disciplines
outside of just making things grow.
Today, for example, I’m putting together cardboard
boxes for peaches. This involves cutting larger boxes into
sections and taping them together to form open-topped containers
that hold and display six or eight pieces of fruit. An observer
might think this an odd sort of activity for a grown man,
more appropriate for kindergarteners perhaps. But I don’t
mind. True, my little peach boxes aren’t going to save
the world all by themselves, but if creating a slightly better
presentation makes a more favorable impression on just one
or two customers, then that’s going to help the farm.
That’s really what it’s all about—you do
whatever it is you need to do to make things work.
Garrison Keillor made this point in a wonderful piece quoted
elsewhere on this website. Farmers, says Mr. Keillor, are
the last competent people. “If the pump goes out, he’s
gotta know how to get the water started, and he’s gotta
know how to fix his heat…A farmer’s a veterinarian
and a plumber and an electrician. He’s gotta know about
electrical motors and diesel and engineering—every kind
of thing. He’s gotta know mechanics. He’s gotta
know about hydraulics. He’s gotta know how to handle
all kinds of tools.”
And, if I may, he can’t be above pulling out the scissors
and tape and spending an hour making peach boxes.
It might help sell a few more peaches.
Pennsylvania. July 27, 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.
You should have seen the look on Don’s face
when I nearly rolled backward over a full career of work!
I finally rattled his steady calm. He was standing upright
in the bucket of the front-loader with an array of supplies
while I nervously transported him around the apple orchard.
Starting and stopping. Starting and stopping. I secured the
front-loader with the foot while Don drove a stake into the
ground. I navigated the machine backward down the slope to
the next flag. Stop. Don drove another stake and hung three
pheromone lures. I let my entire body weight come off the
brake and clutch. I left the gearshift in first to fight the
force of gravity. And then I think I remember screaming and
crunching into apple branches just before I noticed that look
on Don’s face.
The problem with trying to organically manage the Rodale
Institute apple orchards may be blamed on their design history.
Both orchards have wide buffers spanning up to forty feet
between small demonstration blocks of various cultivars. The
orchards were designed with scientific data collection in
This spring we hung pheromone tags to disrupt the mating
of codling moths and oriental fruit moths throughout both
orchards. And yet, they came and did their dirty deeds. Researchers
from Penn State University visited the Rodale Institute this
spring and confirmed Don’s suspicions that the buffer
strips were too wide and the solid blocks of trees too small
to fool eager apple pests. So, Don got creative.
Three hundred rebar rods arrived last week. A small hook
was welded at the end of each piece of rebar to hang pheromone
tags. We spent hours marching around the orchards with tape
measures and colorful flags, marking the ground for the faux
apple trees. Don climbed in the bucket of the front-loader
adorned with dozens of rebar stakes and carrying three buckets
of pheromone tags. I never quite figured out the whole plan
until I was behind the wheel and raising the trusting Don
into the air to gain height over the rebar while he pounded
I still cannot decide if that look on Don’s face was
fear for himself, the apple tree, or the intern. It passed
instantly when he gained composure and jumped swiftly out
of the bucket. I slipped my foot off the clutch as he pressed
his foot down. I wiggled out of the seat and stood to the
right until he could slide in and stomp on the brake. I gratefully
dove into the apple tree branches to watch Don maneuver the
front-loader back to flat ground. I started moving toward
the bucket, assuming that I had been demoted to driving stakes.
Don beat me to the front and waved me back to my seat. “We’ll
skip that one for now.”