Finca Llurihauna, Ecuador. August
Claire is in Ecuador following
stints working on organic farms in Belize, Mexico and
Guatemala. Next, she’ll be heading to Chile, and
Argentina, where she will also be volunteering on organic
Organic farming can be boring. This thought
meandered through my head this morning, when Alex and I started
our routine of watering the pitahayas (a fruit in the cactus
family), the recently planted coffee and avocado trees, and
a myriad of other plants that each get about five liters of
water Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 7:30 a.m.
to 10 a.m. I’m actually getting calluses from carrying
The new trees are set back from the main house, so usually
I’m walking around with my buckets of water trying to
find these saplings in brushy undergrowth or in 4-foot-high
hay and brambles. But there’s nothing around here to
mow down the hay except for the machetes of Patricio and Orlando.
It would take forever.
There aren’t enough hoses to feed out into the fields,
and there are only one or two active lines of drip line system.
So Alex and I devised a system where we carry a large plastic
box of water out into the pitahayas, then scoop our buckets
from our little trough. I get a better workout than Alex,
because he’s about a foot taller and exponentially stronger.
It’s a pretty sight, me stumbling along with a two handed
grip, splashing water down my rubber boots, while he sort
of nonchalantly moves along with steady strides. Muscles matter
when you don’t have machinery, I have also been thinking.
Patience, acceptance, and a bit of ingenuity help when the
farm can’t afford all the cool new gadgets that help
things run efficiently. And truth be told, I sort of like
Nevada. August 14, 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.”
Saturday mornings have taken on a rather predictable
routine. I wake up early, find some grungy clothes,
and drive out to the farm with the sunrise. I'm coming to
love these mornings, which I move through in a Zen-like trance.
Like it is with all deserts, the best times of the day in
the Great Basin are sunrise and sunset. Though both have their
charms I am partial to sunrise, when the air is cool and the
world is full of promise and expectation.
The buckwheat growing on the farm's front patch has been
cut, and one of my duties on this day is to gather up the
so-called 'green manure' and lay it down on parts of the farm
that are going unused this year. The buckwheat clippings will
be watered down, to keep them from blowing away, and eventually
tilled into the soil. With help from Dave, an eight-year veteran
at this CSA, the task is quickly accomplished. This will help
maintain the soil and also make the land more productive when
it is used next year.
I've always been the sort of person who saves everything
for the last minute, claiming somewhat euphemistically that
my work is most brilliant when I am motivated by eleventh-hour
panic. Clearly, that sort of approach will not work for farming
in the long run. Although most of the work we do is focused
on making this year's output as bountiful as possible, a very
significant part of what we do at Custom Gardens is preparing
for the future. On a small organic farm, every square foot
must be scrutinized, cared for, and managed with next month,
next season, and the season after that in mind. Thinking long-term
is the only way we can preserve that which is so important
to us and that which sustains us.
Pennsylvania. August 16, 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.
Everyone who visits Rodale wants to photograph the
super dooper compost turner in action. Mechanic junkies
want to know about horsepower, hydraulics, and every nut and
bolt crafted into the homemade monstrosity. Compost aficionados
question carbon and nitrogen sources, temperature thresholds,
and turning frequencies. Thank goodness Laura Sayre wrote
a detailed article
for New Farm this August, so I can now simply direct all
the inquisitive types to the web sites archives.
What people really want to know is just how it feels to drive
that yellow beast into a windrow of compost. I never suspected
that little ol’ intern me would one day possess the
answer to that question.
After we laboriously cut pieces of rope, plastic bags, weed-eater
line, old clothing, and various unidentifiable stringy objects
off the blades with X-acto knives for a couple of hours, John
(a fellow intern) proclaimed that we interns deserved to drive
the turner in all its clean glory. I followed him into the
break room, mocking that Owen would never let us play with
Rodale’s biggest toy. “Okay,” said Owen
with a heavy Owen shrug. We carried that feeling of disbelief
in our guts for a couple of weeks before we were actually
extended the invitation to compost.
Only the pictures can prove that I actually barreled that
big sideways blender into a massive pile of rich decomposed
muck. What did it feel like? Like steering a huge ship fighting
an almost equally strong sunken anchor. It helped to have
a big Owen Maguire as a first mate to stand on the tough clutch
if anything should have needed adjusting. I sailed that ship.
It was slow and loud. It was intimidating. It was exhilarating!
Look at me! I’m turning compost!