INTERN JOURNAL Insights and experiences from organic farms

To everything, turn, turn, turn
Whether it’s compost or time, these interns find the summer just keeps chugging along.

Posted August 31, 2004

Editor's NOTE
New Farm Introduces "Intern Journal"

In this new biweekly column, interns on farms across the United States and beyond climb out of the trenches to share the details of their day-to-day grind and the lessons learned in the field.

This next generation of farmers offers insights into what motivates them to go against the tide when so many farm families struggle to keep up-and-coming generations interested in farming.

As they will tell you, it’s a combination of love for the land, good food, sharing community, and a sense of purpose that keeps them going.

--NF Editors

Claire MacDonell
Finca Llurihauna, Ecuador. August 15, 2004

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 farms.

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 water.

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 having calluses.

Patrick Sullivan
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.

Emily Gallagher
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!