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
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.
Arkansas. Reflections on August.
Diana is a visiting intern
from Ecuador, working this summer at Dripping Springs
Gardens, an intensive market garden nestled in the Ozark
Mountains 60 miles east of Fayetteville, Arkansas, as
part of the MESA program (Multinational Exchange for
Sustainable Agriculture). For more information on MESA,
This is another month that I have enjoyed here.
Of course we have had a lot of work--this month we started
to harvest blueberries. Mark’s friend Colin and a Mexican
family helped harvest the blueberries. The Mexican family
works a lot; they can pick 74 gallons in one day!
Cara, another intern, and I had homework from Mark [Dripping
Springs Gardens partner Mark Cain]: to write descriptions
of flowers. We were able to learn a lot in this way.
My sleeping quarters are in the barn. I like it a lot. My
room does not have walls, but it is beautiful. I am studying
for TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] so I spend
my time in the evening reading. The book was a present from
a friend who is from France.
After market on Saturday, I went to the movies. I saw Shrek
2 and Harry Potter. We are going to have a party tomorrow
to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the farm. And, in one
more week, Cara, two neighbors and I will go canoeing.
My farm assignments this month:
- Go to the market—we now do four markets on Tuesday,
Thursday morning and afternoon, and Saturday (but I only
go on Saturday).
- Picking strawberries.
- Harvesting of bachelor buttons (we had blue and pink;
they are very beautiful), sweet Williams, daisy, nigella,
onion, shiitake, candy sweet onion, sugar snap pea (I ate
these in salads; they are delicious), lilies (they are amazing),
carnation, yarrow, basil, lettuce (this month we had lettuce
mix salad, romaine, butter and red), dahlias, sunflowers,
zinnias, snapdragon, garlic, calendula and dianthus.
- Transplanting sweet potatoes (two beds), celosia, lettuce,
cucumbers, sunflowers and dahlias.
- Making cages for tomatoes.
- Weeding lettuce, statice, carrots, beets and garlic.
- Sowing cucumbers.
- Grading blueberries and strawberries.
- Cleaning onion beds (more than five beds), blueberries
(this was hard work because they have a lot; there are 35
- Making bouquets.
- Study zinnias (we have a lot of zinnias).
- Painting the floor in the new barn (this is a big job).
- Tying stargazers [lilies] and garlic.
- Washing a lot of buckets.
- Opening and closing the greenhouse and irrigating the
Finca Llurihauna, Ecuador. September
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
Jose arrived last night about 9 p.m., but we were
all in bed. In the morning, I finally met the man
who owns this farm. He has a great vision for the property,
but needs to live in the city, as his job has him traveling
across the country organizing organic farmers. It was refreshing
to converse, even in my broken Spanish, about the state of
Ecuadorian politics and farming.
The morning's task was to pick 2,000 mandarin oranges. Jose
would be taking them—along with previously harvested
bananas, pineapples, and papayas—back to the city for
sale. With five of us it was only a few hours of work, and
I had a great time watching the more athletic ones hang from
branches trying to grab that last far-flung, beautifully ripe
orange. They were counted, sorted, and bagged by lunch.
In celebration of having company, we roasted coffee beans
over an open fire in the afternoon. We had picked the beans
a few weeks ago, removed the skins in a grinder, cleaned them
in water, then let them dry in the sun for eight days. Next,
we needed to grind off the second skin, but then we were left
with a pile of crumpled skins and beans. So we took a handful
at a time and lightly blew away the dried skins until we had
clean, dry white coffee beans. After a half hour over the
fire, the beans were ready for a final grinding and a pot
of hot water. It's too bad I don't like coffee. Despite this,
it was great to have a bit of company from the outside world
and a little party to go along with it.
Jose left a few hours ago, and tomorrow we will be back to
Nevada. September 5, 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.”
As if on cue, a cold snap hit our region as the month
of September arrived. The wind now has a bite that
it did not have just a few days ago. It is still summer, of
course, and the cool nights are something of an aberration;
the high temperature today will probably top degrees. But
autumn is definitely on its way.
When I arrive just after 7 a.m., I do not find farm owners
Ray and Virginia Johnson already at work as I usually do.
Instead they are just getting a start on the day, waiting
for the rising sun to warm the world enough to make working
outside a little more bearable. Soon enough, just as expected,
the temperature jumps. After removing most of the marigolds
that have begun to take over the strawberry patch, my primary
job on this day is picking tomatoes. This has been a glorious
year for fruit, and the tomatoes are no exception. I tell
Ray that by the time I’m finished picking one row I’ll
be able to start over, since more fruit will have ripened
by then. He deadpans, “That’s not funny,”
but the twinkle in his eye bellies the remark.
Not everything has worked out perfectly this year. We’ve
given up saying that the corn is a few weeks behind and admitted
that we simply aren’t going to get any this year. I
spend the early afternoon hacking down cornstalks. In the
end, their only use will be to decorate the farm’s front
fence. But that’s the way things go at this farm. We
celebrate the successes we have, try to learn from what doesn’t
work, and always make sure to salvage whatever can be salvaged
from our failures.
Pennsylvania. September 8, 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.
Mark bit into a grain of rye and decided that the
moisture level was 16.3 percent. Sure enough, he
was only off by a margin of a tenth of a percent when we tested
the wagon of rye with a moisture meter. Based on the molded
2003 seed, the Rodale farm "Powers That Be" decided
that interns would shovel the rye from one side of the wagon
to the other until we reached a moisture level closer to 14
Monday we shoveled rye to the front of the wagon. Tuesday
we shoveled rye to the back of the wagon. Wednesday we shoveled
rye to the front of the wagon. This continued for a couple
of weeks. I began enjoying the predictability of my first
30 minutes at The Rodale Institute each morning. Then my shoveling
buddy traveled home to Minnesota to take her rightful seat
as maid of honor in a wedding. The rye moisture lingered and
fluctuated. 15.3 percent, 15.2 percent, 15.2 percent, 15.1
percent (I rejoiced!), 15.3 percent…My shoveling buddy
returned and our rye energies started fading. The sun appeared
and the moisture began dropping for a week. Then I traveled
to New York to visit my graduate school advisor. 15.2 percent,
15.2 percent, 15.3 percent, Aghhhh! The rainy days keep filling
this Pennsylvania air with moisture.
Upon my return, the Rodale "Mucky Mucks" (I say
that lovingly) finally decided to bag the rye. We uncovered
an ancient grain cleaner and hauled it to the base of the
wagon. A little trap hole opens, the wagon tilts by hydraulics,
and out pours the grain. The guys pulled out their levels
and adjusted the ancient box just right by kicking a few piles
of barn dirt under the edges (with precision). Clean rye shook
to the left, and dirty thistle and chaff shook to the right.
My shoveling buddy and I emptied buckets, filled rice sacks,
and tied Miller’s knots with all the grace of Lucy and
Ethel in that old cookie factory episode. Two days later,
you can almost see our progress in the rye level of the wagon.
Our shoveling days are behind us now!