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 September.
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,
I had an exciting month because I went to the Washington
County Fair and I had a lot of fun. I saw livestock—cattle,
goat, sheep; canning products—grains, vegetables, fruit;
horticulture projects; handicrafts—homemade sweaters,
blankets, pictures, etc. This was the first time in my life
that I tasted a corn dog. It was not as delicious as I had
imagined, after everybody had told me ‘You have to eat
Another interesting thing about this month was that Mark
[Dripping Springs Gardens partner Mark Cain] and I visited
three farmers who sell in the farmer’s market. Two of
them are conventional and one is organic, and now I am more
convinced that I don’t want to be a conventional farmer.
But it was good to see how they use the land. The organic
farmer doesn’t use irrigation, instead he adds lots
of manure and sawdust in winter. His vegetables look spectacular.
It was a really beautiful place. His farm is in the middle
of the forest, and it took him a couple of years to clean
the area for planting. The most important thing about these
farmers is that they all really enjoy producing flowers, vegetables
or fruits. They enjoy showing off the results of their hard
I met other people at the market—one person from here,
Arkansas, and another from Venezuela—and made a traditional
dish of Arroz Relleno for a potluck party.
Finally, Mark and I visited a person named Steve who works
at ATTRA news (newsletter of the National Sustainable Agriculture
Information Service) and I was able to learn a little about
biodynamic farming from him.
My farm assignments for this month:
- Go to the market (I really enjoy talking to and helping
- Harvesting of basil, tomatoes, celosia (flamingo feather,
dark pink and plump), lisianthus, zinnias, statice, shiitake,
dahlias, blue ageratum, summer savory and marjoram (we use
these two herbs to make braids with garlic), peppers, gladiolus,
tuberoses and sunflower.
- Weeding sunflower, Chinese cabbage, spinach, lisianthus,
gladiolus, tuberose, lilies.
- Cultivating joi choi, Chinese cabbage, spinach, radish,
kohlrabi, collards, sunflower, Amazon dianthus, lettuce
and boc choi.
- Thinning spinach, turnips, arugula (you can eat this in
salad, but I don’t like; it is a little spicy), mizuna
and Swiss chard.
- Planting joi choi, kohlrabi, lettuce, arugula and yukina.
- Netting celosia, which are in the greenhouse (they are
- Cleaning lower E plot (this had a lot of weeds) to make
ready for planting lettuce.
- Cleaning garlic to make braids (I am not very good doing
this; I need more practice).
- Sowing lettuce, bachelor’s button and larkspur.
- Making bouquets.
Rio Negro, 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
I had heard about this organic farm/tourist resort
that also held yoga and mediation classes. I wrote
to an unknown e-mail address, and got a vague response saying
I was welcome to come and work in the gardens, but the message
gave no other information. It was signed by someone named
‘Swamji.’ When I arrived in the neighboring village
looking to visit the farm, the locals told me it was a Hare
Krisna community and that it was 3 kilometers up the mountain.
So far, it has been an amazing experience at Vrindavan Jardin
Ecologico on the outskirts of Rio Negro, Ecuador. The upper
gardens are for vegetable and fruit production, while the
lower gardens are being used to preserve wild medicinal plants
and orchids. The upper gardens need a lot of work. The lower
gardens border the river and are set up with easy walking
trails for the tourists. Much care has been put into them
in the past few months.
Sanatana is the head gardener and a wonderful person, but
my first week was spent humorously convincing him that I can
lift more weight than a flower. The heavy labor around here
isn’t nearly as heavy as all that water I hauled for
papayas at the other farm. Years ago, someone put in a field
of bananas that now grows wild in the upper gardens. A few
rainy days were spent cleaning up the field, so there are
several neat rows and some newly transplanted banana trees.
Now, Sanatana realizes that I won’t break in half by
carrying half-sized banana trees up a slippery slope, and
I feel a little more like an equal in this arrangement. But
we’ll see what cultural challenges next week bring.
Nevada. September 19, 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.”
I arrive at the farm early today to set up for the
harvest party. After skipping a few years, Ray and
Virginia have decided to restart an old tradition by gathering
together CSA members and friends here on the farm.
Although the equinox is still three days away, today truly
feels like autumn. It is cool and windy and the sun peeks
out only intermittently from behind slate-gray clouds. Rumor
has it that the Sierras may get one to three inches of snow
in the higher elevations. The change of season is definitely
upon us. It really feels like harvest time.
The guests begin arriving around 1:30 p.m. Though I have
been working at the farm for months, this is my first time
meeting most of the people who eat the food I help grow. Despite
the wind and cold, every one of them seems thrilled to be
The loss of small farms in this country, and the fact that
most Americans have little or no connection to the process
by which their food is produced, has led to a mass public
disconnect with the cycles of the earth that sustain our lives.
This much I already knew. But this gathering brings into focus
something else that we’ve lost: community. Most Americans
alive today have probably never gathered together with friends
and neighbors to celebrate the bounty of the harvest. Heck,
a lot of us couldn’t even pick our next-door neighbors
out of a lineup. In the era of globalization, we can get strawberries
any time of year at the local supermarket, but we’ve
given up the bonds that harvest celebrations used to reinforce:
our bonds with the earth and with one another. If you ask
me, it’s a high price to pay for out-of-season strawberries.
Pennsylvania. September 21,
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.
I am a little disappointed that the pumpkins are
ripening so early this year. The quality harvests
are getting thinner and thinner as this wet year tumbles into
fall. That means that my Tuesday and Thursday auction runs
may soon be ending. I am just beginning to blend into the
auction crowd. I could be on head-nodding status by next week
if only those early pumpkins would hang on to their vines
a bit longer.
It started a couple of weeks ago with what I thought was
a consolatory intern field trip. There were sticky buns and
crafts, peaches and grapes, colorful veggies of all shapes
and sizes, and 200 pound pumpkins! I noticed a few Mennonite
farmers chuckling at our giddy excitement. Clayton unloaded
the pumpkins with the fork-scooter, tagged our boxes, and
returned to Rodale to pick apples.
Little did I know that I was being primed for professional
pumpkin delivery. We arrived late enough for the next delivery
to witness the auction in action. The auctioneer inside held
his coffee in his left hand while he animated yeas and neighs
with graceful sweeps of his right. The auctioneer outside
in the woody ornamentals had his own style. Everyone had such
style! I was awed by the cool ease of a Mennonite teen raising
a finger, next an eyebrow, and then a numbered card to finalize
the deal. My mouth was open like the true tourist that I was
to this land of agriculture bounty.
By the next visit, I recognized faces. I knew the routine.
After greeting Clayton and unloading, I marched straight to
the self-serve ticket box. No cheat sheet. I know the number
now. The aroma from the breakfast bar then suddenly and uncontrollably
lured me to the window. My fellow interns caught me ordering
an egg-and-cheese sandwich and hot chocolate for the road.
By the next visit, I could relate with the breakfast baristas.
“Lots of pumpkins today.”
I’m now beginning to suspect that my egg sandwiches
are responsible for my midmorning heartburn in the apple orchard,
but I still have to test that theory one more time to be certain.
I’d hate to lose my new friends. I just hope that the
pumpkins will hold on that long.