INTERN JOURNAL Insights and experiences from organic farms

Harvest parties, homespun handiwork and Hare Krisnas
Our interns speak to the wide range of experiences available to organic farm apprentices.

Posted September 28, 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

Diana Oleas Chavez
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, visit

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 corn dog!’

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 work, too.

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 people).
  • 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 wonderful).
  • 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.

Claire MacDonell
Rio Negro, Ecuador. September 19, 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.

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.

Patrick Sullivan
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 here.

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.

Emily Gallagher
Pennsylvania. September 21, 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.

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.