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 Fall.
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,
Seasons change and our schedules with them.
In spring we used to begin harvesting flowers, or some another
activity, at 7:30 a.m. In summer, we used to begin at 6:30
a.m. Now, in fall, we start at 9 a.m. At least I have a little
bit more time to sleep.
Wednesday, Mark and Mike (the owners of the farm), Cara (another
intern), and I went to Fayetteville to the performance of
Pilobolus, a dance concert at Walton Art Center. This performance
was very beautiful, like nothing I had ever seen before.
Saturday, we celebrated Mike’s birthday with a potluck
party in the evening. Some neighbors came with special dishes
that were so delicious.
The Saturday before that was the Blue Bikes and Barbecue
Festival in Fayetteville. There were a lot of Harley Davidson
motorcycles and a lot of noise with them. I didn’t like
this too much because on the farm I only listen to creekers,
dogs and birds—not loud motorcycles. On the other hand,
that is only my point of view.
This last Saturday was very cold in the morning so that I
had to wear two jackets. Other people only wore T-shirt and
shorts and that, for me, was strange. But they are accustomed
to this kind of weather. On this day we skipped our afternoon
siestas because it was supposed to freeze that night. So we
returned fast to the farm to cover dahlias, peppers and zinnias
with fabric to try to protect them from the frost.
I really enjoy working on this farm.
My farm assignments for the past two weeks:
- Go to the Farmers’ Market in Fayetteville.
- Harvest basil, celosia (‘Flamingo feather’—dark
pink and plump), lisianthus, zinnias, statice, blue ageratum,
gladiolus, tuberoses, sunflower, pepper, turnips, collard,
arugula, bok choi and carrots.
- Pull out all tomatoes but ‘Sun Gold’ cherry
(we still have some to pick up), marigold and basil. This
section was planted with strawberry and bachelor’s
button. We had to cover the strawberries with a long piece
of fabric because deer come in the night to eat them.
- Pull out lisianthus and celosia.
- Mulch paths.
- Plant dahlias in the greenhouse.
- Clean garlic to braid.
- Weed zinnias’ paths, spinach and carrots.
- Sow nigella and larkspur.
- Water dahlias.
- Make bouquets.
Rio Negro, Ecuador (Finca Jardin
Ecologico). October 2, 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
When Sanatana asked me to prune the rose bushes,
it occurred to me that we came from two different places
about farming. Having never pruned a rosebush in my life,
I asked him how he wanted it done. He told me to make it look
round and pretty. With shears in my hands and hands on my
hips, I told him I though they looked fine as they were. He
said make them look “cuidado,” which means cared
for, as he walked away to tend to other tasks.
Frustrated, I stared at the half-dead bush in front of me,
and realized that I never tried to make anything look pretty
or cared for while farming before. Generally, I try to make
things useful, productive and sustainable. Aesthetics fall
well behind these other priorities.
In the end, I trimmed up the dead branches and there wasn’t
much bush left anyway. But the subject of manicured gardens
continued to harass me. I thought, if a bush is growing the
way it wants to, who am I to interfere for the sole purpose
of subjective beauty? And what does something that is “cared
for” look like anyway? Can’t it be left alone,
yet simply protected?
But the point is I’m here to learn, and one of the
goals of this place is to draw people so they, too, will too
decide to learn, to protect and to appreciate. And right now
that means making things look pretty and comfortable for the
general public, be it the walking paths lined with orchids,
the cleanly raked lawns and paths, or the neat rose bushes.
I can live with this…and learn, too.
Nevada. September 26, 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.”
Today I had one of the more disappointing moments
I’ve experienced since starting out as a volunteer farmer,
followed almost immediately by one of the most gratifying.
Last week this region was struck by an early-season frost,
and our farm was hit particularly hard. The melon patch, which
had been having a banner year, was completely killed off.
So were all our varieties of squash. The one vulnerable crop
that did manage to survive was the tomato, but ironically
tomatoes have been so numerous that we wouldn’t have
cared to lose them at this point. As a result, much of the
morning was spent uprooting melon vines, loading them into
a cart and carrying them off to disposal. And when we were
finished with that unhappy task, we went right into the corn
patch (a miserable failure this year) and repeated the process.
Even though there was no choice, it felt downright depressing
to discard so many plants, many of them so recently green
The morning took a turn for the better, however, when I got
the chance at last to harvest the Interlaken grapes. The frost
that did so much damage in other areas of the farm also raised
the sugar content of the grapes to acceptable levels. What
bliss, to stand in the hot sun nipping bunch after bunch of
ripe fruit straight from the vine. I’ve enjoyed a modest
amount of success as a lawyer, but nothing I’ve ever
accomplished professionally felt as satisfying as filling
basin after basin with plump grapes. In the sharp light of
autumn, searching through the unkempt foliage like an overeager
child peeking under the tree on Christmas morning, the only
thought in my mind was “This is it. This is how I want
to spend my days.”
Pennsylvania. October 4, 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.
Bees and ladders and dropping apples, oh my!
Hornets and black rot and falling tractors, oh my! Apple orchards
are beautiful places to face the deepest of fears.
Teresa and I have matching harvest wounds. A black eye here,
a fat lip there, a little poison ivy on our knee caps, and
some branch scratches for good measure. Nothing too rough
and painful. A squishy rotten apple in the face for laughs.
Just enough wear and tear for some proud harvest comraderie.
We are apple intern sisters.
Sure, adventurous Soil Health interns and noble New Farm
photographers have made guest appearances. But it was Teresa
who threw the falling ladder back under my dangling legs early
in the season. “It’s okay,” she reassured
me, “you’re still alive.” It was Teresa
who came running to my rescue when the Deutz-Allis 6260F descended
backward down the orchard hill until the wagon jackknifed
to a stop. “It’s okay,” she laughed, “you’re
still alive.” And we have lived through the lives of
these apples from flower to fruit.
The harvest began late summer with the unnamed variety 828.
I barreled through the branches with brute force. Next came
the Liberty. I scraped layers of topsoil off the orchard hill
trying to forklift 20-bushel apple bins. 75413, 75414, Golden
Delicious, etc. Teresa moved through the orchard with ease.
75441. I started growing a little embarrassed by my shaky
ladder legs and spontaneous shrieking on tractors. And then
came the bees.
Bees buried their little bee bodies inside the 75441 with
just their little bee-hinds sticking out for warning. I yelped
a curse and brushed off a sting. Teresa was full of questions.
Did it hurt? Was my hand swelling? How many bees were there?
Are there more? Where are they NOW? “It’s okay,”
I teased, “I’m still alive.”
Yesterday, we bundled for the cold and plucked the last apples
from the orchard. Coop-27, Coop-29, and Coop-31. Teresa survived
the season without a sting. I can still stand on both legs.
The apple intern sisters are now packing their bags and preparing
to part ways this week. Between Kentucky and Minnesota, we
will always share our harvest scars.