INTERN JOURNAL Insights and experiences from organic farms

Fall colors
Public relations, mercury observations, and end-of-season ruminations keep our interns occupied.

Posted November 9, 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 October.

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

Farming now means more sweaters, scarves, long underwear and jackets to me, because fall began one week ago and now I am very cold. On Thursday it was raining and we couldn’t work outside, so Mike (one of the farm partners) and I decided to make some cookies and granola. They were so delicious that everybody ate more than a few.

Days are now shorter, so we changed our schedule for yoga practice. I am doing yoga in the evening instead of the afternoon, but Mark (the other farm partner) is doing his practice in the morning. One day I tried to do yoga in the morning, but my muscles were so rigid that I couldn’t move.

On Saturday, Mark and I went to Walton Arts Center to listen to the North Arkansas Symphony, they played modern and classic music and were very good. On Sunday after mass in a Catholic Church, I went to another concert in Orchard Garden. The kind of music I listened to this time was sort of folk rock; this concert was organized for our neighbors, Marcy and Dianne, who live across the creek.

The following Thursday, I went to the farmer’s market. This day was very cold and wet because it was raining. I wore two sweaters, a jacket, gloves and one scarf; even with all these things I was so cold that I couldn’t do bouquets easily. This day we had frost, and the zinnias, dahlias, and blue ageratum died.
Finally, on Tuesday, I learned how to drive a tractor. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Any way these two weeks were fantastic.

My farm assignments for the past few weeks have been:

  • Pull out drip tape and lisianthus.
  • Pull out celosia (We used to have three different kinds of celosia: ‘Flamingo Feather’, ‘Cramei’s Hi – Z’ and ‘Chief’, which were on the field, but we have more in the greenhouse).
  • Pull out blue ageratum and sunflower.
  • Pull out sweet and hot peppers.
  • Harvest celosia, statice, gladiolus, dahlias, collards, mustard, tatsoi, kale, carrots, sweet Williams, zinnia, lilies, chief celosia, arugula, bok choi, mei choi and Chinese cabbage.
  • Sow snapdragon.
  • Fertilize two beds to sow onions.
  • Plant lettuce and tatsoi in hoop house.
  • Seed spinach in hoop house.
  • Mulch several bachelor’s button’s paths.
  • Weed lettuce beds.
  • Dig sweet potatoes
  • Make bouquets at farmer’s market.

Claire MacDonell
Rio Negro, Ecuador (Vrindavan Ecologico Jardin).
October 14, 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.

One of the goals of the Vrindavan is to increase tourism and public awareness of the farm. So Sanatana, Gabriella and I are putting together a brochure for tourists. Gabriella is a student from the university, doing plant identification here as part of her internship towards a degree in tourism. Apparently in Ecuador, becoming a tour guide involves three years of study, and part of this is dedicated to natural history and wildlife. She also seems pretty savvy about how to make things look and sound good.

I would rather be weeding, but Sanatana begged me to spend the day cross- referencing a list of birds from across Ecuador with the birds specific to the region…and hopefully to the farm. Being as Ecuador is the most bio-diverse country on the planet, this task took me all day. At first I was a little obstinate about spending the day writing, but the three of us took a table in the sun and distracted ourselves by playing with the pet monkey.

It was interesting to watch the dynamics between an easygoing outdoorsy farm type of guy and a polished educated city girl. Whereas Sanatana knows how to plant, weed, water, lift things, and organize the plants and tools, Gabriella can present ideas in a simple and friendly manner so that the listener or reader feels comfortable with the information. This turned out to be an important skill when they got around to creating a mission statement. Maybe it was faster than seems to me that at home there would be numerous board meetings dedicated to this process. Instead, we pulled together a mission statement in a half-hour. I believe Gabriella could have produced one in 10 minutes, if she didn’t have to gently nudge Sanatana towards user friendly and politically correct language.

And tomorrow....I get to translate it all!

Patrick Sullivan
Nevada. October 10, 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 was a short day at the farm. There’s little to do aside from what Virginia refers to as “putting the farm to bed for the winter.” This somehow doesn’t feel right; once the cold mornings are done, we are still enjoying mid-day temperatures in the seventies and even eighties, creating the illusion that summer still holds sway. The ever-shortening hours of daylight, however, tell the real story.

Putting the farm to bed mostly involves clearing our small patches and pulling up stakes and makeshift fencing from around what were once carefully tended rows of vegetables. The two acres or so that we have in production function like one of those children’s toys that involves sliding tiles across a plastic board using a single empty space, trying to arrange and rearrange them into a cohesive picture. The square which this year grew corn, next year might be melons or peppers or cucumbers.

Coincidentally, today was also the last day that the farm stand will be open for the season, though if memory serves I don’t believe anyone stopped by. After a while, more out of boredom than anything else, I join Ray as he digs up that last of the potatoes he calls “Idaho Bakers.” With his usual patience, he shows me that when digging for potatoes one cannot violently stab down into the earth; this will only have the effect of rupturing and smashing the very roots you are looking for. Instead, one must gently comb across the ground, feeling for a telltale tug at the end of your gardening tool. It is painstaking work and you get as many rocks and dirt clods as potatoes, but filling a bucket to the brim with the fruits (so to speak) of my labor is well worth it.