Farm Introduces "Intern Journal"
In this 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.
Lake Placid, New York. Winter.
Laura Rickard, our newest
intern journalist, recently graduated from Brown University
with a degree in environmental studies. She is currently
in the middle of a 12-month farm/garden internship at
North Country School/Camp Treetops in Lake Placid, New
York. For more information on North Country School,
It’s an odd sensation, having your eyelashes
freeze together. One moment, you’re blinking
without trouble; the next, your eyelids are stuck together
with a cold, lacy glue. When you finally reach a heated building
and begin the thawing-out, you weep—for joy, perhaps,
at reaching shelter from the –25°F conditions—but
also because your eyes are defrosting like two frozen hamburger
patties left out on the kitchen counter overnight. Such is
the plight of the intern in the Adirondacks, where shoveling
compost and feeding horses become events that could be televised
on the Winter X-games.
Here at North Country School (NCS) in Lake Placid, we not
only teach children (grades 4-9), but also maintain the highest-elevation
farm in New York. For us farm and garden interns, this winter
(so far) has been a crash course in survival. The layering
begins long before coaching the car engine to turn over in
the morning. Long underwear, wool sweater, fleece jacket,
down jacket, Carhartt suit, insulated boots. Mugs of hot tea,
hot chocolate, hot cider, hot coffee. Even our horses drink
warm water. That is, after we’ve hurled their rubber
buckets against the ground to free the glacier-size chunks
These days, in between stealing moments by the fireplace,
we’ve been busy constructing a new building to house
our school’s compost. The old ‘Pod’—the
ephemeral, straw bale building we constructed way back in
August—is nearing its capacity. For five months now,
students have been hauling the white plastic buckets of chicken
bones, orange peels, mashed potatoes, and every other remnant
of a Happy Meal at NCS down to the building. There, the children
chop up the scraps and cover the food with wood chips dug
from the nearby pile. I’m not sure the kids remember
the details about carbon and nitrogen, but all of them are
quick to fill the three buckets of chips needed for each bucket
of food. They know the drill: chop, shovel, get the wood chips,
then shovel some more. Then back to the kitchen to wash and
disinfect the buckets and give the floor a good scrub.
Back in September, we made sure to cover each rind and half-bagel
to disguise our steaming, decomposing pile from the troupe
of flies and vermin to whom our little house would be prime
real estate. Starlings now roost in the wood beams of the
roof, having flown in through a windblown tear in the door.
I used to keep the door open wide for ventilation and sweat
profusely in my T-shirt. These days, I’m still sweating,
but underneath several layers of fleece. Now the wood chips
freeze together in solid chunks, like enormous specimens of
moon rock. Collecting the requisite amount of buckets has
become an excavation, with three children hacking at the wood-chip
pile with shovels. Some days, the food scraps freeze to the
shovel before we can hurl them onto the pile. Every day, we
struggle to rekindle feeling in our fingers and toes.
Larry’s earth science class visited the old Pod today
to view the 4-inch long wisps of hoar frost hanging precariously
from the ceiling beams and straw walls. The students have
spent the last few weeks studying snow—a fitting topic
for winter in the Adirondacks. The Pod may seem an unlikely
classroom, but consider the numerous physical and chemical
processes taking place in the straw building. Before the subzero
weather broke the thermometer, I would regularly plunge it
into the middle of the pile. The results were shocking: 138°F,
145°F! Perhaps Larry will allow each student to dip a
finger in a stream of hot water to imagine the heat generated
by our old breakfasts and dinners.
So what do farmers do in the Adirondacks when we’re
not busy squeezing our growing season into 60 frost-free days?
When I posed this question to a few students last term, they
decided we should learn a dead language, practice arm wrestling,
or go skiing. As we prepare to put the old Pod to bed for
the next few years, we’re already deep in preparation
for Pod number two. We’ve cleared a foundation, wrapped
wire around 80 straw bales, and assembled a team (and a functioning
tractor) to detach and move the roof to its new home. Today
we’ll pull on insulated boots and facemasks, feed our
animals, chop our compost, construct a new Pod, and thaw out
our eyelashes. Tomorrow, we’ll take our students’
advice: we’re going to ski at Whiteface.
Diana Oleas Chavez
Diana is a visiting intern
from Ecuador, who recently relocated to an organic farm
in Vista, California after working the summer at Dripping
Springs Gardens in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.
Diana is a participant in the MESA (Multinational Exchange
for Sustainable Agriculture) program. For more information
on MESA, visit www.mesaprogram.org.
It is incredible the power of the wind,
which came with a lot of rain and made a tree fall down in
one section on the farm (over the mint). It rained here for
more than a week and I was unable to work; I had to stay in
my trailer waiting for the sun, and now we have it.
I think the United States has a good weather-reporting system
because one can listen to the radio or look on the Internet
to know what is going on with it. In this way, one can be
prepared for it. For example, we always harvest the day that
we have to deliver the vegetables or herbs, but we harvested
the day before the big rains arrived and stored the crops
in the cooler so we were able to deliver the orders.
The rain also brings mold to lettuce because we use micro
tunnels. On those days with a lot of rain, we couldn’t
uncover; the mold grew and aphids appeared. It’s no
big deal because we harvest baby lettuce and can clean it
up when we wash it with water.
Around the farm is a wild area and it is difficult to avoid
rabbits. We have a big problem with them because they are
eating the carrots and beets (luckily, that's all). We lost
a whole bed of beets and we don’t know what to do. One
solution is to leave the dogs on the field but that's risky
because they can run over the beds and destroy them. Another
way is to set several traps. The last is to reinforce the
fence with dust around it. Anyway, we have to put one of these
into practice and hope that it works.
In the middle of this month I went to a flower farm, which
is planted with Protea. This flower is from South Africa and
is very sensitive to being attacked by ants. The owner applied
some chemicals to combat them.
How different the environment is here from Arkansas. Near
this farm there is one more farm and it is a conventional
strawberry and raspberry farm. In Arkansas around Dripping
Springs Garden you can find three more organic farms, but
they are small farms of just a couple of acres. Anyway, I
am learning here also about organic agriculture, which is
These were my farm assignments for this month:
- Weeded lettuce, radish, Mei Qing Coi, and arugula.
- Cleaned paths.
- Secured floating row covers from the wind.
- Harvested lettuce, thyme, sorrel, oregano, sage, marjoram,
kale, cilantro, parsley, collards, carrots and Swiss chard.
- Took weeds to compost pile.
- Pulled drip tape out.
- Pulled eggplants out.
- Pulled plastic out.
- Fertilized mint with manure.