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, visit http://nct.org.
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 of ice.
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
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
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 my goal.
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.