INTERN JOURNAL Insights and experiences from organic farms

ENTRY 13
Weather report
Winter conditions have our interns experiencing vastly different challenges on opposite coasts.

Posted February 10, 2005

Editor's NOTE
New 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.

--NF Editors

Laura Rickard
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
California. February.

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 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.