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. March
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,
A few weeks ago I decided to halter up Ivan,
our slight, somewhat nervous llama, for a wintry stroll around
the sugarbush. After some insistent coaxing—a handful
of sweet feed positioned temptingly under his nose—I
had managed to corner him in the stall he shares with Huxley,
a bigger, more uppity llama, and a small herd of unassuming
sheep. I threw my arms around Ivan’s fluffy white neck
as Huxley darted and ducked his black head into our corner,
poking around for grain. Ivan flattened his ears, flared his
nostrils, and made a few pathetic whimpering sounds as his
stall mate, the alpha male, hissed and drooled threateningly.
Meanwhile, the sheep shuffled around at perfect tripping height,
rooting between poop and straw for shreds of hay. I threw
my gloves off and buckled the strap beneath Ivan’s chin
as Huxley head-butted me and the sheep nibbled at the backs
of my knees. I grabbed the lead rope. We were off.
Though quiet and mild-mannered (usually), Ivan was not blessed
with brains. The woman we bought him from assured us, however,
that he was raised among sheep and, moreover, had perfect
form—save his ungainly feet. Ivan’s feet are a
remarkable hybrid of large ruminant and small dinosaur. (A
faculty member at school once swore he had seen elk tracks
in the sugarbush; as it turns out, I had just returned from
walking our two-toed beast there.) In any case, Ivan and I
ambled through the garden pasture, past the school building,
and onto the road to the sugarhouse. It was one of those teasingly
mild mid-winter days; I think I wore just one fleece jacket
and had decided to forgo the usual insulated pants. We turned
up one of the paths leading into a dense stand of maple, beech,
and birch. Ivan stopped to nibble on the tip of a small fir
in the understory, and I gazed around. Beneath several of
the sugar maples, I noticed spots of yellow-colored snow.
I thought nothing of it at the time; we support a healthy
community of pets at North Country School.
I probably would have forgotten the incident entirely, had
we not received a visit from Tony Corwin the next day. Tony
operates South Meadow Farms, a maple sugaring operation and
inn across the street from school. This season, his blue-plastic
tubing also runs through a portion of our maples, as he will
jointly manage the production of syrup from our trees. Our
students will still drill tap holes, hang buckets, and huddle
around the evaporator on chilly March (and April) afternoons.
But this year, Tony will also collect our sap in his bulbous
holding tanks, truck it across the street, and process the
final product under a joint label.
But I digress…back to Tony’s visit. He asked
John (my boss) whether he had seen the “large yellow
stains” underneath some trees in the sugarbush. John
looked up from his laptop, puzzled. He had not. Tony informed
us that mild temperatures had induced sap flow in some of
the trees. So what I took to be the product of a territorial
dog was actually the product of photosynthesis from last summer!
I researched the matter further via the Cornell Sugar Maple
Research Extension Program (the Uihlein Field Station is located
down the road from our school). Here’s the simple story:
When temperatures rise above freezing, positive pressure develops
in the tree, causing sap to flow out through a wound (such
as a broken branch or a tap hole) and onto the snow below.
When temperatures fall below freezing, suction (negative pressure)
draws water into the tree through its roots, replenishing
the tree’s sap for the next day’s flow. In essence,
warm days and cool nights are essential for sugaring season.
Since my last walk with Ivan, the mildness has been swept
away with March’s “lion”, so to speak. About
a foot of new powder fell on campus last week, opening up
our little ski hill and sending the maples back into winter
hibernation. The students were thrilled, and pairs of skis
and snowshoes litter the property like confetti. The children
seem in no hurry, especially with fresh powder, for the changing
Our seed order recently arrived in two large cardboard boxes,
which I dutifully unpacked and carted to John’s basement.
I tucked the boxes away in the cold darkness of the refrigerator.
The seeds, like the maples, might be tricked into spring momentum
by the comforting warmth and light of the farm office. Here
in Lake Placid, we still have several more weeks of winter
Diana Oleas Chavez
California. Late winter.
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.
Time flies again because I am almost finished
with my training here in Burnquist Organic, and I have to
say that I have really enjoyed working here with Sara and
Billy on the harvest days. Now it is time for me to take a
little vacation and then go back to my country and share all
the knowledge that I have learned here.
I would like to thank The New Farm web site for letting me
be part of this project. I really enjoyed sharing all my experiences
here in the U.S., first in Arkansas and then in California.
I would like also to thank Bob Burnquist for giving me the
opportunity to be part of his farm and learn from all the
people who work here.
I spent the last week learning about CSA in the Cal Poly
Organic Farm, which is part of an agricultural project in
the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
What have I learned about CSA? These three letters mean Community
Supported Agriculture, so this connects community members
to their local farms. It not only supports the farmers, but
the community also gets the opportunity of learning from them.
One can go and visit the farm and learn what the farmer does.
It is not only about getting fresh products at a better price;
a CSA is more than that. A CSA means to share time and knowledge
with the farmer and to enjoy the good environment that a farm
What are the advantages of a CSA? Support local farmers instead
of big farmers, build a relationship between farmers and the
community, get fresh vegetables or fruits or meat, convenience
for the farmer (less marketing), the farmer gets the money
before producing, the concept avoids the middleman, and the
community gets a better price. What are the disadvantages
of a CSA? The consumer can’t choose the products that
he wants, there is a production risk for the customer, it
creates more handwork for the farmer because he has to process
the products, and also it takes extra time.
There are several types of CSAs: where the farmer can grow
half of the products and the rest can be bought from another
farm, where the farmer grows the products totally for the
CSA members, and where the farmer buys totally from farmers
and then prepares the CSA boxes. Also the boxes don't only
have to contain vegetables, but can also have fruits, eggs,
meat, cereals, or whatever.
Planning a CSA in Ecuador would be an interesting challenge.
I believe that I have the necessary knowledge to build one
but I would like to learn from my own experience.
I went to Tulare to see the World Farm Expo. They had huge
tractor implements for crop protection, picking grapes, making
beds, harvesting citrus, spraying chemicals, pruning, and
so much more than I don’t remember what they were for.
I was so amazed at all those big things and I convinced myself
that we don’t need them to work on the field because
we only need our hands. The machines make our lives easier
but also they take away jobs from people who need to work.
These were my farm assignments for this month:
- Weed lettuce beds
- Harvest lettuce, parsley, collards, mint, chives, sorrel,
thyme, radishes, carrots, beets, red mustard, green mustard,
Bok choi and mei qing choi
- Cultivate garlic
- Clean paths
- Prepare CSA boxes
- Sell vegetables and mandarins at the farmer’s market