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 7.
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.
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 of seasons.
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 to go.
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
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 provides.
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
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