INTERN JOURNAL Insights and experiences from organic farms

Llamas in Lake Placid and a return to Ecuador
One intern journalist gears up for spring while another says goodbye to California and prepares to take her new knowledge home.

Posted March 17, 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. 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

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

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 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 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