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.
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’s wonderful how the things change
when you are a trainee, because you experiment with different
weather, vegetation, and relationship with people. For example,
in Arkansas I used to see lots of maple trees, pine trees,
cedar trees and oaks, and here in California I see lots of
palms trees. Another thing is that here I notice lots of avocado,
citrus and persimmons trees when I go to San Diego. In contrast,
in Arkansas, I saw lots of chicken factories when I used to
go to Fayetteville. Also, Arkansas is a little bit flat and
California has some hills…and you can see snow on some
The farms are also different. Burnquist Organic Farm sells
their products to restaurants and two or three families. They
don’t go to the farmer’s market because they deliver
their produce (this means I no longer go to market). That
is very sad for me, but I am learning about restaurant marketing.
We harvest baby head lettuce for the restaurants; after sowing
lettuce seeds they are ready in about one month.
Two more differences about my two farms are that at Burnquist
Organic Farm we use micro-tunnels for everything that we sow
and in Dripping Springs Garden we transplanted everything.
Another difference is about mulching; here we don’t
use straw on paths or beds, maybe because we don’t have
too many problems with weeds.
There are more differences between my two farms; I am looking
for them so that the next time I write I will have found more.
On the other hand, I see that working with a person who doesn’t
speak English but understands a little bit can be difficult.
Here at this new farm I am working with a Chinese woman. It
was so difficult for me my first two weeks, but now the things
are going better; at least we found a kind of communication
These were my farm assignments for these two weeks:
- Repair drip tape (some of them had many holes).
- Sow lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, beets and carrots.
- Harvest lettuce, thyme, oregano, sorrel, sage, marjoram,
kale, collards, cilantro and parsley.
- Weed parsley and beet beds.
- Wash and pack lettuce (instead of packing them in plastic
bags as in Dripping Springs Garden, I use boxes for that
- Prepare beds with drip tape.
- Rake and raise beds.
- Fertilize beds with manure before tilling.
These last two weeks were very different from each other.
The first was really cold and then it rained. Now it is sunny
enough that you get really tired working outside. I am happy
to be here.
Pennsylvania. December 2004.
After interning for the
summer and part of the fall right here on The Rodale
Institute in Kutztown, Pa., Emily has traveled to Spring
Grove, Pa., to work with low-input greenhouse guru Steve
Moore. (For more on Steve Moore, click
here.) Now she says goodbye to Pennsylvania, and
to the Intern Journal project, as she heads of to grad
school at Cornell. We will miss her wry wit and keen
powers of observation.
Steve stopped mid-sentence, jaw still open
from an unfinished thought, and stared at the weathervane
overlooking Greenhouse 1 (GH1). Every still moment in those
windy November days caught him staring at that weathervane.
He wanted to change the aging, discolored plastic this year.
We moved through Steve’s fall “To-Do” list
one windy day after another, sensing his growing concern that
he might miss a window of unseasonable warm stillness. Seasoned
Apprentice Elaine explained to me that a tense Steve Moore
is much like the rest of us on our best days.
Finally, the perfect calm came. We did an abbreviated harvest
for Sonnewald Natural Foods and quickly trotted back to GH1.
I glanced at an orchard ladder leaning against the east side
of GH1 and my mind briefly revisited my summer anxiety in
Rodale’s apple orchards. I casually mentioned my fear
of heights to Apprentice Elaine to secure a ground position
in the unwiggling and rewiggling of GH1.
The first layer of plastic was ready to unroll, positioned
between stacked cinderblocks like a spool of thread. We unwiggled
the wiggle wire that secured the old plastic in metal tracts.
Steve called in the Sonnewald reinforcements. Bulk bin guys,
packaged food gals, and information desk gurus alike joined
the GH1 work crew. We tugged the discolored plastic off easily
to the north side, revealing the tender veggies to the unseasonably
warm and still November morning. I perceived that Steve was
keeping a watchful eye on the weathervane.
Elaine was coaxed into position atop a ladder on the east
apex with Steve opposite her on the west apex. Heave ho! The
Sonnewald gang grabbed the corners of the plastic while Elaine
guided it up and over her head. Overtaken by plastic, I lost
track of all the female voices directing operations. Elaine
pulled up her hood, assumed a body sled diving pose, and let
the plastic slide over her new Carhart. I envied her ability
to find her own groove, ignoring the spectators instructing
her to do more of a butterfly stroke. Steve’s wife,
Carol, was elected to check our selvage with the eyes of a
seamstress while we quickly wiggled one wiggle wire in each
corner. The next plastic spool appeared on a wheelbarrow out
of nowhere and was quickly directed between the cinder blocks
by the chorus of women. We heave hoed a second breath; the
chorus sang out again, Carol evened our selvage, and Steve
thanked the Sonnewald crew. Whew!
Steve, Elaine, and I quietly rewiggled the new plastic back
into the tracts. We could feel Steve relaxing every minute
that he forgot to look at the weathervane. Things went back
naturally to their laid-back efficient pace.
I said my good-byes to Steve, Elaine, Carol, and Sonnewald
just before Thanksgiving. I thanked them for teaching me an
entire growing season of knowledge in one unseasonably warm
November. Biointensive growing systems are quite knowledge
intensive, but the short rotations at Sonnewald pushed me
quickly along the learning curve. (I know that they have already
harvested and replanted beds that I helped plant on my last
day of work!) Steve, in turn, thanked me by offering me work
if I should happen to flunk out of my graduate program at
Cornell. Chuckle, chuckle.
Shopping this December in Ithaca is like experiencing reverse
culture shock after a season of growing food at The Rodale
Institute, County Line Orchards, and Sonnewald Natural Foods.
I am reading signs and labels to find local producers and
unrefined foods, asking employees for Hernandez sweet potatoes
and Brussels sprouts, disappointed in Honeycrisp apples that
don’t resemble my memories. Conversations are varied
in this place, not all revolving around seeds, soils, and
the politics of agriculture. Cold days bring warm daydreams
of organic interning, mowing between research plots, picking
luscious peaches, and double digging under the bright warmth
of fresh plastic in GH1.