If you've been reading here for a while, you know that I've spent many seasons working at Hawthorne Valley Farm. In some ways, it's one of my favorite places. Truly. I feel comfortable and at home there, and there's something a little magical about it.
Anyway. After I finished my AmeriCorps program I worked at the University of Vermont for a year doing student programming. For lots of reasons it wasn't a good fit, so after just under a year there I decided to move away from Vermont and spend some time traveling and figuring out next steps.
By now it was late fall 2004. I somehow stumbled upon the book The Back Door Guide to Short-Term Job Adventures, and spent many months reading and rereading it, combing through to find just the right adventures to apply to. Thinking back to my love of farming and working farmers' markets, when I read an internship description of a little biodynamic and organic farm in Upstate New York, I knew I had to apply. It was only a couple of hours from home, the job entailed working with kids, which I had done for many years as a camp counselor and babysitter, and I'd get to learn all kinds of farming and cooking skills, which sounded just awesome.
I applied for the internship, went to the farm for a visit, and got an offer. I have to admit - when I first went to visit this place, I wasn't totally sure. I could tell that the people at this place were deeply devoted to their cause - I wasn't sure what that was yet. But I was intrigued, and couldn't pass up the offer to work on a farm with kids for six months.
On a cold January day, I arrived on the farm. I felt totally unprepared, looking at the ice and snow everywhere. What had I gotten myself into, I thought, and how the hell were we going to farm in the middle of winter? I got brought on a tour of the old farm house we'd be staying in, I chose my room, and over the next two days met the two other interns I'd be working with, Natalie and Carissa. And over the next two weeks we got trained in all of the classes we'd be teaching for our internship: feeding farm animals, composting, baking bread, making butter, cooking soup, chopping wood (it's still a wonder how I ever did this or taught kids to do this), mucking out the dairy barn, and hiking the nearby Phudd Hill. The final Friday of our training we spent many hours cleaning up the farm house, getting it ready for our first group of kids Monday morning.
The program I interned with is called the Visiting Students Program. One class of children would visit the farm from Monday through Friday, learning all kinds of farm activities and sleeping in the farm house with their teachers and chaperones. Most of the kids came from Waldorf schools, and the rest came from other private schools. Sometimes I struggled with only working with kids who came from such privileged backgrounds, but I mostly worked there to learn. And learn I did.
I learned how to not only wake myself up at 5am, but also wake up a small group of kids who would then accompany me to do the morning feeding chores. We'd walk all around the farm, feeding each set of animals - the pigs, chickens, calves, and horses. All as the sun was rising. Sure, I had farmed before, but this gave me an entirely new and different appreciation for where our food comes from, which was the whole goal of this education program.
I learned the basics of our program, but I also learned about biodynamic agriculture, which is vast and complicated but also intriguing. And I learned how to tap trees to make maple syrup. I learned a lot more about how to manage kids and how I manage kids.
I learned to never wear plain old rubber boots in the cold. Your toes will freeze. For real.
And for some reason, Hawthorne Valley also taught me about and improved my work ethic. Maybe because one of my fellow interns often offered to pitch in and do weekend farm chores, something I never would have thought to do. Or maybe because so many of the people who live and work there really believe in what they're doing. All I know is, when I look back in time about the jobs I've had, I think this farm job really taught me about what it means to work and take initiative.
Looking back, I also see how valuable the hands-on, practical farming skills have been. I know how to use all kinds of farm tools, I know about planting seasons and the kind of care you need for animals, and I know what it means to do back breaking work for hours on end.
There's nothing quite like it.
To be continued. Read more of my food + farm story here.