Thursday, February 2, 2012

What We Learned from Squash: Reflections on the Carleton Student Farm

The fact is, we didn’t know anything about gardening before we started working as the interns of the Carleton Student Farm. At noon on the hottest day of the summer we decided it was a good time to head up to our plot of winter squash and replace the little squash plants that had already died of dehydration.

The Carleton Farm is comprised of 1.5 acres of vegetable garden in the yard of Farmhouse and on a large plot behind the softball field (where our longest hours were spent—by the end of summer, hacking through all the weeds up there was like visiting the Heart of Darkness). The Farm interns spend each summer learning about organic, small-scale farming techniques and raising produce to sell to the dining halls. Students enjoy veggies fresh from our own campus all of fall term, and in return, we use the compost produced by the dining hall in the garden for next year’s crops!

On this particular day, however, we were feeling pretty down on the whole Local Food concept. It was a million degrees—at least! And the dry, dusty dirt blew into our eyes and collected in the creases in our necks. It was too hot to wear long sleeves, so we worked in tank-tops and shorts. (Totally worth it because we got the pleasure of peeling each other’s backs over the next few days.) The sun reflected off of the white row-cover cloth that protected the dying squash plants from dehydration (ha!) and the hard ground scratched our knees as we knelt down to replant seedling after seedling of acorn, butternut, buttercup, and Table Queen squash.

As we realized that we were going back over a row we had already planted, when we also knew we had hours and hours of weeding and planting to do, the futility of the Farm project hit us full force. The conversation had died off hours ago because we were too grumpy to even look at each other. Finally, as she watered a new transplant squash that was already wilting, Ellen said “Well, aren’t you glad we aren’t subsistence farmers, hoping to make it through the winter?”

The truth of this comment hit us like a brick, and we dissolved into laughter.

Laughing at our mistakes was one of the many things we learned to do during our time on the farm. We learned the basics of planning and caring for a garden, gained a greater understanding of the hard realities of organic farming and now understand vividly why food from small farms is so expensive, but so worth it. We soon learned that organizing our lives around the natural biorhythms of the Earth is critical to raising healthy crops and producing natural food, and quickly learned that attempting to fight these rhythms results only in sunburn and dead squash plants.

We saw firsthand why farmers would want to use monoculture techniques and herbicide-resistant crop varieties. After working all day, literally in the weeds, we realized that committing to producing organic, local food is a job too big to do alone. We needed each other’s encouragement and creativity, and when the going got really tough, students from all sides of the Carleton campus came out to lend a hand, proving that community support is critical.

The Carleton Farm serves our campus community by providing local, organic produce to nourish our bodies and raising student awareness of food and environmental issues. But more than anything, we felt nourished by the Carleton community in their support of our project on the Farm. From the chefs at Bon Appetit who greeted every load of veggies with enthusiasm and friendship, to the Grounds staff who lent us tools on the weekends and carts in the mornings, to the students who came out when we needed some extra hands… it was clear that our passion for food justice is supported at Carleton. And despite the challenges (we’re glad we’re not subsistence farmers at this point), we both feel this was the most rewarding job we’ve ever had.

The moral of the story: Farming is not meant to be done alone. Small farmers need a community around them, reminding them of the big picture, and why it’s essential that someone do this job. We encourage Carleton to continue supporting local food at the college and in Northfield. And, in case you were wondering, we ended up with 2000 lbs of squash out of that sad little plot – thanks everyone!

~Sophie Daudon '13 and Ellen Drews '13

No comments: