20 June, 2010

The Intern Part 2

 Jamie Paul on being an intern at Leaning Willow Farm:

Liza and Matt raise sheep and a wide array of vegetables.  They also have about thirty chickens producing some of the best eggs I have ever had.  Having been a part of the Madison County Farmers and Artisans Market for six years, they are familiar with what is necessary to keep a small farm running, and that was part of the attraction for me.  But what really got me excited was how much they know about preserving the harvest.  Proper food storage with minimum waste is central to supporting a family in this setting, and I am grateful to be learning about such an essential human practice.

One element that defines "Leaning Willow style" farming is the act of restoration.  We are farming on land that was once cultivated but has been sunk in disuse for decades.  Liza and Matt have spent a couple years reclaiming the land but there is always so much to do aside from planting and harvesting.  There is land clearing and building and pruning and all sorts of other things.  It's never a dull moment.  I am getting a thorough education in self-reliance, and in return I try to relieve the farm-owners of some of the immense work load that defines this lifestyle.  Of course, compared to the great American settlers, we're a bunch of wimps.

Being here is fantastic.  A few weeks ago I saw more fireflies in one field than I ever thought possible.  I don't have to keep track of time so much as I have to get done what needs doing.  There is no such format as nine-to-five here.  Each day is different, and each day turns out to be the kind of day it was.  It's as simple as that, but it is always far from predictable.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is the difference between gardening and farming.  In my head, gardening is about enjoyment; spending time with plants, growing some of your own food, communing with nature and all that.  Farming is first and foremost a business, and if you have a farm it usually means you've made some big investments from which you need return, or at least a mortgage to pay with the dirt outside your door.  If you don't have money coming back in, the checkbook is in the red, and you can no longer do it.  This is not to say the pleasures of gardening are lost on a farm, because that is certainly not true.  I enjoy the hell out of these plants.  But one important element of gardening, namely leisure, isn't nearly as abundant on a producing farm as it is in the "after work" garden.

This is probably the lesson I needed (and wanted) to learn the most:  that farming is not all smelling flowers and sitting on the porch playing old-time.  The plants don't grow themselves, and while weeding a small tomato patch by hand is a short and easy job, weeding four hundred tomato plants at once is a different experience.  It's fun, but you can't take it slow all the time.

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