6.09.2015

First Weeks of My Three Farm Internship


My body is so tired and sunburned!  I have completed the first weeks of my self-built internship here in northeast Indiana.  Each week I put in a full day at Joy Field Farm, RiverRidge Farm and Hawkins Family Farm, plus making lunch for the Hawkins Farm workers on Fridays.  And although I put on sunscreen and think of myself as physically active, what with carrying around two kids, I was in sorry shape by the end of the week.

These last nights I have been laying down tired of body, but my mind is not ready to sleep. It is spinning with thoughts.  These thoughts are not a cohesive story, but I don't want to lose any of these beginning observations so I'm just going to plunk them down with subheadings and hopefully revisit them with more depth at a later time.

Weeded Chard Joy Field Farm 3farmsummer FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
A row of weeded chard at Joy Field Farm.

There is More Than One Way to Weed and Mulch


Or perhaps every farm has its own weeding philosophy.

At Joy Field consideration is given to volunteer seedlings.  A knowledge of seedlings, wild edibles, and annual flowers is required.  I have learned that Sweet Annie is indeed sweet smelling, and stinging nettles do indeed sting.  The Kindys choose to leave many flowers and volunteer edibles between and in the rows.

Leaf mold and straw are used as mulch to hold in moisture and keep the plants warm.  Long straw is used for potatoes, tomatoes and okra, broken (short) straw for onions and leaf mold for the walk ways.  The Kindys always mulch after a nice soaking rain to lock in as much moisture in as possible.  

At Hawkins Farm the rows are long, 100 feet I'm guessing, and weeding is done by hand nearest the seedlings and with a hula hoe or wire weeder for the farther areas, large swaths are done with a walking tractor.  This year they are not putting straw around the potatoes, opting for row covers for the early season instead.

At RiverRidge Farm plastic is often used as a mulch to create a barrier for soil born disease and to suppress weeds and insects, almost all crops are on drip irrigation.    Planting and harvesting are the primary order of the day and weeding commences when those jobs are done.  On the two days I have worked so far, we harvested until 2:00 pm or so then weeded from mid-afternoon until quitting time at 5:00.  I have also seen straw around the potatoes at this farm.

Go Barefoot, Bleed a Little, Permanent Dirt 


Jeff Hawkins said at lunch that he bleeds a little every week.  It was only mentioned in passing, but I understand what he means.  Farming is physical labor.  I have bruises I don't remember getting and scratches from unknown sources.  I try to remember my gloves, especially for weeding but I constantly have dirt under my nails and on the pad of my thumb and forefinger.

The safety manager in me cringes at the thought of working barefoot.  However, I have seen folks at all three farms working with all their piggies out.  In most cases, where folks are working barefoot there is little risk, no machinery being used, no hoes or other sharp implements being used at foot level.  There is the risk of metal ground cloth staples, irrigation, broken glass and/or sharp rocks at each place.

I find my feet are too tender to spend all day barefoot.  I have chosen a middle ground.  In the morning, when we harvest lettuce at RiverRidge, I prefer bare feet.  The space between rows is as narrow as a balance beam; shoes seem awkward and blundering.  The carefully cultivated texture of the soil seems damaged more by the sole of a shoe then my foot alone.  Plus my feet experience what the roots of the plants do.    I feel more intimately connected and a part of the garden when I walk the soft rows, warm straw and dewy grass.

Sample as You Work


Taste the herbs, munch on the greens, pluck a snow pea, eat fresh from the garden to know your crops.

One of many large compost piles at Joy Field Farm. #3farmsummer FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
One of many large compost piles at Joy Field Farm. 


Building Quality Soil


I hope to learn more about this, but each farm is dedicated to soil improvement.  All of them use cover crops.  

RiverRidge Farm also uses liquids like compost tea and fish emulsion.  I can tell where the fish emulsion has been freshly applied, it smells like the fish house at a lake. It's a friendly smell.  

Hawkins Farm uses animal rotation with the pigs, cows and chicken who add manure to the soil while eating up the weeds and weed seeds.  

Joy Field Farm builds huge walled compost piles designed to hold moisture.  The finished compost is added to the rows before planting.  They also bring in leaves from town to use as mulch that break down adding organic matter to the soil.

Cattle at Hawkins Family Farm - #3farmsummer FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
Cattle at Hawkins Family Farm

Animals are Integral to the Farm


My knowledge lies mostly with the plants as I have a background in horticulture. It is neat to see the roll cows, chickens and pigs have in keeping a farm and its farmers healthy.  Hawkins have the most land and also the most extensive use of animals.  They use chicken tractors to pasture their meat chickens which I have learned are called pullets.   The turkey, geese and ducks are rotated through the gardens along with a movable hen house, and pastured cows and pigs.  Electric fences make rotation possible.  The animals do a fair job of eating down weeds and their seeds, as well as, consuming the scraps from the kitchen and harvesting.

Joy Field and RiverRidge Farms both have laying hens in permanent structures. The girls get grain feed in addition to lots of beet tops, weeds, lettuce thinnings and whatever else makes its way out of the garden.   

Farm Lunch - Asparagus Quiche at Hawkins Farm #3farmsummer FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
Farm Lunch - Asparagus Quiche at Hawkins Farm

Give Thanks Before You Eat


I have had the pleasure of eating lunch at each farm.  Each place has its own tradition.  At RiverRidge they speak a prayer over the food offering thanks for the people and nourishment brought together.  At Joyfield they join hands and someone says the first line of a hymn and then together they sing the chorus.  And at Hawkins Farm; Jeff a Lutheran Pastor, creates a rhyme of thanks for the day, reminding those gathered to be present and mindful of the good food, work and folks.   I like the ceremony and the intentional pause to reflect a prayer brings to the meal.

Take Care of Your Neighbors


The first day of my internship, Memorial Day, the Fingerles who are RiverRidge Farm were in a terrible car accident.  Both parents and seven of the eight children were driving home in the van when a car in the opposite lane hit the guard rail and ricocheted into them.  A third vehicle traveling behind them crashed into the wreck hitting the passenger side of their vehicle sending it into the ditch.

Thankfully, no one died and there were no broken bones.   However, three people from the accident, including two of the Fingerles were life-flighted to nearby hospitals.  Word was passed to a prayer line and through social media and soon the entire community, including the other two farms I'm working with, had word.

I wasn't scheduled to start with RiverRidge until the coming Thursday.  I was worried I would be in the way, and that they wouldn't have time to train the new girl with all the chaos that follows something like that. Luckily, they employ a neighbor who was there to show me the ropes and together we worked a long day restocking the farm store.  I was glad to be of service.

It was humbling to see their community rally around them.  Their nine year old daughter came out and talked with us while we were harvesting radishes.  She listed off all the prepared food that had been brought by and spoke with amazement that she didn't have to help with the dishes as the family had been eating off disposable plates another thoughtful neighbor had given.  A steady stream of friends and extended family came by through out the day and each found someway to lighten the load: pushing the lawn mower, sitting with the younger children, folding the laundry.   There is  grace in the act of helping a friend, and also in the act of accepting help.

I will continue writing as I can this summer to share my experiences on the farms.  To find other posts about this experience on the blog and social media search 3farmsummer (#3farmsummer).  

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