University of Minnesota Agriculture student Ruth Burke is spending this summer interning at a CSA farm called Cramer Organics of Delano, MN. Throughout the growing season, she’ll share weekly updates about the experience with readers of the Heavy Table.
Farm Journal 18: Last Impressions
The summer has flown by. The days are chilly in the morning, pleasantly warm in the afternoon, and downright cold in the evenings. On my bike rides to school, I watch flock after flock of geese fly south overhead and smile at the scarecrows and other harvest decorations neighbors have set up. My time at the farm is coming to a close this season, and I find myself reflecting on the last four months and all that I’ve learned. Let’s start with the heavy stuff, the big-picture lessons I’m walking away with.
When friends asked how my summer at the farm went, I hesitate before answering. It wasn’t always wonderful. To say that would be glossing over the days when I definitely didn’t want to work, or when I was sore, or when I had to grit my teeth to get through because I was tired. But, for every day that was difficult, there were two that were great. I love working with plants (I worked as a landscaper and gardener before this job) and I really love being outside all day. Organic farming definitely has those two things in its favor.
It’s also a lot of work. I’m not unused to hard work, but organic farming puts its own spin on it. A typical day can be very back intensive, bending over to harvest or pick bugs off plants for hours on end. One thing I learned is that you definitely have to pace yourself, switch jobs frequently, and make sure to take at least one day off a week, otherwise you’ll just burn out.
As for the managerial and planning aspects of having a farm, I learned just as much, if not more, by observing rather than asking questions. There are many things that I plan to emulate on my eventual farm — and a few things I don’t.
For instance, the Cramers have an elegant crop rotation plan that takes into consideration the previous years’ cover crops as well as the futures’ (on top of the actual food crops). I definitely intend on adapting a similar scheme for my future farm. However, we used certain mulches and plants that I don’t think I’ll work with. I guess it just comes down to personal preference. Heck, if I had my way, I wouldn’t grow ANY tomatoes.
I don’t think I can get away with that, but I’m certainly not going to grow so darn many. Essentially, every farmer has a different system and a different plan. While the Cramers’ business plan fits their needs, it probably won’t work for my future farm. Overall, I like to think that I gained a much better idea of the things I have yet to learn. I now realize what aspects (finances, loans, machinery) that, as a business owner, I need to think about.
Now, how about the not so “heavy” stuff? I learned how to cook! Well, I kind of learned how to cook. But, I’ll tell you I feel a ton more confident in the kitchen now than I did at the beginning of the summer. I was walking through an experimental garden at the U of M the other day, and I recognized all the vegetable plants. Do you know how cool that is? Not only did I recognize them, I was happily comparing recipes with the students I was walking with.
I also realized that I knew which plants were related to which, and what types of growing conditions they needed. If pressed, I could probably have talked about some of the different pests for each vegetable. I could even have given a few good tips on how to handle those vegetables once they were harvested. I also learned the basics of composting. Essentially, I learned how to be darn good gardener this summer! But, what was the most fun thing I learned? I learned how to drive a tractor. I don’t know how to emphasize that enough, but it is just plain cool, through and through. It gives me a little thrill just to type it.
So, although I can’t say that every day was fabulous, I can say that I never stopped learning. I learned good things, bad things, small things, and big picture things. And I’m not nearly as scared of my future dreams as I was at the beginning. I’ll admit it: I was a little scared that this summer would show me I couldn’t do it. If anything, I have learned the opposite. I have a much better grasp of the things I still need to learn, of the skills I have yet to master, and the next few internships I need to pursue. This internship did exactly what I needed it to: It opened the door to the world of small farming. I feel more confident that I have what it takes to make my dreams a reality, and I feel relieved to know that there exists an entire community willing to help me (and other young farmers like me) achieve those dreams.
Thank you so much for reading my journal this summer, and for all the positive comments and e-mails you left. I’m so happy that I was able to share my experiences with everyone at the Heavy Table! Have a wonderful winter and a good rest. Before we know it, spring will be around the corner!
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It’s been great reading your thoughts. I’m glad you got some long-term benefits out of it.
Thank you Ruth for a great series! You impart wonderful insight about your experience. Good luck! Would love to read more of your work in the future.
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