Maya Midzik here, summer farm intern from Brookline, MA. This week on the Farm included: farm lunch with homemade mayo, a field trip to Massaro Farm, lessons from Jeremy about the mutual funds of soil, and realizing what it means to farm in constant rain.
Tuesday was our first walkaround on the Farm, which will happen weekly. The walkaround gives us time to review what’s happening in all the beds (pests, disease, growth, and more) and what needs to happen during the week moving forward. We also learned how to use the flame weeder, which is essentially a propane-powered jet engine attached to a backpack frame. While it was a little intimidating at first, we each took a turn and got the hang of it by weeding all the carrots.
The highlight of Tuesday was a delicious spread of a farm lunch prepared by Kate. What was originally described as “egg salad sandwiches” quickly became a beautiful spread of homemade mayonnaise (it doesn’t taste anything like the stuff that comes in the jar, but isn’t an easy thing to make), chive blossom vinegar, swiss chard and lavender-honey goat cheese. This seems to be becoming a trend on the farm, where Kate and Jacquie’s quaint ‘farm lunches’ become some of most amazing meals I’ve had.
We also finished potting out ginger and turmeric, an experimental crop for the year that will hopefully lead to a pretty awesome harvest come fall. Wednesday morning we piled into a van with Jeremy as bus driver and traveled to Massaro Farm in Woodbridge, CT to learn about the practices of a different (and larger) farm, and how they may differ from those we use on our one-acre plot.
Steve, the farm manager at Massaro, showed us Massaro’s tractors and tools, how movable hoop houses work, and introduced us to Massaro’s resident turken, a breed of chicken that has a featherless neck. The animal sparked debate over what one would call a turducken made with a turken. A turduckturken?
Photo by Tim Le ‘14
We helped transplant lettuce into fields the length of the entire Yale Farm, and harvested pints of strawberries for the week’s CSA. I never thought one could eat enough strawberries to experience strawberry-aversion, but I can safely say I didn’t want to see another strawberry for a few days after the trip.
Photos by Tim Le ‘14
Personal highlight of Wednesday? Finding this strawberry:
Photo by Tim Le ‘14
Which looked bizarrely like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants.
A rainy Thursday morning was much improved by Jeremy’s afternoon soil sciences class, which included some great narrations of the ‘bargaining’ happening at the microscopic level between plants and bacteria. One take-away: it’s soil, not dirt.
Friday marked our first volunteer day of the summer, and a huge harvest for the next day’s market. We harvested a summer record of beets thus far (I know we’ve only been here for three weeks, but it was exciting) and over twenty pounds of lettuce. Having volunteers around in the afternoon was great. Getting to share the farm with others showed me just how much I’ve learned about the space in the past few weeks.
Hey there, folks! I’m Jackson Blum from Hanover, New Hampshire, and I’m part of this year’s Lazarus Summer Internship crew. It sure has been an edifying and exciting week on the Farm.
Last Saturday, all six of us headed to CitySeed’s Wooster Square Farmers’ Market to have our first taste of what it’s like to actually sell the delicious produce that we grow on the farm. Local community members who stopped by the farm stand showed a strong appreciation for our colorful beet selection; we sold out within the first hour.
On Tuesday, Jeremy gave us a primer on how to irrigate the Farm’s fields using drip lines, these black hoses that we install across our crop beds with tiny perforations running along their bottom sides. When we turn on the hoses, water slowly percolates through the drip lines and saturates the base of each plant and its surrounding soil. It’s a technique of irrigation that is more precise and less vulnerable to rapid evaporation than the use of sprinklers.
Once we got a firm hold on the basics, we installed these drip lines across the beds where we recently transplanted our new peppers and eggplants.
At the end of the day, we sprayed the field with neem oil, a natural pesticide that is extracted from the neem tree native to the Indian subcontinent. Harmless to humans, neem oil helps ward away any insects that may want to feast on the leaves of these juvenile veggies.
Wednesday was our introduction to the wonderful machine known as the Jang Seeder, which digs up soil, drops a semi-precise number of seeds, and properly buries the seeds as it is pulled down a bed. Using the device can cut the amount of time required for seeding from minutes to seconds. It’s certainly less back-breaking than placing each seed in the bed by hand.
On Thursday, we worked on our raspberries, weeding the area so that it seemed less like a jungle and planting posts in the ground so we could trellis the plants between them.
Early Sunday morning, we took the train into New York City for the 11th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park.
We served as volunteers at the BlackJack Barbecue station, hosted by Jimmy Hagood, a pitmaster (such a cool job title) who was featured in Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, as well as Jack Hitt, a New Haven resident, frequent contributor to This American Life, and a longtime friend of the YSFP. In the above photo, Jack is second from the right, pulling pork with Maya Midzik.
The barbecue platters, which were assembled in the thousands as customers lined up along Madison Avenue, were finger-licking good. Dining on the hand-crafted pulled pork sandwiches and cold lemonade on top of the double-decker BlackJack bus, with live country music pulsing through the park, was a satisfying cap to a week of farm work and education.
Last week we officially kicked off the Lazarus Summer Internship in Sustainable Food and Agriculture on the Yale Farm. The whole week was a blur of introductions, learning how to prep beds, and delicious farm lunches. Our summer interns will be doing weekly posts to share and recap what we’ve been doing and learning. Tim Le ‘14 gets us started!
Aloha! I’m Timothy Le from Honolulu, HI, and I’m one of this summer’s farm interns. Here are bits and pieces from our first week, in photos:
The farm team diligently listening to the humorous wisdom of farm manager, Jeremy Oldfield. Our first days on the farm are filled with observing, learning, and doing.
Farm crew in Greeley Greenhouse on a mission to plant ginger roots in burlap sacks.
Our cheerful friends, the chickens. On the very first day, we learned chicken talk, which is “bap” repeated several times in several tones. Based on personal interactions, this dialect appears to be more effective than “quack” or “bawk.” Recording of the master of chickens, Jeremy, soon to come.
Farm Pizza. Why is it so good? Brick oven, fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary) & veggies (kale, beets) from the farm, and our secret recipe.
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure–with a number of YSFP staffers, Yale faculty members and students–of sharing a breakfast with Michael Pollan, god of all things food related. For the majority of the breakfast, I cowered in the corner of the table, afraid to arrogantly assume I might have something to add. But I did finally work up the courage to ask him a question, one related to a topic I think about a lot when it comes to considering recent changes in American gastro-culture.
We’ve all probably seen at least a bit of Top Chef. Maybe that’s just an assumption I’m making to rationalize my period of obsession in high school- it was my “Untextable Hour.” I stopped watching when I decided that they just weren’t showing enough of the actual food. But I’ve always assumed that the proliferation and popularization of cooking shows, be they competitions, travel shows, or demonstrations could at worst have a neutral effect on food culture in America, and at best could get Americans thinking more about how fun and satisfying it can be to cook. I assumed they were slowly priming us to go cook more, since we already model so much of what we do based on what we see on TV. But I wanted someone else’s take on this theory, so I sheepishly asked Mr. Pollan for his thoughts.
His answer was simple and in retrospect, very unsurprising. His response was basically that TV is designed for one thing, and that’s to keep people watching TV. Not anything else. So even if I end up making myself a sandwich instead of peeling open a Lunchable after watching some Hells’ Kitchen it’s probably not indicative: I’m an outlier, or someone who would have gotten up to make the sandwich myself anyway.
I’m sure there are valid counterarguments to this idea- what about documentaries? Newscasts? TV has been used effectively to motivate people often throughout history in some absurd ways. But to me it presented a more basic lesson, one that sits comfortably in between both theories: always seek to know why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, and whether you’re doing them for the right reasons.
There are many ways to be a conscious and responsible consumer of food, and obviously certain ones are more palatable or possible for certain people (in my house, we call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck”). And if one of those ways is reinspiring yourself to cook periodically by tuning in to Top Chef, then more power to you! To not do that would be dumb. It’s clear is that dogmatic idealism and unrealistic expectations are just as, if not more harmful than getting a little distracted every once and a while.
At the same time, in our search for a better way to interact with our food, it’s important to not trick ourselves and let that distraction develop into inaction. Let’s make sure that we don’t get stuck feeling like we’ve done our duty when we buy an organic bunch of bananas, or judge others for their TV choices while we congratulate ourselves for being gluten-free locavores. If we’re going to choose to care about this issue, let alone work to improve things, then it’s important we don’t get stuck rationalizing and settling, or judging and proselytizing. If we all find the best way to be involved, and remember to think critically about our involvement, then we’ve taken the hardest and most important step forward. Even if that step takes you back onto the couch.
-John Gerlach, ‘14
Most of my friends spent their spring break flying south, migrating to white beaches or service trips in the outskirts of jungles. I spent my spring break being pulled north by the smokey, sweet lure of my family’s sugaring operation.
Late winter, early spring at my home in Western New York is a time of tradition. I know that tradition is an overused word, but it really is the only one that remotely describes what pushes my dad to spend his summers sweatily cutting down tress for sugaring fuel, and his winters freezing his fingers while untangling sculptures of knotted tubing. Tradition is what brings my family together around the evaporator for a night filled with Bob Dylan crooning from the scratchy radio and savory sugar-house specials: a steaming shot of almost-done syrup and dark Haitian rum.
In my dad’s younger days of three braids and hitchhiking, he picked up a long church pew in his travels. I doubt he knew where it would fit into his life then, but it has its place now. It stretches along the back wall of the sugar house, engraved into perfect seat cradles by the many neighbors, family members, dogs, and strangers who have found the warmth of conversation and syrup upon it.
Syrup is the embodiment of the power to connect. It quite literally connects itself. Syrup has boiled to completion when its stickiness is strong enough to hold it in a connected curtain across the edge of a special metal scoop. It connects recipes. Add a dash of syrup and I swear that everything in your recipe will come together perfectly. It connects generations. Your grandma might not recognize high fructose corn syrup, but I bet she understands the sweetness of maple syrup! Syrup brings together people, and ideologies, and animals. Sugar houses provide a space to take the time. To sit down next to someone with no agenda in mind and connect. Maybe to talk, but maybe to just sit in steam and sip.
Favorite and Simple MacKenzie Family Maple Syrup Recipes:
*The Favorite, Tried and True Spoon (or as my dad calls it: his medicine): All you need is maple syrup and a table spoon (or even a tea spoon.) Fill the spoon with syrup and drink. Feel free to refill as many times as you desire.
*Maple Grapefruit: If you like a bit of sweetness with your grapefruit, ditch the sugar and pour on the syrup. I guarantee you’ll never go back!
*Sap Coffee: Make coffee like you normally do but replace the water with sap. It adds subtle, but wonderful flavor and you won’t even need to add any extra sugar!
*The Sugar House Special: A shot with half warm syrup and half dark rum. Sip so you don’t burn yourself!
-Onagh MacKenzie ‘15
Sophie Mendelson ‘15 reflects on the idea of homecoming after attending The Berry Center Conference in Louisville, KY:
Wendell Berry speaks reverently of homecoming. Slowly and deliberately, stretching vowels into multiple syllables and soaking his verbal contours in Kentucky drawl, he describes the knowledge that one comes by through growing up in a place, absorbed through osmosis from family and the character of the land. The strength of these bonds of personal history, Berry insists, are unparalleled, and should be respected, nurtured, and tended to with care. Love for a place and a way of life that you know so profoundly that “knowing” takes on a whole new meaning – that is home. And that is where we should be striving to return, prodigal sons making our way back to the family farm. It is the point of origin that we seek.
I sit leaning forward in my chair, pen paused in my note taking, cheeks flushed. Yes, yes, yes! I am ready to leap to my feet, to fall in line behind this wise man, to wave a flag of homecoming and march until I have found it, my home, my point of origin. We – the agriculturally-minded youth of my generation – will reclaim the land and sink our roots so deep into the ground that our bonds of affection and knowledge will form a subterranean system with strength to parallel Wes Jackson’s perennial grasses, holding the rural landscape secure against the erosion of our resources and our values. I am ready to join the movement, to begin my journey back… To what? This is where I hit a snag in my grandiose plans.
Wendell Berry celebrates the importance of “education for homecoming” – and it is a very literal homecoming that he describes, to a physical space once inhabited, to the people and the place that raised you. But what about those for whom “home” is not a ranch or a farm, but a city block, or a suburban housing development? What about those of us who know in our bones – not how to tend to a sick cow, or how to know that it is time to get the crops in the ground – but how to navigate a subway system with our eyes shut, or how to parallel park on a curved street in a space that appears to be only half the length of the car? I grew up in a dilapidated suburb of Washington, DC, and while there is farming in my family, I reach out to those rural roots from the distance of several generations. My memory of the land as my home is not a memory, but a post-memory, a consciously constructed “recollection” that is one part history, two parts research, and seven parts imagination. And I am not unique in my predicament. In fact, it appears that the vast majority of the “we” falling into step behind Wendell Berry’s call to action are more familiar with concrete than with soil. How, then, do we come home to the rural home that we know is ours, but that we have never yet visited?
In order to succeed, Wendell Berry must make room in his vision of homecoming for those of who are undertaking a figurative, rather than a literal, homecoming. And there must be infrastructure in place to help us to build, rather than simply return, home. We do not have the advantage of lifelong exposure to generations of farming knowledge, and so we need training – and lots of it. We do not have the advantage of an inheritance of family land, and so we need help finding – and acquiring – land to call our own. We are not already part of rural communities, and so we need points of entry into the social support systems that such communities afford. In short, we are agricultural orphans, and we need adopting.
Given the state of farming today in the United States, such an untraditional construction of heritage might be just what is needed, not just for incoming farmers, but for outgoing ones as well. The vast majority of farmers in America are over the age of fifty – and most of them do not have children who want to take up the family trade. If these farmers want their land to stay in production and out of the hands of agribusiness, they need to find surrogate “children” to carry on their work once they can no longer do so. Older farmers are in need of inheritors; younger farmers are in need of inheritances – now we just need a way to find each other! Programs in which farmers-in-training apprentice to older farmers with the promise of knowledge transfer and the possibility of land transfer down the line – this is the ideal training structure for us agricultural orphans, and it provides older farmers with the opportunity to preserve the legacy and heritage of their land and their way of life, even if it is not through biological means.
So yes, let’s return home – but let’s expand the meaning of the term “homecoming” to include the homes we make and the homes we find and the homes we resurrect from scattered bits and pieces. Because if home is something that you know so profoundly that “knowing” takes on a whole new meaning, then it’s also something that you can learn – right?