Tips For Getting the Most Out of Volunteering at the Yale Farm:
# 1: Set aside a few hours to come back every week on Sundays or Tuesdays.
The first couple Friday workdays of the school year are a little hectic—awesome, yes, but also insane. Farm managers are stretched thin. Volunteers sometimes get assigned a task with little explanation or training. Fortunately, this is not representative of the majority of farm workdays.
My most rewarding time spent volunteering on Yale Farm was during the fall of my sophomore year. I was taking Atmosphere, Oceans, and Environmental Change and my lab section was Tuesday afternoons from 1:30–3:20. Every week, after lab, I would head up to the farm; every week I would arrive to find Laura Blake, a farm manager from my year, working on some task, often accompanied by a volunteer named Margaret; and every week, as soon as I parked my bike, Laura would ask “Hey Brian. How’s it going?” and I would eagerly tell her about whatever awesome thing we did in lab that week (the best week was when I got to track a weather balloon from the roof of Kline Geology Lab—that was a w e s o m e !)
Typically Margaret had to leave soon after I arrived, so a lot of the time I ended up helping Laura to finish whatever task needed to be completed by the end of the workday. While Fridays are time for frantic harvesting before market and huge tasks that require lots of volunteers, Sunday and Tuesday afternoons provide time for the quieter tasks on the farm, like measuring out and staking beds, or making soil blocks in which to germinate seedlings, or direct-seeding salad greens and radishes. I learned to appreciate the quiet moments on the farm and the time they allowed me to spend working one-on-one with the farm managers.
I also appreciated getting to see how the farm changed over the course of the fall. Before long, covering the salad green beds with Reemay® fabric became the close to every workday. We put up the plastic on the hoop houses and installed the end walls and doors to keep the ground from freezing on cold nights. Eventually, the Friday workdays calmed down too. Even the pizza bakes attract only a hardy few once the real cold hits. “We’ve got eight more balls of dough,” I remember Jacquie saying, “and there are four of us.” Fortunately, that was also the week that Josh invented the honey-chocolate dessert pizza.
Some people love the excitement of the first few Friday workdays. I certainly continued to come on Fridays, but mainly to make friends and enjoy the pizza. It was the Tuesday afternoons that fall when I felt like I became more than just a casual volunteer. I connected with the space in a new way: it started to feel like home; and I started to feel like I knew a thing or two about how to grow food.
Brian Tang is a senior in TD and was a 2011 Lazarus Summer Intern on the Yale Farm. This post is the first in a series about how to make the most of the Farm’s weekly volunteer work hours.