Zoe Reich-Avillez ‘15, on how a favorite farm task transforms the mundane:
I first worked on a farm (rather, I first stepped foot on a farm) during my freshman year of high school. The trip to Gaining Ground was posted on a school bulletin board under “Community Service.” Gaining Ground, the sign proclaimed, is a non-profit farm that donates all its food to local food banks and meal programs. Located just ten minutes from my high school, it was the perfect destination for a mid-afternoon volunteer shift. Never one to turn down an outdoor field trip in early spring, I immediately signed up. Looking back now, the memories of that short shift are beyond foggy. What I do remember though, is the feeling of being engaged in manual work. I couldn’t articulate it then, but something just felt so right about working my hands through the soil and crouching over a bed of newly planted seedlings.
A year later, I heard about Gaining Ground’s summer internship. I had barely given my workday a second thought, but remembering that still-so-poignant feeling, I decided to apply. Through the summer, I weeded, planted, harvested, weeded, prepped beds, and weeded some more. As any farmer will tell you—and as I discovered that summer—there will always be more weeding.
For some reason though, I relished that never-ending task. What is often the bane of the farmhand’s existence became my favorite job: hand weeding. Massaging the soil, grasping for weeds, pulling the unwanted plants from their roots, and finally looking back to see a bed of head lettuce surrounded by dark brown soil, was deeply satisfying. I found myself looking forward to the days when I would be sent out to the field, with or without a partner, to weed for hours on end. Even now, when I crave a task that is comforting, that will re-orient me with myself, I crouch down in a pathway, dig my hands into the soil, and start to weed.
When I try to understand my love of hand weeding, I often turn to the physicality of the work. Search and pull, search and pull. So easily, I can lose myself in the repetition, in the sheer simplicity of the action. At my best though, it is not just my body put to work; my mind too, is engaged in that repetition and simplicity. When I say that I lose myself in the task then, I mean that I am completely and totally present. I’m reminded what it is to find home in myself. This groundedness, I now realize, is the feeling of “rightness” that I knew but couldn’t name during my first shift at Gaining Ground. Now, I know its name and I know it’s what keeps me coming back to the farm time and time again.
The Yale Farm, Hyperlinked
by Adam Goff ‘15
None of the tomato varieties grown at the Yale Farm are light blue. Our hoes, broadforks, seeders, and shovels aren’t blue either. The pizza oven is made of red bricks, the sinks shine a titanium silver. There are no blue eggplants, blue beets, blue compost piles, or blue weeds. Aside from a couple pairs of jeans, one or two blue harvest buckets, and the sky above us, the farm is blue-less.
Yet I often expect to see light blue hues on the farm to mark all of the hyperlinks. On Wikipedia, Facebook, and much of the web, light blue marks a hyperlinked word, which when clicked will whisk you to another article. I can hyperlink surf from a Wikipedia page on Cooking to an article on Caramelization and end up reading about Aminio Acids. Light blue text marks a portal from one idea to another.
On the farm I see these hyperlinks everywhere. Our Winter Mustard Greens link me to Season Extension which takes me to Canadian Hothouse Tomatoes and their Ecological Footprint. When I am Weeding my mind hops from Migrant Farm Labor to Unionization. I weigh fresh-picked Cabbages and wonder how to improve Yield Data Collection on Diversified Vegetable Farms.
I look at our one-acre urban farm and I see nested ideas and stories, one connected to the next connected to another, just waiting to be clicked on. So don’t be surprised if you dig up one of a Yale Farm potatoes and find it tinged light blue. Be curious, for that blue potato isn’t crawling with mold and disease. It is brimming with connections for you to explore. All you have to do is click.
Farm intern Maya Binyam ‘15 on what her Ethiopian father taught her about what it means to depend on the land:
Boston is a cold city. In the winter months a biting humidity saturates the air, threatening to freeze car locks and the tips of hair. The sunlight is static, even in the summer, and reflects but never warms.
In this landscape of fractured water and light, my father attempted to make a home. He cranked up the heat and filled the rooms of our house with things he knew would never survive outside—dainty potted basil plants, an ugly bulb too big for its pot. He was proud of this thing he had created for us—this warm oasis—because it meant we were no longer affected by Boston’s characteristically sporadic temperature declines, its unexpected noreasters. We were comfortable.
After a few months he stopped watering the plants. The leaves wilted and eventually turned brittle, but this was something to be proud of. We had begun cultivating things outside of the home, things more important than plants. We were going somewhere.
Farm intern Justine Appel ‘15 on why caring about food and agriculture doesn’t make her a hipster:
When I found out I was going to be a summer intern at the Yale Farm, I felt like I had secured a dream summer for myself: working outdoors, growing and eating wonderful food, and learning from and with people who cared as much about sustainable agriculture as I did. After volunteering on the farm throughout my freshman year, I was seriously looking forward to further developing my comprehension of the problems and challenges of our food system. But around the same time my interest in the sustainable food movement heightened, I started noticing a strong, adverse reaction to it.
One morning, I opened the Yale Daily News magazine to find myself labeled a pretentious hipster. When I expressed my frustration with factory farming to one of my close friends, she told me that I was developing extremist tendencies. When I told my mom that I was going to try to eat more seasonally, she became defensive about buying strawberries in December. “Don’t you like strawberries, Justine?”
Whether being gently mocked by a Portlandia episode or accused of attempting to make food into some sort of religion or art form, I can’t seem to escape the stereotypes associated with passion for farming and concern for how we can feed seven billion mouths without contaminating our air, water, and soil. What I thought were good intentions are often perceived as idealist, naive, and, most disturbingly, elitist.
I reject being placed in special category of people who think about the way they eat, one that is characterized by privilege and even by extravagance. Being food conscious is not something inherently white, wealthy, or seductively bohemian. Moreover, such a discourse is dangerous because it strips everyone outside a certain social category of his or her agency to eat well, affordably, and ethically. Accepting that eating sustainably and locally is somehow bourgeois is both denying history and legitimizing a system that restricts access to fresh, healthy food within poor communities.
Don’t dismiss the sustainable food movement because it seems like a hipster’s cause. People who think of it that way will tell you that you can’t afford to buy organic. But with the world population expected to reach 9 billion within our generation’s lifetime, what we really can’t afford is ignorance or denial of the agricultural challenges ahead. No, we probably can’t feed the world on small-scale organic farms, but we certainly can’t go on burning more fossil fuels in order to have our winter strawberries while 870 million people go undernourished. We should strive to create a world where no one is too poor, too disadvantaged, or most importantly, too busy to exercise their right to healthy food.
Pizza and Events intern Onagh MacKenzie ‘15, who grew up on a sprawling rural livestock farm, on how she learned to appreciate the bite-sized Yale version:
Farming, to me, has always meant land. Lots of it. It has meant being able to turn 360 degrees and not see a man-made structure. Or hear anything other than the cows and their cud.
When my parents moved to Naples, New York over thirty years ago, they bought half an old dairy farm, the worn-in house, and its fifty acres. My brother has since used the entire farm, our fields and woods, along with the other original half, to establish his own sustainable meat farm. No more of my dad’s disorganized, motley crew of Scottish Highland cows. We have a “real” farm operation now, with ear tags and rotating pastures and three strands of fencing instead of one. (Sometimes I find myself missing the weekly call from the neighbors telling us our cows were in the road, or, sometimes, their garden.)
The main constraint on my brother’s operation hasn’t been lack of manpower or customers, but land. The 100 acres have long ceased to be enough. The cows and sheep now spill over onto neighboring land which we lease from its owners. To compensate for the distance in grass, we need to have sheep road moves between pastures. “Sheep in the Road” signs go up on either end of the journey, and in the middle it’s a sea of wooly bodies, swarming around the cars and invading the ditches. We’re reminded just how much we could use those extra acres of our own.
The idea that a farm could exist without acres of fields and with sidewalks, passing traffic, and a city skyline in the distance was a foreign concept to me. Urban farming seemed too much of an incongruity. Then I found my way to the Yale Farm. Instead of road sheep moves, we have perfectly aligned greenhouses and beds of veggies measured to take advantage of every last patch of earth. At 345 Edwards Street, lack of land is an inspiration: rather than focusing on what we don’t have, the small space encourages innovation.
But it’s more than just a space to be utilized: the Farm is a space to enjoy, a space to appreciate farming for more than just its fields and its time in nature. At the Yale Farm I have learned to love sustainable agriculture for its desire to spread good food and to appreciate where it comes from. The Farm is a space for the people, and the parts of friends that only come out when picking carrots. Space for the pause in my life that Friday afternoons provide, a time to breathe after the sprint of the week. And you know what? When I’m bent over in the garden bed, proudly checking out the dirt under my fingernails, or with my head stuck in the pizza oven, monitoring the cooking dough, I don’t even notice the skyline.
Layers of Getting to Know
Photography intern Elif Erez ‘15 on how she sees (and knows) the Farm through her camera. Check out some of her photographs!
My grandfather believes that each photograph steals a bit of your soul. He’ll exclaim “that’s enough!” if you snap more than a couple shots of family group pictures, and will grumble fiercely if a camera gets within portrait range.
Although I wouldn’t like to think of myself as a soul-snatcher, I find a bit of truth in my grandfather’s superstition. Having the cold, opaque eye of a camera focus its gaze on you makes you feel naked and exposed. Eye contact plays such a large role in establishing equal grounds in social interactions that, when you find yourself gazing back at an unrevealing, mechanical appendage instead of the eyes of your observer, you’re thrown off. You have given something of yourself, and can’t receive anything in return.
This unconditional giving is what the photograph captures; it’s a part of you that can’t be expressed in words, but that is accessible to others in the exchange of a gaze.
Sometimes, what you’ve unconsciously offered in a photograph comes from somewhere deeper than what you let out in regular eye contact. I find it fascinating to discover that, in an exchange as brief as a snapshot, I’ve unpeeled and gotten to know a layer of someone’s being that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Working as the YSFP Farm photographer, I’ve experienced a way of photographing that I was unfamiliar with—shooting the same people and the same place, week after week. What I’ve learned through this experience is that each layer of the Farm that I uncover (or each “snippet of soul I snatch from the Farm,” as my grandfather would call it) is entirely different than the last one. Unexpectedly, the fragments I’ve gathered don’t add up to build a complete picture of the place and its people—what they do instead is let me burrow into its depths, and allow me to get to know it slowly, piece by piece.
“Getting to know” is not a linear process; it’s a repetitive action, possible only through returning and noticing the change in what you’ve returned to. Walk over a well-worn path again, and you’ll realize it’s not the same path. See the same person every day, and realize that they’ll never stop surprising you with a side of them you hadn’t known before. If you’ve volunteered at Yale Farm once, do it again; it’s not going to be the same place when you return. Come back to the Farm, dig a hand in its dirt: get to know it better.