I am so grateful to have spent four years volunteering at The Farm At Stonehill and two full summers as an intern. Each day there was a new experience, new plant ready to be harvested, and a new lesson to learn. There are three stories that stand out to me from the summer.
Every summer, The Farm At Stonehill hosts Camp Shriver kids that attend a camp on Stonehill’s campus. There is a new theme each year such as composting, planting, etc. and the kids get to visit the farm each week and help with harvesting. One week kids came to harvest green beans, which is back-breaking work and seems never ending. The entire group was so excited about the size of the green beans they had handfuls of beans they were putting into our bins. Some kids had eaten green beans before, others had never seen the plant, yet all of them were willing to try this mysterious new vegetable and they loved it! We had to fight with these elementary school kids not to eat all the green beans in order to weigh the harvest before they could take some home. I’ve seen kids go crazy for candy, but it was so rewarding to see their genuine excitement over vegetables.
This summer we geared up for the second year of our Mobile Market and launched a new location at an assisted elderly home. Just like with the campers, these residents could not contain their excitement each Wednesday afternoon when our van rolled up with fresh fruits and veggies. We were greeted with happiness, curiosity for our new weekly vegetables, and inundated with thank you’s. Each week there was one woman who visited our market stand telling us the recipes she created the previous week from the produce she bought from the market. I was so thankful to see her each week, and hear her story (and recipes) about how the farm’s produce impacted her directly. I’m used to seeing The Farm truck drive off with veggies to be delivered to our partners, but I don’t often get to talk with the people who eat them.
Finally, I’m so happy I’ve had the opportunity to be able to work in nature. To measure my success from the day based on how much dirt I had piled up under my fingernails. To remember how many zucchini I harvested based on the red scratched on my legs from the leaf prickles. To have my back ache in the evening because I spent the morning picking strawberries. Not everyone gets a work day outside in the sun (and rain), moving around instead of seated at a desk, and able to breath fresh air. I’ve spent so many years learning inside at a desk in a classroom, that the farm was one of the first learning experiences I had outside of four walls and learning by doing. I am passionate about experiential learning based on how The Farm has impacted my learning experience and so many others. I encourage you all, to spend some time outside and see who you can meet and what you can learn out there.
I first visited the farm at Stonehill during my sophomore year. I had the opportunity to take a course that focused on sustainable agriculture which was quite helpful for my environmental science major. At the beginning of the course, which was taught by Stonehill’s Farm Manager, Bridget Meigs, she asked that we all attend volunteer hours at the farm. Throughout the fall semester, I watched the farm transform as we pulled stakes out from where tomato plants had once thrived and removed dead plants from a row which had once produced beautiful vegetables. After removing and pulling and cleaning, I decided that I wanted to see the farm return to its lively glory, a land full of thriving fruits and vegetables.
Towards the end of my sophomore year, I heard that Bridget was searching for summer interns to assist her at the farm. Thankfully, I, along with three other undergraduate students and one Stonehill alum were given the opportunity to work alongside Bridget and each other to achieve the mission of the Farm at Stonehill. As part of the Mission Division of Stonehill, the farm was established in response to food access issues in the Town of Easton and nearby City of Brockton.
Following Bridget’s Sustainable Agriculture course, I was better equipped with the knowledge of food security, food justice, and simply how our food is grown. Working at the farm gave me the firsthand experience to apply everything I had learned throughout the semester. I was able to help grow, harvest, donate, and sell the produce grown at the farm. Before working at the farm, I never realized how much work really had to be put into growing our food. Now, when I walk around the supermarket and see the produce aisle, I tend to stop and think about how exactly it was grown, whether or not it is certified organic, and where it came from.
One of my favorite parts of working at the farm this summer was being able to help at the Mobile Market. I was able to work directly with people who struggle to maintain food security in the surrounding community. Week after week, I started to recognize those who religiously came to our market, and learned that many of those who did come depended on the produce we grew for something fresh and healthy. Another thing I loved about working on the farm was harvesting. After every harvest, I would look at my fellow farmers and tell them how much satisfaction I felt knowing that my hard work was part of the reason the produce came to be.
Although the summer has come to an end, my work at the Mobile Market and my new knowledge of food and agriculture continue on. I am so thankful for this opportunity and cannot wait to see what comes next.
Gianna Desrochers was one of our hardworking summer farmers this season! She shares here about the highlights of her summer – and why you should grow some veggies with us or on your own.
The biggest thing I learned from working on the farm is how much work is put into growing produce.
Personally, I didn’t think much about how that plump, red tomato made it’s way on the grocery store’s shelves nor how much labor it took just to make it possible to be grown.
You start by making a hospitable environment for the seed, which means starting with fertile soil. This soil is put into seeding trays and the seeds then pushed into it, and are then watered until germination occurs. When the seedlings become strong enough to be grown in the crop beds, they are carefully taken out of the seeding trays and planted in the soil.
We made sure that the plants that need regular watering had drip tape in the soil of each of the rows, and we would patch them if a leak sprung out. These seedlings are checked on a daily basis, where we make sure they’re all happy in their new home.
Daily weeding of these areas is also necessary because the weeds would overwhelm the seedlings and would lead to competition of resources. When one area of weeding was finished, another area would be ready to be weeded, making it a never-ending cycle. I found this work to be difficult and time-consuming, especially on the hot summer days. I would have never realized this amount of work that is put into produce unless I personally experienced it, like I did here on the farm.
My favorite part of working on the farm was harvesting the produce we had successfully grown. I find it so rewarding to be able to see what we have worked so hard to get all season by harvesting. I also get to examine the plants, checking for any possible disease or pest issues, knowing that if I have a problem or a question, Bridget would be able to give me a great answer. I loved learning about the wildflowers and weeds that grew around the farm. Bridget would answer my constant questioning of what’s what from everything I found around the farm, whether it was a weed or a bug I found on one of the crops.
I really enjoyed working on the Farm at Stonehill because of the huge amount of things I have learned, varying from the mindfulness on how that tomato has made its way onto the supermarket’s shelves and all the knowledge of the plants we tended or grew freely on the farm.
It’s an experience that I ask everyone to try themselves because it really makes you think more about our food system and how that tomato really made its way into your grocery basket.
When entering the 2016-2017 school year, farming was probably one of the last things on my mind. I had signed up to take Sustainable Agriculture with Bridget as an elective, just because I thought it looked interesting. Little did I know, four months later I would be begging to travel join Bridget and Candice in Italy with their Origin of Resources LC, and eventually becoming part of the Summer Farm Team. Becoming part of the Summer Farm Team was one of the best decisions I have ever made and the year could not have played out more perfectly than it did. Things truly do happen for a reason.
When Summer began, I did not know what to expect. I had volunteered at the farm throughout the year, but a full-time position was a whole different ball game. The first few weeks were cold and were filled with hard work. We planted hundreds of crops, made hundreds of holes and pounded hundreds of stakes. While the work sounds tough (it was), it wasn’t at the same time. While accomplishing all of this hard work, I was surrounded by some of the most kind-hearted people you will ever meet. Bridget, Celia, Gianna, Jackie, Melissa and Michelle. These fellow farmers made the work not seem so hard, they made if fun and easy. Bridget’s amazing outlook and attitude towards everyday makes you want to put your heart into everything and it is truly inspiring.
Bridget is no doubt a great leader and an even more incredible person. She would constantly buy us iced coffees or frozen yogurt just to make our days that much better. She brought us to here barre classes and truly made us a part of her daily life. I also am a now a regular attendee of barre, and I am the only male so if males are reading this, support Bridget and come to barre! When Bridget wasn’t around, she left Michelle in charge. Michelle is a graduate and was a great leader for us. I may not act like it Michelle, but I look up to you and you would make an excellent assistant farm manager! The rest of us crew members did various different things and all contributed to the positive attitude and outlook that the team had every day. It really made this year fun and an amazing experience. If you don’t know the farmers, you should get to know them and become one yourself.
Being a Summer farmer also helped me learn many new things. Things I thought I would never know, I now do. I never thought I would learn all of these types of tomatoes, cucumbers or squash. I never thought I would squeeze potato beetles bare hand, but I did and I began to enjoy it. I may have even learned how to cook? The farm included so many questions, so many bugs, so many memories. I am saddened that the Summer has come to a close, but I will return to the farm throughout my senior year (which is bittersweet). To a Summer I will never forget, thank you!
Michelle David (2017) has been working at The Farm since her freshman year as a volunteer. We are so lucky to have had her on our team as the Assistant Manager this season. A natural leader with a ready smile and a great work ethic, we are so thankful that she has been able to join us for two seasons in a row. Below she shares a bit about her time at The Farm over the past 4 years. Enjoy!
The Farm at Stonehill has been a part of my Stonehill experience since freshman year.
I first came to the farm as a new freshman, looking for a way to get involved and make new friends. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the mission of the farm, and find myself as a regular volunteer, a summer farmer as a rising senior, and again now as an alumnus. The Farm has become a home for myself, where I can see with my own two eyes how much good can come from a small piece of land when people who care about environmental and food justice work together.
As an English major at Stonehill, I was often times asked why I had taken such an interest in the Farm and agriculture as a whole. The answer was always fairly simple for me: as someone who eats food, I should be concerned about where my food comes from, how it is produced, and how its production affects others.
This summer, I have had the privilege of working more closely with the Mobile Market, which brings fresh produce to two different locations within Brockton. The market has become one of my favorite parts of the week, as I get to actually meet with the people who receive the crops we grow each week. I feel the recent addition of the mobile market provides something more that we could not provide by donating all of our produce: the power of choice. The mobile market provides the opportunity for people to actually choose what they want to eat, and to be able to purchase nutritious food at a reasonable price, rather than receiving donations, which can be quite liberating for people.
Overall, I feel that my time at the farm has helped shape who I am today. I appreciate the natural world around me more than I did before starting to volunteer at the farm. I have also grown an appreciation for all people who work in the agricultural business, as it is hard, laborious work which often times goes unrecognized and unsupported. I am also much more aware of my role as a consumer, and the power that I hold in my purchases. When shopping, I often take into consideration how the food was grown (organically, sustainably, or conventionally) and where it was grown in order to understand how the food I purchase effects communities around me and future generations of people.
As I prepare myself to move away from Stonehill, I hope to take what I have learned at the Stonehill Farm and bring it either into my future work, or at the very least into my future home, and to continue supporting organizations that work to ensure that all people have access to healthy food.
“Almost certainly, however, the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.” – Norman Borlaug
This summer, we were lucky to have (from left to right) Melissa Mardo (2017), Michelle David (2017), Jackie Lerner (2019), Gianna Desrochers (2019), Alex Pica (2018) and Celia Dolan (2019) on our summer farmer crew – quite the dream team! For the next few weeks, we will give you and inside peek into what these summer farmers experience working at The Farm through guest posts.
We will begin with Celia Dolan (2019) who has been an essential member of our team for two growing seasons!
“Farming is in your blood,” he said.
I nodded my head in agreement with Jay McHugh, my distant cousin, whose pig farm I went to visit last weekend. Well, I’m not sure that it can be called a pig farm considering pigs no longer live there. In fact, it is hardly even a farm. Weeds have taken over, the barns have dilapidated, and equipment has rusted. For decades, miserly developers tried to buy the land from Jay and his father; a few times they stooped low enough to attempt to burn them out. After putting up such a big fight, it seems a shame to sell the land. Yet, that is what Jay decided to do. And it does not take much imagination to wonder why.
The farmer who once worked the land seems to have fallen apart alongside his fields. He is tired, needs knee replacements, and is anxious to move off his family farm. While we talked, he recalled times when his neighbors called to complain about his livestock grazing. In his area, there is little support of local farmers or open land. People push for progress, with money and bulldozers to do the pushing for them.
As I gazed at the drooping pasture gates and thriving weeds, I was reminded of how nature dictates our actions and how we are so closely tied to the land. However, I would never have recognized such a connection if I did not recently start working on a farm myself. In fact, I probably never would have visited my cousin’s pig farm in the first place.
Last summer, I volunteered at the Farm at Stonehill often enough to apply for a full-time position working there this summer. I loved it last summer and I have continued to love it this season. It seems that each day I learn something new at the farm.
We’ve eradicated potato beetles with the organic finger-pinching method. We’ve discussed blossom-end rot on tomatoes, types of mildew that attack plants, how to store seeds – we were even lucky enough to have a crash-course in rototiller tractor driving (though we have not actually done and driving or tilling)!
We learned about which battles you should choose to fight. Do you make a third attempt to grow produce in a hydroponic garden? Do you pull up weeds in an area that will soon be tilled, or simply till them under? Do you grow tomatoes next season when tomato blight seems to have a strong hold in the soil? Often, it seems there are no right or wrong answers. Rather, Bridget demonstrates how we take signs from the farm. She once said that unlike people, plants don’t tell you what they need. While this is true, I have learned that plants communicate in other ways.
They show us when they are thirsty, or hungry for nutrients. The plants communicate with each other, helping each other grow as the Three Sisters – beans, corn, squash – do. Or they try to tear each other apart, as weeds compete for nutrients, sun, and water. In this way, plants are not very different than people; they know what they want and they aren’t afraid to show it. When they do show it, we farmers act accordingly. We work for and with the plants.
We also work for and with each other. As a result, we have also learned a lot about human connections. Each farmer has asked questions, made suggestions, or offered ideas about the farm and how it operates. We divide up tasks and have our go-to harvest crops. For example, I usually meander through the summer squash rows, while Michelle proclaims that she is going to zucchini land and Alex peeks under prickly leaves to find cucumbers. Gianna gathers hundreds of cherry tomatoes and Jackie searches for eggplant. We share our knowledge with each other. If one of us notices something, like a new bug or suspicious mildew on a plant, we ask Bridget.
Our learning extends beyond the work day, as well. Bridget shares farm newsletters and emails that she receives from other local farmers. She helps us stay active, leading barre class every week. We’ve cooked and shared food with each other using fresh veggies from the farm. With all that we do, we see our hard work come full circle. From seeding, to transplanting, to harvesting to cooking, we have helped plants grow, and we have also grown alongside each other throughout the season. Walking through the farm and connecting with nature, I feel completely satisfied with our hard work.
Knowing what a healthy farm looks like made the dereliction of my cousin’s farm even more painful. I found myself teary-eyed over losing a farm that was never mine to begin with. I imagined what it must have been, could see what it looked like now, and feared what it would look like in a year. Pristine and identical houses would stand where pigs once roamed and where nettles grew now.
I wondered how someone could so easily give up on a farm that he had worked hard on his entire life. Working at the farm with Bridget and the other summer interns taught me so many valuable lessons that I could not learn anywhere else. I cannot thank her enough for sharing that with us and I would not trade a day that I have worked there for anything else.
So, if you have yet to visit the Farm at Stonehill, I highly recommend stopping by. Who knows what you might learn!