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!
~Celia Dolan, Summer Farmer Extraordinaire!