On Farm's First Day, a Record Crowd


Photo by Sean Fraga

On the first Friday of September, the Yale Farm throws open its gates for the first workday of the school year. Our staff gathers for lunch beforehand, and while eating I imagine the scene on campus: the 1 p.m. class bell rings, and students flood out of lecture halls and seminar rooms. Some drift off to the dining halls. Others hustle to the sports fields. Another stream heads north, toward the Yale Farm.

Ten arrive, then 20, then 40. When 60 students have arrived, I take a deep breath. It's only 2 p.m. By 3:30 there are 150 students working, playing, and talking. They are content. I'm equal parts terrified and inspired. Is there even room for all of them?

150 students at the first workday--that's up 50 percent from last year. 110 applied for our 15 student internships. These students are hungry for this work.

Sure, 150 people can comfortably fit in an acre. It's like having two NFL teams and their cheerleading squads on a football field. But this is a farm. There are rows, and beds, and plants. Living plants. Baby plants. Plants loaded with eggplants and tomatoes and peppers. Our paths are 12 inches wide. One misstep on the part of a large-footed freshman can take out a swath of salad greens.

This is harrowing for the farmer in me. I take a deep breath. I remind myself I'm used to this by now.

In the end, all tragedies are averted. The day's work gets done early. Partway through the afternoon, we scramble to find more jobs for this eager crew.

I teach yet another group how to cut back the once lush summer growth that's now dying back on our perennials. I handle yet another question about plantain, the noxious weed that is creeping in from the edges. I teach a student to harvest sage.

I look out over the farm. I smile at the work and play being done. I am used to bracing myself for this wonderful onslaught of students. The adrenaline feeds me. But this year we are seeing something remarkably different. 150 students at the first workday--that's up 50 percent from last year. 110 applied for our 15 student internships. These students are hungry for this work.

A few years ago, I heard Wendell Berry speak. He looked at me and a group of youngsters, and he said, "When you get to be my age, you look to see if anybody's coming behind." They're coming, Wendell. And they are great.

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Melina Shannon-DiPietro is the director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which oversees sustainable dining at Yale, manages an organic farm on campus, and runs programs that support academic inquiry related to food and agriculture. More

Melina Shannon-DiPietro is an organic farmer turned executive director. In 2003 she traded in her stirrup hoe for a laptop and joined Yale to help found the Sustainable Food Project. For the past seven years, she has worked with colleagues, faculty, and students to create meaningful opportunities for college students in food, agriculture, and sustainability. Her biggest compliment came last year, when a student called her Yale's Dean of Food.
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