Photo Courtesy of Yale Sustainable Food Project
This past summer I worked as a full-time intern at the Yale Farm. It was an amazing three months. I'm a computer science major used to speeding through college and spending too much time checking my e-mail, so the farm lifestyle was a welcome change. I woke up earlier, went to bed earlier, became constantly aware of the food I was so lucky to eat, and grew tan and muscle-y shoveling dirt in the sun instead of typing code in the lab.
Eventually the summer had to end. We ambitiously decided to build a new set of compost bins during our last week, but alongside our mini construction project was the normal weekly cycle of the farm: seeding head lettuce in soil blocks, suckering the tomato plants, and planting longer-term crops as the season dictated. That final week it was scallions, which replaced the bush beans we'd ripped out two weeks before. I was more than a little bit wistful as I pulled the four-row seeder back and forth across the bed. These scallions would be harvested after my time at the farm was over.
I left that day for class with dirt under my fingernails and a clear head.
School began and predictably, it became hard to make time for the farm's workdays. I was still eating locally and sustainably, but something was missing. Finally one Tuesday in late October, I made time to go to the farm. Walking in was a revelation: It was fall! The trees' leaves had turned and the air was crisp, so different from the summer beauty of the farm I had known so well, but just as amazing.
I was put to work in the very bed of scallions I'd planted in August. They weren't doing so well. I'd never anticipated that the falling leaves from the chestnut tree overhead would smother the plants, and the perslane, our most prevalent summer weed, had shriveled at the first sign of cold. After discussion with the farm manager we decided to plant sorrel seedlings among the gaps in the rows of scallions.
We started working and I remembered how good it felt to get dirty and use my hands, clearing away weeds and replacing them with plants that would feed and sustain people I might never see. Yes, we wished the scallions had yielded a better harvest, but both the farm and the earth are flexible and forgiving--you can try again if this crop doesn't work out.
I left that day for class with dirt under my fingernails and a clear head. The lessons I learned from farming have a far broader scope than merely the beds of plants and vegetables. From within a world of papers, tests, and deadlines, I remember that it's important to slow down to think about, reassess, and maybe even reorient your goals, as we had with the bed of scallions. And while intellectual thought is a wholly worthy activity, stopping to use your hands to complete a concrete task can make thoughts flow that much more easily when you return to the library. It turns out that agriculture and a university education have more in common than I thought: that October day on the farm, I learned that I benefit much more from each when I spend time doing both.