As Summer Ends, A Farewell to the Farm

With summer winding down, students who spent the season on the Yale Farm reflect on what they learned.


Photo by Sean Fraga

Here in New Haven, signs of fall are everywhere. Yale students leading the Harvest Program are testing tents and tarps, making sure they're ready for incoming freshmen; our brochure of courses on food and agriculture and our semester calendar have gone to the printers; and a host of eager would-be interns have applied to work with the Sustainable Food Project.

Meanwhile, our six summer interns are getting ready to trade one kind of educational experience for another: after 12 weeks on the Yale Farm, they're about to head back to Yale's classrooms.

In other words, school's starting. It's got me musing on seasons, and transitions, and the constancy of change--and also on more mundane things like apple-picking and new school supplies. I took the chance to visit our interns for lunch; I was curious, as they ended their "Yale Farm semester," what they'd thought of it. So, in the spirit of those essays your middle school teacher made you write about what you did on your summer vacation, here's what we at the Sustainable Food Project learned this summer:

Nozlee Samadzadeh-Hadidi Yale College 2010, Computing and the Arts Major

This summer I got to know a square acre of land very, very well. I learned that a potato is the stem and not the root of the plant, that tomatillos grow their paper lantern exterior before their actual fruit, that peonies are supposed to have ants on them, and so much more. The education I'd have a harder time describing, though, is the Yale Farm's syllabus. How spending eight hours a day with my hands in the earth, laughing and learning with five dear friends, healthier than we ever are during the school year, and growing food to sell and donate to people all over New Haven, has changed all of us.

Laura Blake Yale College 2012

Farming taught me to think in a different way. Really, it taught me to pay attention. When I was weeding young, tiny beets, if I let my thoughts drift I would look down and find a handful of beets along with the purslane, wood sorrel and bits of grass in my weed pile. Only by concentrating on the work I was doing--paying close attention to my hands, noticing colors, textures, smells--could I do my work well. It's the same concentration you need to read a book well, but with an immediacy and fullness of sensation that can only be found by working with both your body and your mind.

I also spent a lot of time this summer thinking about the relationship between farming and freedom, reading a lot of Thoreau and wondering why here, in New Haven, I felt so connected to him, in Walden, more than 150 years ago. When we went to visit Moon in the Pond farm, listening to Dom talk about how each part of his farm contributed to the other parts, creating a constant cycle, I understood that good farming is really about self-sufficiency. So while Thoreau in Walden found freedom and independence by providing for himself, I, along with my community, was becoming more independent by growing food in a sustainable way.

Jake Meyer Yale College 2010, Economics Major

I learned what I would call two different categories of knowledge at the Farm this summer. The first was specifics about agriculture: biology, chemistry, plant growth--what you might call the carnal knowledge of the vegetable. The second was broader; it was more like life knowledge. I learned about taking care of things, about being patient, and how things go in cycles, and if something doesn't work, you have to try it again and do something slightly differently. I guess the biggest thing I learned was that there aren't any rules, really; you just use what you have to do what you need to do.

As for me, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about late blight. I also learned what it's like, when your work depends on the weather, to live through the coldest, rainiest summer in recent memory: we had beans and salad greens later into the season than ever, but only now, a month later than usual, are the eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers coming into their own. I remembered my favorite pasta-with-zucchini recipe, which goes into mothballs every winter, and am finally starting to make the tomato salads I wait for all year. But I also learned, again, how important the space of the Yale Farm is as I watched our interns exploring it and coming to love it.