Winter's charm is wearing off as the cold days drag on. And yet, we reflect once more on the beauty just beyond the window. Groundhog Day is both a day of dread and a day of hope. According to the myth, if the groundhog sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of winter. We opted to make the day one of celebration, especially with the return of two interns, Luke and Stephanie.
Has it really been a year ago that they interned on the farm? With the help of these two brave souls, the irrigation system became a reality. Even though they only saw that the PVC pipe was fitted together, their work in mid-January solidified a plan for proper watering of the fields.
Please enjoy the gallery of pictures from our celebration. Luke led the music, Stephanie sang. Our friends joined us and contributed the fixings for yummy pizzas, and we broke the winter blahs if only for a brief time.
Amid the occasional squawk of a chicken and the near-constant chatter of the ducks, Patty and I sat for a "get-to-know-you" chat. She's been on the farm for over two months now and we will be sad to see her leave.
Patty is a graduate student at the University of California in Davis. She is studying International Agricultural Development, a degree that teaches about programs to help farmers in developing countries. Some of the classes she has taken include Crop Management and Economics of Small Systems in Diverse Countries. The four-hour seminar that was life-changing for Patty was/is called Community Development for Sovereignty and Autonomy. The course examines a sample of contemporary indigenous communities from South, Central and North America with the goal of understanding and evaluating the failure of basic capitalism in these communities and strategies they have adopted to develop and implement forms of sovereignty or autonomous self-management.
As we prepared to make cucumber kimchi, Patty talked about her dream job. When she entered grad school she thought that perhaps she was meant to be a scholar, but now realizes she has more interest in execution than in
teaching. She has some interest in reporting for public radio and I asked her, if she was sent on an investigative trip, where would she most like that to be. “India”, she replied, because she has interned there previously, the population is growing in dramatic fashion, and she once had a class where she needed to discover how to feed 9 billion people. She would like to find out if organic farming, perhaps in some corner of India, could produce enough nitrogen to feed the world's population.
Patty is most proud of her work in the perennial patch. When she arrived it was in sad shape and in need of serious nurturance. She pulled the weeds, helped the runners on the strawberry plants to find direction, and tended and trellised the raspberry bushes, thinking she may want to return to claim the gift of next year's bounty. We would welcome a visit from Patty or any of the other interns who have given the gift of sweat equity to make Red Sunflower Farm what it is today.
Patty also feels that the squash plants that produced the baby squash that appeared in the CSA shares this week are her little babies. She took them from seed to maturation with little oversight from Barry.
Like so many young people who come to work on our farm, Patty has great respect for the vision that Barry and Mackey are attempting to achieve. She identifies with their vision and feels blessed that they have welcomed her into their lives.
Before she arrived at the farm, Patty was worried about her ability to get up early and put in a hard day's work. But she quickly rose to the task and was often first in the field at daybreak. The next intern will have some big shoes to fill to measure up to Patty's work ethic and especially her mulching abilities.
Patty, Jedi will be waiting until you come again. to help us provide nutritious, sustainable food to the community. Until then, study hard and hopefully you will find a way to change some corner of our world.
Two interns in the last eight months are studying in programs related to sourcing and cultivating food. Meet Vicki, who isn't afraid to put her hand in a laying box where a hen is sitting atop an egg. Vicki calls Cleveland home, but currently lives in Boston where she is attending BU for a master's program in food anthropology. Vicki once worked in finance, traveling with a consulting firm, working with large corporations. One evening, she was sitting in an office in Des Moines Iowa, having traveled every week for three years, and only home on the weekends. The lights went out, the employees of the company had all gone home. Vicki realized that her work had lost it's appeal and that she wanted to do something else,
She began her degree program without a clear goal in mind. However, it will have something to do with food, and it will be fulfilling. She sees huge gaps in the world food supply. She wants to solve the problem of getting corporations to give more than the perfunctory donations of money to help end starvation. Someday, we may see Vicki leading the way in organizations such as OxFam of Canada, or UNESCO. For now though, she has gained a new appreciation for what is behind the fresh food that comes to her table.
For more than a month now, Vicki and her co-intern have whipped the garden into shape, uncovering weed-infested rhubarb, mulching tomatoes, and setting seeds for the summer growing season. Vicki came to the farm when we could be compared to dogs chasing our tails with weeds everywhere. She dug in, literally, and started cleaning up the place.
Vicki is first generation American. Her parents migrated to the U.S. from Taiwan in order to take advantage of the education system. They don't quite understand what Vicki is doing. When she realized that she wanted to study gastronomy and food anthropology, she created a 36-page PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents that this was for real.
Like so many young Americans, food has become very important to Vicki. She has learned, at Red Sunflower Farm, about what a farmer goes through. She recently took part in processing some chickens and observed that due to competitive pricing at supermarkets and even some farmers markets, farmers are challenged to raise animals for less than $4.00 per fryer. She scrunched up her nose and said, "I'm okay with paying more now." A bird that ranges free, is fed non-GMO feed, and has a fairly happy life, blessing our tables with rich protein takes much more than $4.00 to go from chick to table.
While Barry was away on a nine-day vacation, Vicki and her co-intern Patty managed the farm. They had an interesting experience when we went through one of our few dry spells. The crops in the high tunnel needed watering and the irrigation system would not work. They did a systems check, made sure everything was connected and finally were able to fix the problem. That day, Vicki felt that she had mastered something so unfamiliar, and felt empowered with their accomplishment.
Baxter has won Vicki's heart. She said, "he's such a little kid." Poor Baxter, along with Jedi and Wylie, were pent up in the barn for a while in order to give a young groundhog a fighting chance to escape their treachery. The dogs find mice, moles, anything that swells from the ground and will bark and scamper until the animal either gets away or is caught. Baxter just wanted to give us his signature, wrap-around-the-leg hug instead of being shut in the barn.
Anastasia and J.C. are most recently from Southern California. They have begun a trek across the country to investigate sustainable and organic farming. Their ultimate goal is to open a retreat center somewhere in Central America and they would like a farm to be a part of the retreat center, providing food for retreatants. They envision a center for cultural and spiritual growth, including yoga, meditation, gardening, art, and music.
They came at a time when RSF needed hands, lots of hands. Rain has been persistent this year and weeds had overrun the garden. J.C. has an extensive background in construction and almost single-handedly installed a support system for netting to keep birds from scavenging the entire crop of black raspberries and blackberries. He also laid a fabric base under the garden road and the irrigation nozzles to prevent weeds from taking over the garden again.
Each morning, Anastasia donned knee pads and mudders to begin again the arduous task of pulling weeds through rows of strawberries, basil, peppers, and onions. She loves to cook so she experiments with recipes that use what the garden is producing, taking time each day to cook the noon time meal.
To divorce themselves from cultural norms is the goal of these two idealists. They envision a community cooperative where families live and bring various gifts to the overall vision of a retreat center. The writings and philosophies of Wendell Berry and Harlan Hubbard have ignited a flame in both J.C. and Anastasia, hoping that they, too, can attain sustainable and Earth-connected goals.
Before this lovely couple went back to work I asked them which of the dogs they like the best. For Anastasia, Baxter is her favorite, he's like a dopey teenager. To J.C. Jedi is like a sweet baby boy.
J.C.and Anastasia packed up their RV and left us recently on their way to yet another farm working toward sustainability. They shared their website that pertains to their project: http://www.goodfootproject.com. Check it out.
Meet Yoni, the latest in a long series of interns who have come to Red Sunflower Farm. Yoni is originally from Pennsylvania and has led a very interesting young life. He holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel and has performed duties in Israel with the special needs population and with the military.
Yoni recently earned a Master's Degree in business at Carnegie Mellon and is on his way to a new consulting position in Chicago. But first he wanted to come to Kentucky for just a few days to get some hands-on experience at a sustainable farm.
According to Yoni, Kosher beef has become a very large business. In recent years, that industry came under fire for sub-standard practices in the processing of Kosher beef. Yoni has a dream to raise cattle and provide Kosher beef to the local Jewish population, once he decides where he wants to put down roots.
Yoni believes that providing meat to a niche market on a local level rather than to the general population ensures that there will be food, and that providing meat on a small scale minimizes risk of mistreatment of animals.
When asked his impressions from his brief stay at Red Sunflower Farm, Yoni had this to say: Barry and Mackey have respect for what goes into the farm, the people, and the land. They do what is right and aren't cutting corners. He has enjoyed the solid work, eating from the garden, and knowing that any and all animals processed at the farm are used to the highest degree possible with liwaste.
Silas has been with us for six weeks now, working through the cold weather and into the warm days that hint at spring. His first task of the day is to feed and water the chickens. Recently he helped to install the new irrigation system that pulls from the creek. When I asked him what he thought of the system, he smiled and said, "I never thought I'd be so happy to see water trickle from a hose." Prior to the irrigation system installation, the labor-intensive task of watering fell to the interns. Now they are free for other things.
Silas is interested in becoming a farmer. He chose Red Sunflower Farm to learn the business of sustainable farming, so that he can take that knowledge back home, enroll in a college and pursue a degree in business. It's been an eye-opening experience for him, and he wakes every morning with the excitement of a young parent, to check the growth of seedlings. He feels as though he is connected on some deeper level with Mother Nature, planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting it.
At Red Sunflower, we regularly have bonfires. It's one of Silas' favorite things to do--pick up his guitar and head for the glow of the fire.
Recently I took him out in the dead of night with a flash light to see the soil come alive with night crawlers. "They're everywhere," he said. His hand trying to mimic the motion of the worms coming out of the ground.
"Silas, what would you do if you had no fear?" I asked.
Silas answered, "Skydive," with a laugh. But then he became serious, "Skip the business degree and go directly into farming." But Silas knows enough to realize that the business degree is an important component to his success.
Our poll continues, only now, Silas is wise to the question that's coming. Which dog would be your favorite? He looked across the yard at Jedi lazing in the spring grass and said, "It would have to be Jedi because his mentality is one of calm. He exudes a protector mode." I can see why Silas would pick Jedi. Silas, and so many of the interns we see give us hope that a legacy of calm and protection will keep our world spinning in a healthier, happy way.
In the time that Emil has been at Red Sunflower Farm, it has been a rare occasion not to see him in his quilted layers and canvas coveralls to keep warm. He has been an intricate part of the business of getting ready for spring and we are so grateful for his work!
Emil was born in India and is a naturalized citizen of the United States. When asked where he's from, one would expect, given his appearance, to respond with a location somewhere in Asia. Quickly and glibly, his surprising reply is "Texas!" He traveled to China to teach English, serving the people and learning about their culture. He has aspirations to join either the Peace Corps or the military. Should he choose to apply for the Peace Corps, he knows he is required to spend at least three working months on a farm in order to enhance his experience in a developing country. So he intentionally came to Red Sunflower Farm to learn about farming.
In the early morning crispness, Emil and Silas (another intern) work feverishly in the high tunnel, watering plants, while Barry checks for frost. I asked Emil what he has learned while on the farm and his eyes lit up as he said, "Oh where do I start?" Changing an oil filter, carpentry, splitting logs, grinding corn, plumbing and irrigation, bush-hogging honeysuckle all came to mind for a bright, young man with a winning smile. In his gentleness he took a breath and said, "What I have enjoyed most is maple syrup production."
Emil also learned to cook during his stay, making pancakes, eggs, grits and sausage. When he lived in China he didn't have to cook because restaurant food was so cheap. Now, Emil leaves with a few more skills in his pocket, and hopefully some very good memories. He left behind a tall pair of boots for the next intern to fill!
Emil left us and is off to a farm in Connecticut to learn about livestock farming. Before he left, I asked him which dog he liked best. That question triggered a conversation about ducks laying eggs that we can't seem to find. We have been trying to solve the mystery, and Emil came up with a great idea. "Why not use the trail (motion-activated) camera to find out who is getting into the nest." Brilliant idea! And Emil's favorite dog is the culprit, getting into the nest in the dead of night. Hmm!
Crystal is another blessing to the farm. She is a citizen of South Korea and has been in the US for four years on a student visa. Her US home base is Brooklyn, New York. She chose her "American" name during an English class in middle school. Crystal earned an art history degree at Emory University in Atlanta and is presently finding internships in the United States that have to do with food, a new passion she's developed since her high school years on the outskirts of Seoul.
She likes the American education system because she has more freedom to study in ways that are not normal in South Korea. There, she must study from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. without the experiential learning she has been exposed to in the U.S.
In the middle of a very busy sugaring season at the farm, Crystal talked about her desire to become a chef. She worked for a while at the Grand Hilton Hotel in Seoul where she learned that the food service industry can be a very tough business. Crystal said, "I didn't know adults cursed!" referring to one such chef trying to talk her out of becoming a chef.
Crystal has worked with Allrecipes.com collecting South Korean recipes for their website. Crystal traveled her homeland for several months, discovering authentic South Korean cuisine. Since her return to the U.S., she is considering entering a doctoral program in anthropology. Crystal believes that our sources of food are very important and she wants to know more about how food has traced through the history of our world.
She is astounded by the magnificence of nature at Red Sunflower Farm, away from the urban life she's used to. Maple syrup production is teaching Crystal that her schedule isn't always congruent with Mother Nature's schedule. That is evidenced by the fact that she has gone to bed in the evening, planning to help with collecting sap early in the morning, only to be awkened in the dead of night to collect sap because some of the collection jugs in the woods may overflow.
The dogs swirl around Cyrstal. Wiley is hunting for mice. Baxter is the endless teenager who plays with a maturing Jedi. Crystal is enamored with Wiley's quiet presence, and yet she has fallen victim to Baxter's constant need for attention. He leans into a person trying to get as close as possible, while still having four paws on the ground. We think he may have been a lap dog in a former life.
Crystal is with us a few more weeks and we are taking full advantage of her culinary expertise. A bulgogi (Korean dish of grilled, marinated beef) evening is in the works as well as a kimchi-making session.
We are living in a world graced by so many hopeful visitors to Red Sunflower Farm. This is Stephanie and Luke, who came to the farm early in January.The two met last fall when Stephanie was working at an ecumenical retreat house in Scotland preparing food. Luke, as fate would have it, came to the center for a retreat. When Stephanie came back to Indiana, Luke followed and they found the farm where they could work while getting to know one another better.
Luke is a singer-songwriter who has traveled throughout Europe performing folk music. He describes his father as an Irish Piper. He says his mother loves to dance which has always made music a part of who he is. Luke seldom goes anywhere without his guitar.
Finding the farm through the W.W.O.O.F. website, Luke believes that bringing people back to the land is perhaps the best part of the movement. He has found a southern hospitality at the farm that he's only heard about in Europe. But beyond that,he sees great evidence of the growing movement of spirituality between the masculine and feminine energies of the world at the farm.
We are grateful to have Luke and Stephanie at the farm, if only for a short while. They have brought a new music to the rhythm of life among the chickens, dogs, and humans.
Stephanie, like so many other young people today, is searching for something more meaningful in life. She has two degrees: one in music and one in religious studies. After meeting Luke, she traveled with him to several Irish pubs and performed with Luke. She is an accomplished singer with a beautiful voice.
The morning I interviewed her for this post, Stephanie grabbed a cloth bag and headed from the intern quarters to the kitchen of the main house to prepare a bite to eat. She found kefir and put it on a cobbler she'd made. She apologized that it wasn't everything she had hoped it would be, but the taste of blackberries and apples in January made for a delicious breakfast.
Luke and Stephanie wanted to experience all they could while they were here. They went contra dancing with Barry and Mackey, to a Xavier girl's basketball game with Mackey, visited Fountain Square, and dined at both Skyline Chili and Graeter's Ice Cream. Luke even accompanied Barry on a morning hunting excursion.
Since Rose visited us this past summer, we've been conducting a poll regarding the dogs on the farm. In case you haven't yet seen these beautiful, happy animals, here they are: Jedi, Wiley, and Baxter. On the last day of each intern's stay, Barry asks "If you could take one dog home with you, which one would you choose?"
Stephanie voted for Wiley because he's a big teddy bear who wants to be in control. Wiley is the most vocal of the three dogs, always signaling when someone new is around.
Luke likes Baxter. He says that Baxter's skinny little body and great big head make him comical. And, in many ways, Baxter is like Luke, gangley, smiling, with a look of adventure in his eyes.
Luke and Stephanie left the farm on Friday January 18th and Luke was flying back to England on Sunday the 20th. We miss you!
She hunched over the bed of the gator on a sunny, crisp morning, reading plans for the new high tunnel for Red Sunflower Farm. Martha came to the farm through the WWOOF program. She works as an outdoor educator, which is seasonal work. She leads wilderness and outdoor groups teaching survival skills.
Martha came to Red Sunflower by way of a two-month wilderness adventure through Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. She has been grateful for another resident/volunteer on the farm, Chase, for taking her along to Young Farmers Association meetings. Martha says that a slower lifestyle helps her to thrive and that the farm has given her that gentle reminder to slow down.
During a lunch of venison burgers with cheese and salad (mostly) from the garden consisting of cabbage, green onions, lettuce, pecans, walnuts, and cheese with a balsamic vinegrette that Martha concocted improptu, we talked about food preparation, something she likes doing. Martha shared a recipe for Squashamole. Check out the recipe from the RSF Kitchen.
Martha will be leaving us soon. We'll miss her self-starting, tackle-any-task attitude on the farm where, even in winter, there is always .