Lost in Translation?

Like many young people across the country, I spent this holiday season trying to explain to family members what exactly I do for a living. My situation had the added obstacle of a language and culture barrier. Here's a dramatic rendering of the kind of conversation I'm talking about, translated from my not-as-fluent-as-before Spanish.

Relative: So, have you finished your studies?
Emily: Yes, I graduated about three and a half years ago.
R: Oh, what did you study?
E: I studied anthropology.
R: Oh, so you're an anthropologist!
E: Well, not really...
R: What do you mean?
E: There are not really many jobs for anthropologists.
R: But that's what you studied, no?
E: I would have to keep studying and get a doctorate if I really wanted to be a anthropologist. I didn't study for a career. We have a different system there, so I just studied, you might say, arts and letters.
R: Ah. I understand. So, do you have a job?
E: Well, not at the moment. I work in the country, and there's not really work in the country in the dead of winter.
R: What do you do in the country?
E: Last year, I worked at a small vegetable farm.
R: Like a garden? What kind of vegetable did you grow?
E: We grew over forty kinds of vegetables. It's a kind of farm where there are, we might say, members. They pay before the summer, and then they come get vegetables every week.
R: Oh, so they come and harvest their own vegetables?
E: No, not really. We do all the work and they come pick up the box full of many different vegetables every week. Or sometimes we bring it to them, you know, in a van.
R: So what exactly was your job?
E: Well, everything. We plant, cultivate, harvest. With tractors, and tools, and with hands.
R: Tractors? Was the farm very big?
E: There were about 250 families who would come every week. It's a common system for small vegetable farms over there. It's called, let's say, agriculture supported by the community.
R: How interesting. So will you keep doing this work when you get back?
E: Not right now, because there aren't jobs like that in the middle of winter. But I have a few options for next year, starting in March or April.
R: Where do you go when you get home? To your parents' house?
E: For about a week, then I'm going to find a job as a waitress or something in a city in a state called Michigan. It's about four or five hours away from home. I'll stay there until my next job in the country starts in March or April.
R: When the snow melts?
E: Exactly.
R: Very interesting. And what about anthropology?
E: Anthropology has nothing to do with it.

End scene.

Young Farmers Conference 2013

Last week found me in Tarrytown, NY for the Young Farmers Conference, an annual event for young and beginning farmers held at the Stone Barns Center, home of the famed Blue Hill restaurant. Because of the limitations of the facility, they have to restrict how many people come, so unlike MOSES last year with 3,000 participants, Stone Barns was at capacity with about 300. That means every year people get turned away from their lottery-based sign-ups and those who make it are super excited to be there. Instead of doing a full play-by-play of the whole event, I'm just going make a few lists here before posting some pictures. The whole 3 days was filled with new ideas, both from the workshops and presenters and from conversations with other participants. No doubt I'll be referring back to things that I encountered at YFC in future blog posts!

Workshops I Attended:

  • Sustainable Hog Production (full day seminar)
  • Why Every Farm Should Have a Sugaring Operation
  • Agroforestry
  • Beekeeping for Beginners
  • Electric Fencing
  • Welding
  • Whole Animal Butchery

With the exception of the full-day seminar, these workshops were each an hour and a half, which was time enough for an introduction to the topic, some specifics and Q&As, and a nudge in the right direction for more resources and information.

Speakers and Full-Conference Events:

  • Staged reading of the verbatim play "Farmscape" and Q&A with playwright
  • Krysta Harden, USDA Deputy Secretary
  • Wendell Berry in conversation with daughter Mary Berry
  • Chellie Pingree, congresswoman and farmer from Maine
  • Kathleen Merrigan, former USDA Deputy Secretary and person behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative
  • Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill
  • Cheryl Rogowski, amazing, socially-conscious farmer and MacArthur genius
  • Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens, groundbreaking NY farmers
  • Social hour, barn dance, and lots of meal-time conversation over really good food

Fun facts, tidbits, things to think about from the conference:

  • From Tom Frantzen: while we may not agree with the methods used by industrial agriculture, we need to recognize that when it comes to efficiency and profitability, they do everything for a reason. When we prioritize humane treatment, quality of life and sustainability, we inherently make compromises in other areas. This is one of the "brutal facts" that we need to confront.
  • Pigs can be used to eradicate invasive species like multiflora rose!
  • The Practical Farmers of Iowa are doing amazing things and I need to spend a few days poking around that website.
  • You need to boil 40 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of maple syrup, which means that syrups is one of those crops that really needs a certain scale to be efficient. Small-scale aggregators who drive around buying raw sap from farmers and boiling it down using super-energy efficient burners is a solution to this problem.
  • Lacking this infrastructure, plain maple sap can also be a marketable commodity! Think of the popularity of coconut water and of local food - these combine perfectly in maple sap, which can be guzzled outright or used to brew coffee, make soda, cook, etc. Think of the possibilities!
  • To be considered Agroforestry, there need to be three levels of production. For example - canopy (trees/lumber/fruit), forages (grasses and legumes), animals (pigs, cows, bees, etc.)
  • A 1% increase in organic matter in topsoil sequesters an additional 10 tons of carbon per acre.
  • You can use a close-planted stand of evergreens like an overgrown/abandoned Christmas tree farm for an "outdoor living barn" to shelter cold-hardy cattle like Scottish Highlands during the winter.
  • Nurse bees, who take care of the eggs and larvae in the hive, are the youngest of worker bees and don't yet have stingers.
  • On each flight, a bee will keep collecting pollen from the same species as the first flower it encounters.
  • The pesticides that are thought to be a possible cause of colony collapse are fat soluble and may be stored in the wax (fat) in beehives, so using a method where the bees rebuild their wax from scratch every year, like top bar hives, might be effective in slowing the demise of the honeybee.
  • An electric fence is only as strong as its ground, which should be much bigger than you would think. The point is to be enough conductive metal in the ground to attract the current going through an animals nose and to the ground through its hooves to complete a circuit, which is what actually makes the shock.
  • You should always recharge deep-cycle batteries before they drop below 40% of their charge for maximum utility.
  • Never buy a used welder from a welding shop - they use them all day every day! Buy from a place where it gets more gentle/occasional use.
  • Having even a small welder means easy on-farm repairs and fabrication for tractors, greenhouses, etc!
  • Coppa is an alternative to prosciutto that still has beautiful marbling but due to its size only take a few months as opposed to over a year for a whole ham.
  • Finally, according to Wendell Berry, our generation will always be living on the "margins of a bad economy," which means that we're going to have to "learn to use the things that other people have given up on - including maybe land."

I'm off to the airport for a holiday visit to family in Argentina! More in the new year!



Farm Week: November 11-15, 2013

This was the last week of the season here at Chubby Bunny, which was certainly a bit bittersweet. On the one hand, I can't imagine another week of frozen hoses and frosty harvests. On the other hand, I'll really miss the people here and living and working in such a beautiful place. This week, besides dealing with the aforementioned frozen hoses during frosty harvests, we mulched the garlic and did some general clean-up around the farm. Besides that, there were many people to spend a last few hours with, and lots of general "last times." The other three apprentices will all be back next season, so the goodbyes for them are only temporary. I'm sure I'll be back to visit soon, but it's not the same as knowing I'll be back in April.

Leaving is certainly hard, but I'm looking forward to so much this winter that the car is already packed and I'm ready for a thousand-odd mile marathon home. Next weekend, I'll be meeting up with two of my favorite people in my favorite city, Chicago. Then I'll get some quality time with family in another of my favorite places for my favorite holiday - I can't imagine a better place to spend Thanksgiving than southwestern Wisconsin. December brings a very exciting farming conference at Stone Barns, followed by almost three weeks with my grandmother and many many cousins down in Argentina. I'm definitely not the biggest fan of extreme heat or beaches, but after these last few weeks of cold feet and hands a palm tree Christmas doesn't sound all that bad. All in all, the next six weeks bring so much to look forward to that I won't have too much time to spend missing this place - yet.

Thinking about: transitions, efficient packing, westward ho!

Reading: nothing!!

Eating: goodbye dinners, cowboy steak and corn pudding, shepherd's pie, sweetest spinach, the last of the eggs


Farm Week: November 4-8, 2013

The season continues to wind down here on the farm, and though it will be hard to leave here after next week, the cold cold mornings are making it that much easier to say goodbye to trailer life and
frozen fingers and toes. We've gotten a fair number of frosts already, so we're just harvesting the very heartiest of roots and greens still. We've gotten all of our cover crop seed in the ground, tilling under crop residue and broadcasting a mix of rye and vetch. We did our last chicken slaughter on Friday, and it started snowing midway through the process! Thankfully, we were able to move the evisceration station into the half-emptied tomato greenhouse, which was warmer and protected from the very gusty wind.

This weekend also brought some last-minute visitors to the neighborhood. Four of my six blockmates (roommates) from Eliot came up to spend what amounted to about 24 hours at Katherine's parents' house in Canaan. We had a great visit, catching up on over three years of adventures since graduation. I was able to do my favorite thing, which is cook food for people I love, made even more special by the fact that I also helped grow the very food I was cooking. I sent them all home Sunday afternoon with bags of leftovers, jars of stock, and bellies full of chicken noodle soup. Sunday morning, they came to the farm to see what I've been doing for the past seven months, and to try their hands at milking Patches. Zach, Nina, and Allison both had a ball milking and giving Patches some love, and Katherine was entertained enough just watching and snapping photos. We all decided that three years is much too long to wait for another reunion!

Thinking about: long drives, soup weather, old and new friends

Reading: Mostly NYT Monday Crossword puzzles, but also Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture, John Cheever's Oh What a Paradise it Seems

Eating: roast chicken with carrot and radish salad, roasted delicata squash, sauteed kale and garlic, and roasted beets and celeriac, chicken noodle soup

Farm(s) Week: October 28 - November 1, 2013

I started off the week with another two days at Essex before driving back down to Chubby Bunny to continue business as usual. I won't be working at Essex next season, but I definitely enjoyed my week there, met some awesome people, enjoyed the beautiful surroundings, and learned a ton.

Back at Chubby Bunny, I hopped back behind the wheel of the trusty veggie van down to White Plains, which means that I drove almost the entire length of the Hudson River between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning! The rest of the week was pretty laid-back. Our harvests have gotten progressively easier as we start to harvest our bulk root crops - for half of our crops we just have to count and wash crops we've already harvested. Dan took the crew out for lunch on Friday, and it was a novel experience to time together sitting down and actually facing each other.

The season is really winding down, and there will only be two more weeks of work here on the farm. My November is quickly filling up, and my winter is taking shape. I'm looking forward to making a dent in my tall (and getting taller) pile of books this winter, and this blog will be taking a different form over the off-season, replacing regular weekly updates with more essays, book reviews, poems, etc.

Thinking about: social engagements, friend reunions, windchill

Reading: Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture, Jacqueline Winspear's Leaving Everything Most Loved, John Cheever's Oh What a Paradise it Seems

Eating: oatmeal with fresh raw milk, apples, cranberries, and maple syrup; spicy pork-shoulder cooked in onions, garlic, and homebrewed IPA

Farm(s) Week: October 21-25, 2013

Bit of a mysterious post this week. This was a bit of an odd week for me - I only spent two days on the farm before taking off, and one of those days was a delivery day! But thanks to Dan and crew, I was able to come up to Essex, NY for a weeklong try-out on Essex Farm. Essex a tiny town on the coast of Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks, notable for a ferry service over to Vermont and a very ambitious farm. Essex Farm is a full-diet, year-round CSA, which means that they provide veggies, dairy, meat, and some grain/flour for over 80 households in the area. It's a big farm, comparatively, and there's lots going on. On Friday, they celebrated their ten year anniversary on the farm with a member potluck at the local grange hall. I'm up here for another few days, and it's been a very interesting (and chilly) experience. Even if I don't end up working here, I've certainly learned from the week, and had a bit of an off-season hard-working vacation in the North Country.

Thinking about: cold winters, future plans, even smaller town life

Reading: T.C. Boyle's Without a Hero, Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture

Eating: hearty farm lunches with the crew - venison ribs, roasted chickens, slaws galore, potatoes, eggs, delicata squash biscuits

Farm Week: October 14-18, 2013

Another beautiful week in the valley here at Chubby Bunny. When we weren't harvesting, we planted garlic, tended to the winter greens in the hoophouse, and were all-around social butterflies. Because we're still putting off the first hard frost, we're getting a great pepper harvest still. Between peppers and the two stuffed meat freezers, I had an urge to make stuffed peppers. Rather than eat stuffed peppers all week, I made a bunch to share with my fellow apprentices on Tuesday night. I did have to cut them a little short to fit in my toaster oven, but they were delicious nonetheless. On Wednesday, we went to eat with the apprentices at the other farm in Falls Village. Thursday, we and the Hayhurst clan went to eat with Kay and Bill, the neighbors who went looking for young farmers ten years ago and found Dan and Tracy. Another lovely night in lovely company with delicious food.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one week, we had a double dose of farm fun on Saturday. First, we had a little party for the members - apple cider press, hay rides, fresh cider doughnuts, jams and charcuterie Tracy made with the odd bits - beef tongue, country pate, and chicken liver pate. We had members come up from our delivery sites in White Plains and southern Connecticut, and lots of people visited the farm for the first time. We made a bit of a dent in the over-full meat freezers, and kids and adults alike had a fun day on the farm. Afterwards, we had friends and family over to trailer-town for a bonfire "after-party." I brined a brisket this week for corned beef, which I slow-cooked all day in some homebrewed IPA with onions, garlic, turnips, and carrots. We had a great fire, complete with guitars, a fiddle, and a banjo. A little rain didn't dampen the party much, and the music continued with everyone crowded under my little trailer awning. Unfortunately, the full moon was a bit obscured by the rain-bearing clouds, but the night was certainly one to remember.

Thinking about: conference plans, road trip stamina, brine

Reading: Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness, another mystery novel, Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture

Eating: veggie dinners, salmon cakes, charcuterie, corned beef, stuffed peppers

Farm Week: October 7-11, 2013

Things are winding down a bit here at Chubby Bunny. We still have a few weeks left of CSA deliveries and pickups, but other than our normal harvests and deliveries we are starting to get to those "when we have time" types of jobs. This week we seeded a rye and vetch mix on the open parts of the field, around the crops we're still harvesting and even over some of the crops that will be in place through the winter. We hand broadcasted the seed, then used a shallow chisel plough to incorporate the seed on the empty fields. The mornings have been cold and foggy, but there have been a few days of beautiful weather, and the fall colors are hanging on for a little longer. We had our penultimate CRAFT visit this week, to a 400-acre farm further south in Connecticut that sells pick-your-own berries, pumpkins, Christmas trees, and wine. It was a lovely farm, and the pumpkin season was in full swing. You can tell that they really know what their customers are looking for in a farm experience. The current farmers are the fifth and sixth generation on the land, and they've really done quite a bit to keep the farm relevant and financially successful. Even when you don't go into one of these visits very interested in that particular farm's specialties, you still end up being able to learn quite a bit.    

The big news this week was a visit from Maija, a good friend since high school. She's the first person from the "outside world" to come see me on the farm, and it was really fun to bring her around to see some of our local haunts. She worked with us on the farm for a few days, and her friend John, who has been farming up in Maine for the last few months, came down to join in the fun. Besides the show and tell aspect of having visitors, it was also nice to have an appreciative audience to cook for. As much as I enjoy cooking for myself and the occasional potluck, I really love cooking for other people, and it was nice to have hungry mouths to feed. Maija is leaving shortly for a yearlong stint in Melbourne, Australia, so it was nice to be able to spend some time together in person before she moves halfway around the world with two other of our friends from high school. I can't wait to hear all about their adventures!

Thinking about: old friends, new paths, holey wool socks

Reading: Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, another mystery novel, Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness

Eating: beet tzatziki with homemade yogurt and mint; roasted garam masala delicata squash, carmelized fennel with kale and cumin pork patties; spinach, pepper, onion and cheddar fritatta; the first delicious taste of our milk- and grass-fed Jersey bull