Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
I am off to Polyface Farm to intern for the summer and I’m so excited! I plan to write every week to explain to you what we are learning, how we spend our days, mistakes we make (that you can learn from) and basically anything that can help readers become better farmers and homesteaders. I’ll include lots of photos too, so make sure to check back!
I’ll start from the beginning and explain how I got to this point. For the past nine years, I have worked at my family’s stone company in a sales and project management capacity. I found that my hobbies and interests gravitated towards the farming/homesteading lifestyle, but given the prevailing social paradigm that farming doesn’t pay, is too much work, land is expensive, etc., I didn’t really see a way to make a life doing what I loved, and while I accepted it, it bummed me out.
Inspiration from Joel Salatin
At one point during my early garden hobbyist days, I Googled methods of growing potatoes in containers and up came an online article from MOTHER EARTH NEWS. After poring through the website, I immediately subscribed to the magazine and was heartened by how many subscribers there were and all the great ideas people were sharing. I had also read Joel Salatin’s You Can Farm, and was inspired by his can-do attitude and optimistic outlook on farming as a business. I saw him in Concord, Mass., when he came out to promote one of his newer books, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. I remember bringing up my dogeared copy of You Can Farm to the book signing table, told him how I loved this book and he wrote, “Oh yes you can!” on the inside page above his signature. I took that as the sign from the universe, and I decided that come hell or high water, I would have a farm. Joel Salatin said I could, and I believed him.
A few months later, Dan (my now-fiancé, whom I have known for the better part of a decade) got a job as a farm assistant at a sustainable pastured livestock farm. As a result, I was able to be included in their chicken processing and some vegetable harvesting. One of my favorite things to do after work became stopping by the farm to visit and help Dan wash and pack the eggs. After reading You Can Farm, I had been eyeing the Summer Internship section on Polyface Farm’s website, wanting to apply, but had to wait until the window of opportunity to request an application. (For 2014, the window is August 1st through August 10th. Mark your calendars!)
Polyface Farm Internship Process
I applied, reminding myself not to get my hopes up, but I received an email inviting me to come for what they at Polyface call a Two-Day Checkout. The Checkout period is a two-week window where one picks a two-to-three day time period where he will eat, sleep and work alongside the Salatin family and the Polyface staff, mainly for both sides to get to know each of the applicants and see how everyone works together. Of the almost 400 applications sent out, only 50 were invited. I was so excited to be offered the chance that I responded almost immediately with my dates (December 5th-6th).
I spent the next two months wondering what type of work I’d be doing, what I should pack, wondering whether they would they like me, and other sorts of things like that. It was a ten-hour drive, give or take, from Massachusetts and the weather was unseasonably warm, almost 70 degrees. Polyface Farm is located among some beautiful country and it was very surreal driving up the road seeing this farm I had seen in so many documentaries and read about so many times, knowing I was going to sleep there.
Settling in was a bit of a blur. It was almost 5pm when Dan dropped me off and right away I was put with a group of applicants and we stacked wood until dinner. The next morning, the applicants and staff met out front at 7am for chores and more wood stacking, followed by breakfast. The weather was warm, but became very rainy and windy so we ended up cleaning and sanitizing the freezers, coolers and equipment until lunch. After lunch, we installed horizontal wall slats made from whole pine trees that has been trimmed, moved cows, hayed pigs, stacked wood and were able to see the different animals. When it came time to head in to get ready for dinner, it occurred to me that even though I was wet and covered in mud, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
My last day at Polyface was spent stacking wood (we finally finished the massive pile), moving pigs over a small brook in a trailer, moving cows so we could add bedding to their shelter, and feeding the cows, pigs and chickens. We were warned that a severe ice storm was coming through the next day and that the roads would be terrible and flights would be cancelled. Dan ended up picking me up a little bit early so we could get a head start on the weather and he had the distinct pleasure of listening to ten hours of Polyface stories on the way home. I had had a wonderful time. The Salatins couldn’t have been better hosts, I met a lot of really great people and I had the opportunity to do the farm things I only dreamed of before.
Bringing the Farm Experience Home
I suppose now would be a good time to mention that in October of 2013, Dan and I bought a 45-acre former farmstead in Newport, N.H. It was a bit of a love-at-first-sight kind of thing, and even though the house needs some TLC (and insulation, come to find out), we had to have it. We named it Sugar River Farm and fully intend to have our own farm business. When telling Dan about all the other great people applying to be interns, he reassured me that even if I didn’t get accepted, it had been a great experience (which it had) and that there would be plenty to do up north should I be available this coming summer.
Sadly for Dan (and for me, I’m going to miss him), I will not be available this summer to help on our farm, as I was offered the internship. I am honored to have been asked, grateful for the opportunity and very excited to share with others what I learn. Now make sure and check back— I promise to have all kinds of stories and tidbits that will amuse, enlighten and encourage you. (And plenty of pictures!)
To read some of Joel Salatin’s farm inspiration for yourself, check out his book page on MotherEarthNews.com/Shopping.