Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Seven

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle
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Hi everyone! This week was a lot of preparation for Polyface Farm’s last ever Field Day (It’s okay to boo. The people who attended Field Day were bummed when Joel made the last Field Day ever announcement.) and a good amount of working with machinery for me. It was a really fun week and I hope you enjoy reading about it! 

Monday, July 14th

My morning chore this week was moving the broiler shelters. Those of you who have read my posts before probably remember that my adventures moving broilers has been a recurring theme, but I am happy to report that my shelter moving this week was greatly improved from weeks prior. My hands have gotten more used to this type of work (ie. manual labor) and over the course of the week, my roommate Alicia only helped me with a few shelters. Even though it was a humbling lesson to have learned, I am glad to see the progression of my strength and my patience. After morning chores, I had the chance to work in the gardens to clean them up for our impending Field Day visitors.

The afternoon (and better part of the evening) was spent stacking and moving square bales of hay at one of the properties Polyface manages with Daniel Salatin, Eric, our Apprentice Manager, Jonathan aka. Jak, one of our apprentices and Josh, one of my fellow interns. Doing this has been one of the highlights of my time here, as I got to drive one of our trucks and a gooseneck trailer full of huge bales of hay (I’ve included a picture so you can see what I’m talking about) from about 1pm until dark. Polyface subcontracts the making of these big bales to an operator with the proper machinery, as the baler we have only makes the small bales. After the bales are made and dropped onto the grass, it is our responsibility to gather the bales, stack them, salt them and cover them with tarps to protect them until winter. Since these bales are so large, we need the tractors to lift the bales, stack one on top of another, lift the two stacked bales and place them on the flatbed trailer. Said flatbed trailer driver (Me! And Josh. We had two trucks going.) drives a full load of bales to the massive stack (see photo) where another tractor is there to unload and stack the bales. Generally, it is the driver’s responsibility to get out, climb the stack and salt the bales, but Jonathan was doing that task the day I was there. We needed to bring these bales from one corner of the property to another, which included going through some fairly tricky turns through gates. Before we were unleashed, Daniel taught Josh and I how to make these turns and where I had never driven a trailer before and these turns included some backing up, I was a little nervous, but we ended up doing well. We were able to finish the hay that day, which I’m told is all the hay we will need for Polyface this year. !!!!!!!! After all the hay we’ve been doing, it seems odd that it’s done, but a relief nonetheless. All in all, it was a fun and exciting day, and was wrapped up with a double bacon cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys (a bit of a hay making tradition if you miss dinner because you had to work through it). Big thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 15th

Tuesday was a big cleaning and rearranging day here at Polyface. After moving broilers and eating breakfast, my roommate Greer and I set to cleaning out the freezers, washing windows and wiping down shelves in the sales building. This was a bit nostalgic for me, as I had done all that during my two day check out back in December. It’s pretty amazing to think about how much my life has changed since then.

After lunch, we worked on the fence line along the area we bushwhacked last week. On Monday, our Apprentice Manager and some of the other interns had installed posts so all that needed to be done was to install the insulators (plastic pieces that hold the electric wire) and tighten the wire. It was a long fence, so this took three interns and one Apprentice Manager a few hours. In the meantime, we also worked on shoring up some pig fencing that was currently there and I learned how to make a gate on an electric fence. After wrapping up at the pig pasture, I helped my roommate Shalana reinstall some metal roofing panels that had been power washed back on the Racken, the hoop house where the rabbits and some of the laying hens live. The panels were pretty high up and we were having a hard time maneuvering them with one of us on the ladder and one not but Daniel came by with the tractor and lifted us up in the bucket. Things got much easier from there. I’m learning to really really love machinery.

Wednesday, July 16th

Wednesday, as usual, was a processing day. After moving my broiler friends, we all went to the processing shed to set up. This involves filling the metal tubs with water and ice, cleaning the tables, setting out knives and moving the crates of birds to where they can be easily reached. We didn’t start processing until after breakfast and during the processing I worked on quality control, gutting and lunging. We were done with everything by lunch.

After lunch, along with chores, Greer and I were given the task of moving two of the manure spreaders from the shed to an area where machinery was to be parked for Field Day visitors to be able to easily check out the Polyface equipment. Daniel gave us this assignment because there was a spot of free time and he knew we needed to learn/practice driving the tractors and backing them up with attachments. My backing up attempt was going a little sideways (or potentially jack knifey) and Miriam, one of our Apprentices, came over and gave me a lesson. I did, with her very patient guidance, get the spreader where it was supposed to go and am grateful to her and Daniel for giving me the chance to learn this skill in an unhurried fashion.

Thursday, July 17th

Thursday was another processing day, as we needed chicken for our deliciously grass fed local Field Day lunch. I was on the lunging station, which I have been looking forward to getting. I enjoy lunging and wanted to see if I could do all of them myself. In an ideal processing line, there only needs to be one lunger and I wanted to make sure I could do that. Sheri Salatin, our legendary master chicken gutter (She’s just as good as Joel, which is saying something.), came down to teach us and help. She can gut six birds for every one we can, so I was pumped that I was able to keep up with her.

The rest of the day, my roommate Greer and I made signs for Field Day. We needed signs for the flavors of the drinks we were offering, signs for the rabbits, private residence signs, some directional signs and some signs asking visitors to stay off the hay that was stacked. We were pretty excited to be given this task (Crafts! Yay!), so we raised the scrap wood/roofing metal/extra paint/baling twine pile and spent the rest of the day working on signs.

Thursday night, we were joined by Darren Doherty, Lisa Heenan and their family  (www.heenandoherty.com) for a discussion on permaculture, their Regrarians movement, which is their effort to promote regenerative agriculture (you can find them on Facebook under Regrarians or on Twitter @Regrarians), and to learn more about the documentary, Polyfaces, they were hoping to wrap up filming on. Darren is a world renowned expert on permaculture (Joel refers to him as a genius when it comes to water) so having an opportunity to meet with him and his family was a treat. Also, if you haven’t seen the trailer for Polyfaces, you really need to check it out. Seriously. Google it now and watch it. Polyfaces. The documentary. I had seen it prior to coming here, but we had the chance to watch it again and now that I have spent time here and become bonded to those in the film, it was very moving. Those of us here really believe that the Polyface methods can, in a nut shell, save the world. Sometimes I get bogged down in the minutia of chores and day to day farm things and I tend to forget what motivated me to change my entire life and come here. Watching what Darren, Lisa and their children are putting together in the form of this documentary really inspired me and made me grateful to be here and to have chosen this life.

Friday, July 18th

Being the day before Field Day, Friday was a bit of a blur. After chores, Greer and I finished the remainder of our signs (They took longer than I was anticipating.), set up the food and drink lines, did some last minute checking on my broiler friend’s shelters and wrapped up the day helping Sheri Salatin prepping her website www.EagerFarmer.com , which launched on Field Day. I strongly suggest that, even if you have the slightest inkling that you may want some farm help or would like to work on a farm, you check out this website. There are already several opportunities available all over the world already listed on the site and lots of eager people looking for a position. It’s a great resource and it was inspiring to be a part of setting it up.

We had had several past interns and apprentices arrive today to help with Field Day and at the end of the day we were all able to get together for a barbeque to get to know each other. There were so many people, some apprentices dating back all the way to 1998, and I felt honored to be part of such a special group.

Saturday, July 19th Field Day

Field Day came and went in a giant blur. It was awesome. I started out at 5:45 am at the registration table, which I was psyched to get assigned to because I like to meet people. We had visitors come in from Canada, Costa Rica, across the country, as far as Hawaii, and the energy was so positive.

The day started where guests were welcome to watch chores being done, have some coffee and check out the farm. Come 8am, the rest of the morning was broken up into, essentially, two options. Your first option is to go on a farm tour with Joel, which lasts about 3.5 hours. The tour route encompasses the pastured broilers, the cows on pasture, the eggmobiles, the feathernet, the pastured turkeys, a visit to the hay shed and pigerator compost area and wraps up with the pastured pigs. This tour also happens after lunch, so many people decide to wait until the afternoon and instead will attend some of the other shorter and more specialized seminars such as a rabbit class with Daniel Salatin, a brooder and chick raising session with Miriam, one of our apprentices, and a forum of sorts on Polyface’s Apprenticeship/ Internship program. There was a break for lunch, where we served BBQ pork, chicken and beef, cucumbers, tomatoes and some of the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. The afternoon held another tour with Joel, if you had missed the morning one, along with some other specialized sessions. Some of the morning classes were repeated, but there were some new ones as well. Sheri Salatin had her marketing class, which I found very helpful, and there was a tour of our hoop houses with Jonathan, one of our interns, where he explained the season extension techniques Polyface uses in its garden production. The day was wrapped with a question and answer session with Joel that is always very popular.

In addition to the classes and tours, there were several vendors I got a chance to speak to and a book booth where I bought way more books than I’ll have time to read this summer. But knowledge is power, right?

On another note, it was fun to meet some of you on Field Day! Thank you to those of you who introduced yourselves. I really appreciated speaking with you all and am honored to be a part of this blogging community. I hope you all have a great week!