The View from Here

Guest blogger today is Dara Downs, a student at Messiah College who is doing a spring internship at Joshua Farm.

Who am I?
My name is Dara Downs and I am a senior biology major at Messiah College with a minor in Spanish. I am from the suburbs of Washington, DC and I do not have a very strong background in farming. But, I love plants! Everything about plants! From the dirt that causes them to grow, to the diseases that can hinder them, to the food they can produce, to the beauty they create, to the medicine they give us, and the list can go on and on. Put simply; I have a passion for plants.

Why I decided to intern/volunteer at J. Farm?
Couple of reasons:
1) I have volunteered at J. Farm in the past and absolutely loved my experience.

2) I wanted to learn as much as possible about urban farming. I wanted to learn the ins and outs as to how this farm functions on a day to day basis. I wanted to learn all the details so that if I were to start my own similar farm, I would know what I would be getting myself into.

3) I also wanted to get a little dirty, work with the earth some, and help a fantastic organization.

4) I have played field hockey for my entire college career, and since it is a fall sport I am done for the year. So I have all this extra time on my hands that I would like to do something fun and interesting with.

What have I learned?
I think more of the appropriate question would be; what haven’t I learned? Josh and Kirsten have been great with showing me all aspects of the farm and giving me the chance to get right in the middle of all of it. I have most enjoyed learning about the little things on the farm that you can’t always learn through text books. Like the “tricks of the trade.” These things sometimes might be obvious to other people but for me, a city girl, these are rare secrets! An example of this would be when Josh asked me one day to plant some tin cans in the gardens so that the top of the can was flush with the dirt and then fill the can will stale beer. This contraption attracted slugs and was a natural way of getting rid of the pests who seem to be fond of the cauliflower leaves. Who knew intoxication worked on slugs????? I sure didn’t!

What has surprised me the most?
How mesmerizing and entertaining chickens are! I know it sounds silly, but really, I could stare at them for hours. Hahaha.
On a more serious note, one of the first activities I helped with on the farm was cataloguing all the seeds. It was a long process but it was great exposure to the variety of produce the farm grows and it was the first glimpse I had of just how complex everything is. Because from those numbers we then had to figure out what was going to be grown on the farm and how much seed would be needed to purchase that we didn’t already have. And at the same time you have to manage the fact that some plants produce multiple fruits or just one fruit, so you have to take that into account with how many seeds need to be planted. And then you have to throw in crop rotation. On top of that try to coordinate everything so that fruit will be mature for the CSA pick up days and make sure you grown enough produce for all the CSA members. In addition to all of that, Kirsten taught me about determinate and indeterminate plants. (Determinant means the plant blossoms and fruits all at once, producing a lot of fruit at one time. Indeterminate plants will produce a smaller amount of fruit over a longer period of time.  So neat! Who knew????)  And oh yeah, don’t forget we have another field (at Elmerton). And then when you think you finally have a schedule down, then you have to figure out when to start planting seeds in the green house to be transplanted outside, or maybe you can just plant the seeds directly outside. And don’t forget to look outside because spring started in February this year in case you missed the memo. Does your mind hurt yet?? Because mine sure does.

I know that the Farm employs some software to help with this, but still, you have to have meticulous records of the past to plug into the machine, before it can spit back a plan for the future.

In conclusion for me, the most surprising thing has been the level of organization that has to be in place for the farm to run smoothly. There are so many details that have to fall into place so that the timing of everything works properly. It truly is a beautiful work of art.

Anything else?
    I would like to thank Joshua Farm, Kirsten, and Josh for letting me in on their “secrets,” letting me get my hands dirty, and giving me the privilege of taking part in the farm process. It has been such a wonderful experience and so joyous to see how beautifully everything comes together. I enjoyed working on the details, and then stepping back and seeing the big picture. It is simply amazing.  
    I encourage anyone else who may have the same interest as me to go spend some time on the farm. It is such a lovely environment with wonderful people. It is a great opportunity to give back, get dirty, learn, and have fun at the same time.

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