When I tell people I’m working on a farm for the summer, I get a lot of mixed reactions. Some people think it’s super awesome and say I’m going to have a wonderful experience, some people are confused as to why I’m doing this, and some people, specifically my parents, are disappointed in the choice I’ve made for my summer. Understandably. My parents have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed so much in order to create a life for my sisters and I that is filled with opportunity, and working on a farm must seem like a huge step backward from their perspective. The generational difference has made it really hard for them to understand why I am willingly working over 12 hours a day for 5.5 days a week, with only a modest living stipend for compensation. I know it’s been hard for them to accept my decision, but I have no regrets about moving to the east coast for the next four months.
After applying to the standard research and study abroad internships and being rejected by all of them, I decided to go down a different route and started looking into farm internships. After seeing a posting on a job site, I became really drawn to this idea of working on a farm and learning first-hand how the cornerstone of our food system is built. So, I applied to about eight different farms, heard back from three, was rejected from two, and was offered a position by Devon Point Farm in Woodstock, CT.
Devon Point Farm is run by Erick and Patty Taylor with the help of their two young daughters. The couple started their professional lives in the corporate world, but soon realized that they were not satisfied sitting in an office all day and living the nine-to-five life. So, they built their farm literally from the ground up; their house, the barns, the fenced permanent pastures, everything on their land they built. The cattle are strictly grass-fed and have never seen grain before in their life, the pigs are kept in a barn with copious space, the 300 baby chicks that are being raised in their garage aren’t given growth hormones, and the multitude of crops that they grow start as seedlings in their basement which are then transplanted into the fields without ever being sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. What I am learning here is where the food in our grocery stores comes from, and how our food could and should be grown sustainably, both environmentally and financially. I am learning about the balance between the humane treatment and care of livestock while knowing that they will be sent to the butcher at the end of the season. I am learning about how the Taylor’s "beyond organic” practices are not the most financially efficient, but the integrity of their products is built from the assurance to their customers that what they are eating is how nature intended the plants to grow. These are lessons I never would have learned from any of the internships I was rejected from.
I flew out to Woodstock three days after my last final, and since then it’s been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve done more new things in the past two weeks than I have maybe in the past year combined. I’ve handled 350 pound pigs, herded massive cows that could seriously injure a human with just a toss of their head, planted more crops than I can count, collected and eaten chicken eggs that were laid on the same day, and so much more. Every day on the farm is different, which is refreshing, and even when a plan is laid out for the day, it doesn’t mean it’s always executed. Nobody really plans for all five calves to pull a Houdini by sliding under the fence, and escape. I’m thoroughly physically exhausted at the end of each day. Farming is not like exercising or playing sports where you exert yourself for 1 or 2 hours and then you’re done. Nope, farming is when you’re on your feet all day, running around, trying to get ten things done before the rain comes, recharging during a half hour lunch break, and then back up again for another 6 hours before the day is over.
The crazy thing for me to think about is that this is only a four-month long internship for me, but for the Taylors, this is their life. This is literally how they make their living, afford to send their daughters to soccer and hockey practices, and pay for their violin and voice lessons. Their livelihood depends on the weather and Mother Nature to work in their favor. But this is the life they chose, the life in which they govern their own work day and don’t have to answer to corporate department heads or navigate the murky politics of professionalism. Even when they’re covered in cow and pig poop, are wading through mud and poison ivy, and have been up since 5 in the morning, they truly love what they are doing.
Living here has shown me a different side of the food system that I’ve never seen before. I’ve only ever been a consumer of goods, but now that I am helping cultivate, grow, and produce the vegetables and fruit that show up at a farmers market or in a grocery store, I really have a different appreciation for the food I eat. Last weekend, I ate a meal that consisted of fish that was freshly caught the previous night by the Taylor girls and their friends, wild turkey that was shot that same week, and wild mushrooms and leeks that were gathered in the neighboring woodline of the farm. A meal like this would probably cost around $30 at a five-star restaurant simply due to how fresh and organic everything was, but all it cost the Taylor’s was a little bit of time. Knowing where the food I am consuming is coming from, knowing that it is free of chemicals and preservatives, and knowing that it has not been processed and manufactured in a factory has been really amazing and cool. It’s an understatement to say that “farm fresh” has a whole new meaning to me now.