UofL Green Scene: Lessons from a summer on the farm
(Editor's Note: Green Scene is a monthly column on sustainable activities written by the faculty, staff or students responsible for them.)
During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I had a shocking revelation that came via the "Food and Body Politic" course offered by the anthropology department. The burger I was eating every day in the SAC didn't come from cattle happily grazing on some vast meadow. My fries didn't come from potatoes lovingly tended to by a small farmer living out an idyllic existence in a close knit agricultural community like I had been led to believe.
The actual truth is quite depressing.
The burger came from a cattle living out a wretchedly short existence in a feedlot, standing up to its belly in its own waste, eating food it was never meant to eat, all in an attempt to fatten them up quickly to rush them to a supermarket near you.
The potatoes, like most crops, were grown in huge monocultural plots and applied chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This allows the production of crops on an unprecedented scale, but poisons the laborers, the land and our water supply.
And, of course, this all has sinister consequences for our health and our future.
This past summer, I interned on Harmony Fields Farm to experience a different way of producing food. It can go by several names: Organic farming, sustainable agriculture, biodynamic farming, etc. But all these methods boil down to one principle: re-establishing our relationship with the land to ensure the long-term survival of our species.
Organic farming uses the sun's energy to produce crops, not petroleum based chemicals. It relies on rotating crops, growing cover crops and composting to build and maintian long-term fertility in the fields.
Harmony Fields Farm is owned by Larry and Beth Brandenburg, who are two of the nicest people you can meet. It is located in Shelbyville, Ky. and produces vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers from May until November. As an intern, I got my very own room and was fed delicious meals served up by Beth. She's an amazing cook (I recommend her pesto pizzas).
So the accommodations are nice, but what about the actual farming?
The trick to farm labor, in my opinion, is to embrace the repetition. On my very first day on the farm, we planted onions. All you had to do was jab a stick a couple of inches into the dirt and place a young onion there. Now multiple this process by a couple thousand. Eventually you enter some sort of mental farming zone, where your motions become robotic and you are only concentrating on the task. A couple hours later you are surprised to find yourself out of onions and at the end of the row.
Farm life slows you down and makes you think deliberately. I rose with the sun and worked through the day. When the sun went down, I wanted nothing more than to simply sit outside on the porch before going to bed. There was no rushing around from obligation to obligation, pulling all-nighters to finish a term paper and — best of all — I was no longer losing hours to Facebook and Twitter. You also really experience the changing of the seasons, since you have to be acutely aware of changing conditions to plant and harvest vegetables at the correct time.
I loved my time spent at Harmony Fields. It not only taught me technical knowledge needed to successfully farm, but it also made me more aware of the world around me. Organic growing is a powerful tool in creating healthier and stronger communities, and I hope more people begin to support organic farms or even start their own!