As farm interns, we perform a variety of different tasks everyday, and everyday we learn something new. From seeding, to transplanting, to weeding and harvesting, the work is never done, and neither are the life lessons. Farming puts us in touch with the earth and the food that sustains us, and brings home vital points about how we live our lives. We also get to pick up specific pieces of knowledge about our environment, as well as how to be organized and efficient in everything we do. Because we are a small, organic farm, we rely a lot more on (wo)man power than machines to get things done, which requires a lot of hard work, but also creativity and an openness to new ideas and practices. Even Lynn, who has been farming for years, learns new things each season, and as she shares them with us, we know for certain that farming is an endless educational experience.
The hardest lesson that you inevitably learn while farming is to try not to put off until tomorrow what can be done today. This can often be difficult, especially when knowing the extensive list of work that needs to be done immediately. However, as tempting as it might be to consign what looks to be a small task to tomorrow, DON’T DO IT! Weeds that look small today can be enormous tomorrow, and much harder to deal with. The amount of work it would take to pull them out when they are young may feel like a lot when added to the general to-do list, but as the weeds grow, they become their own project that requires much more labor. Similarly, if you cast a cover crop immediately after you mow a field, you can actually prevent weeds from growing there as you , thus accomplishing two tasks at once. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results from your actions. Take compost for an example. An untended compost heap will be just a pile of smelly vegetables, but add a bit of mulch, and spend 15 minutes here and there turning it, and voila!- you will magically have a beautiful pile of dark, rich soil, full of happy earthworms.
Coming to a farm in Georgia was a learning experience in itself. Having spent a season on an organic farm in California, I knew I had the practical knowledge to farm anywhere, but I didn’t realize that California has it real easy when it comes to organic farming. Its mild and semi-dry climate prevents a whole host of fungal diseases from thriving. Georgia, on the other hand, had the hot humidity that fungi love, and as a result, you have to be really smart about what you plant, and how to you tend it. Choosing vegetable varietals that originate from hot, humid climates, or that have been bred to thrive in them is vital to your success here. Probably the crop that has done the best this summer is one that I had never even heard of before I came here: Malabar spinach.
Malabar spinach is not related to the spinach we all know and love: it is actually a vine that is commonly grown in south and southeast Asia. It loves the heat and seems to grow overnight. We trained it on a wire fence where it formed a trellis so thick, you can barely see through it. It is one of the only greens that can not only survive, but flourish in a Georgia summer. Our tomatoes on the other hand, were not so lucky. They picked up not one, but three types of fungi: a fusarium wilt, early blight, and late blight. We were actually stymied as to what was going on at first, since not even Lynn had seen tomatoes with late blight before. (Incidentally, late blight is the same fungus that wiped out all the potato crops in Ireland, leading to the Irish Potato Famine.) We had to call in an expert from the UGA agricultural extension service. Dr. Garton came to our rescue by identifying these fungi and offering suggestions to deal with them organically. Using a combination of neem oil and compost tea with protective fungal inoculations, we were able to get a worthwhile tomato harvest.
After several months working at Cane Creek Farm, I have definitely learned a lot. From new farming techniques like the Florida Weave (a method of stringing up tomatoes), to new vegetable varieties, and, especially, a new understanding of my abilities to work in difficult conditions (like 100 degree heat, you know) I can confidently say this summer has opened my eyes to a lot of new aspects of farming. More importantly, however, is the knowledge that farming is a neverending learning process, and every new piece of information I pick up drives that home. There will always be new challenges and surprises ahead, and you always have to be on your toes to deal with them. Every season, every piece of land, every plant is different, so there is always something new to learn, and that is what keeps farming fun.
- Andrea Ness