A day in the life of a high school farmer
Meet Olivia. . .
This blog is written by Olivia DiMichele, a recent graduate of Hotchkiss School who decided to spend the growing season with us this year as a part of our first ever Gap Season program. She arrived in June, joining in with a family as part of a home stay and equipped only with a bike and a map of Missoula and a schedule of where to be when. She made a wonderful summer out of it! We were lucky to have her to test out the ropes: motivated, hard working, and full of enthusiasm, she certainly made a difference. So here she is, to tell the season from her perspective.
I’m an 18 year old from Houston, Texas, and I’ve spent most of the summer and the beginning of the fall working as an Intern for Garden City Harvest as a part of my gap year between high school and college. The goal of the gap year internship is to experience all facets of the non-profit. I worked at three neighborhood farms, three community gardens, two school gardens and spent one week in the office during my time here. I have loved every minute of these three and a half months, and all the sides of Garden City Harvest that I’ve seen. I’d say my experience with Garden City Harvest has been a unique one, as many people who benefit from one aspect of their work seldom come in contact with the rest. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time working in many of the different programs and with almost every single one of the Garden City Harvest staff members.
Here’s an example of what a day might look like for me:
I bet some people imagine farmers start their day at the crack of dawn, as soon as the rooster crows. And I’m sure some farmers do, but since we don’t have any roosters at the PEAS farm, we start at 8. I hop off my bike a few minutes before anyone shows up, and am greeted by a comforting farm silence. Although farm silence, in fact, isn’t really silence at all. Today, chickens peck the ground in search of worms, wasps buzz in an apple tree nearby, and the wind rustles through corn husks.
The “quiet" only lasts for a moment, as University of Montana students and Youth Harvest participants to trickle in, armed with coffee and ready to tackle the morning. Let's say it’s Monday, which means it’s a harvest day. 52 families will show up for CSA tonight from 4:30-6:30 to pick up a glorious bounty of fruits and vegetables, and it’s our job to make that happen in the next four hours.
My first task is harvesting 52 heads of broccoli with Ian, the PEAS Farm Caretaker. While we take care to pick the best, most delicious looking heads and trim them adequately, we chat about our lives and the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. 52 sounds like a lot, but in just about half an hour we’ve filled three green totes to the top with gorgeous green flower buds. We fill up Jerry (one of our PEAS pick-ups) and Ian drives the cargo back to the barn as I scan the farm looking for anyone who might need help.
I see Mallory and Miriam harvesting summer squash. I begin to walk over to them just as Mallory throws a zucchini up in the air and slices through it with her harvest knife yelling “30 points!” I laugh and begin to walk the other way. Once we begin playing fruit ninja on a certain task, you can assume we’re almost done.
I run into Josh, the Farm Director, on my way back to the barn and he tells me a few people could use my help with basil. WOOHO! I LOVE harvesting basil. Partly because the tiny bouquets we make of the leaves are adorable, but mainly because you leave the farm smelling of basil for the rest of the day. And who doesn’t love that smell? It reminds me of rainy days spent dancing around the kitchen with my siblings as my father cooked his famous spaghetti sauce.
For me, nostalgia can be found on any corner of the 10 acre farm. I grew up with a father who loves to cook, in a household where most family time was spent in the kitchen. Often times, particularly strong vegetable smells or tastes will trigger some memory I would hardly remember otherwise.
I begin daydreaming about those days spent at home in the kitchen but am snapped out of it by a small, hoarse, “Meooow.”
“OPHIE!” I say and scoop Ophelia, the 15 year old farm cat, up into my arms, dropping all the basil leaves I held.
She tolerates my hug for a few moments then begins to squirm. I give her one more squeeze and then put her down so she can continue her prowl. I gather the dropped basil leaves and assemble the 52nd and last needed bouquet. Recognizing that we’ve finished, each member of the basil team, today, Catie, Kevin and I, exchanges a high five and grab a 3lb bag of basil bunches and we drop them in the cooler on our way to the beans.
The last harvests of the day are always beans and raspberries. These are crops that we harvest all we can of in a certain amount of time instead of counting them out like we do with broccoli and basil. As people finish their various other tasks around the farm they’ll make their way over to us and help harvest beans. We gather buckets full for about an hour, and then switch over and do the same with raspberries.
When someone’s watch strikes 12 and they yell, “Its noon,” and the work day is over. Well, at least it is for the University of Montana students and Youth Harvest farmers. My work day is only half over. But first, we all eat lunch together.
Each day, two PEAS students peel away from their work to cook a delicious lunch for all of us. Today, Harrison and Kirstyn made a summer salad, pasta with pesto, roasted potatoes and beets, and rice with tomatoes and other veggies. These PEAS lunches are some of the best meals I’ve ever had! There’s nothing better than coming into the barn from a hot, sticky, summer workday and being greeted by the smell of the some of the freshest and healthiest food you can find. Food just simply tastes better when you helped grow it. It also tastes better when it goes right from the ground to the kitchen.
After the morning at PEAS, I bike down to one of the other Garden City Harvest neighborhood farms, rotating my days between the three, working with them until about 5 pm. After saying goodbye and wishing everybody a great one, I whiz down Duncan Drive en route to River Road Farm. The 4 mile bike ride takes me about 20-25 minutes and I usually arrive just before 1 pm.
“Olivia!” Farm Director, Greg Price yells at me as I roll up to the four acre spot right off the Clark Fork River.
“Greg!” I yell back. “What’s up?”
“We had a big group of volunteers here this morning so we finished most of our harvest early. You can join Sam and Aspen thinning the second succession of carrots.”
“Okie dokie,” I say but before I head to the carrots, I beeline for the water spigot because MAN IS IT HOT. The need to stay hydrated is so very real. After a few chugs from my water bottle I plop down next to Aspen, the farm apprentice, and Sam, the farm Assistant, in the carrot bed. The little carrots are so small! Thinning is a very easy task but it still always kind of stresses me out. I never want to pull out toooooo many carrots, but you have to pull out enough so that the ones that remain have enough room to grow. It’s definitely a delicate science. Sam is in the middle of telling Aspen a story about how one of her cats, Puppycat, gets incredibly cuddly and loving when he’s hungry. She says that even though she knows he’s only doing it to get food out of her, she’ll take it because he’s rarely so affectionate. I join in with a story about one of my kitties, and we keep chatting and chatting until the task is done.
“Okay guys,” Greg calls, “Let’s go do summer squash.” I figure they didn’t harvest summer squash with the volunteer group from earlier because of the prickliness of the plants. Before we walk out there, Greg pulls on his “squash plant protection suit,” which is really just sweatpants and a sweatshirt, but it works! He doesn’t come back from the beds with a slightly stinging rash up his legs and arms like the rest of us. But I don’t really mind the prickles. Did you really even farm if you don’t go home with some sort of rash?
At around 3:45 pm we begin to set up for the CSA. At River Road, that means arranging wax boxes full of produce on long tables along the side of the shed and cleaning the surrounding area. As we’re preparing I notice there’s a craaaaazy amount of food today and I wonder how someone could eat all these vegetables in a week. Greg reminds me that the CSA is tailored towards families, and that he often encourages members to look into preservation techniques to help the produce last as long as possible or maybe even through the winter. Food preservation is something I never really thought of until I came out to Montana. Actually, there are a lot of things I’ve learned here that I had never thought of before. Not only have I learned more than I could’ve imagined about the technical side of sustainable farming, I’ve learned a lot about life and how I want to live my life in the future. Because that’s the kind of experience you gain by working so closely with so many inspiring and hardworking people, and that describes everyone who works for Garden City Harvest.
Once the CSA gets rolling at around 4:30 pm, Greg says, “You all can leave a little early tonight. It’s hot and we got a lot done today.”
It’s always impressive when a smaller farm like River Road can get other things besides the harvest done on harvest days. I look over to the two whole beds of perfectly thinned carrots and feel the familiar mix of exhaustion and pride begin to bubble up in my stomach as I acknowledge my day is over.
“Yayayay thanks Greg. Can I take a head of cauliflower home with me?”
“Olivia! How many times do we have to tell you, you can take as much food as you want.”
“Okay okay, just checking again! Have a great night!” I say as I shove the snow white head of cauliflower into my bag and hop onto my bike.
“Okay you too Olivia, thanks for all your help,” Greg smiles back.
I begin my ride home up the north hill, and think about the day I just had. Leisurely cruising along the River Trail, I welcome the cool breeze that floats up off the surface of the Clark Fork River. This morning feels so long ago because of how many tasks were packed into the day. It was definitely a good day. But honestly, any day I spend outside with my hands in the dirt is a good day. And lucky for me, I get to do the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next day!