Two weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to “audition” for a season-long internship position at Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville, NY. My audition consisted of two full-days of work at the farm, beginning bright and early on a Tuesday morning and finishing at 4 on Wednesday. I’m amazed at what I could learn just a short time; here is a brief recap of the varying tasks I completed the first day and some of what I learned from each task.
7-10 AM: Untangle, sort and bundle row covers.
If you are ever out in a field, you may notice black plastic lining each row. This black plastic is put down when seeding the field. Where each seed is placed, a hole in the black plastic is punched to allow the seed space to grow. Importantly, the plastic is black as to attract the suns rays.
Late last fall—just before the first freeze of the year—the Kilpatricks planted a few rows of hardy green vegetables that can weather the winter (think kale). Each row was covered and left, untouched, through the cold winter months. My first task at the farm was to help gather the row covers no longer needed. The covers which had not been ripped from winter winds were rolled and saved for later use (some we laid out on different rows that same day). Damaged row covers were gathered and bundled for recycling.
10-10:30 AM: Spread straw around rhubarb plants.
Spreading straw between growing plants helps protect weeds from taking root and makes ongoing cultivation all that much easier as the season progresses.
10:30-12:30 AM: Wash bins.
When you go to a farmers’ market, you’ll most likely notice all of the bins…bins of turnips, bins of onions, bins of garlic, bins of pretty much anything and everything available for sale that week. If you are a member of a CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture), you may also be familiar with stacks of brightly colored bins filled with veggies. It’s a seemingly obvious thing, but every week, these bins must be washed, dried and prepped for use at the upcoming market.
I’m sure every farm/farmer has a system for this weekly task. I’m also pretty sure that on warm days in the summer, farm crew members compete for a spot at the washing table as it’s not a question of if you will get wet, but just how wet.
2-3 PM: Sort onions for market.
In winter and early spring vegetable farmers like the Kilpatricks stock their market stands each week with vegetables they’ve stored throughout the winter in modern-day root cellars. Because vegetables stored over the course of several months are subject to spoilage and bruising, each onion is placed into one of three categories:
- Firsts: Perfect, or near perfect vegetables. These are set aside for individual sale at farmers’ markets
- Seconds: Bruised, blemished or otherwise “not-quite-pretty” vegetables that are still suitable for use but are less likely to sell. These vegetables are collected into and sold as “soup bundles” at the markets or sold wholesale to nearby restaurants.
- Thirds: Just plain rotten. Nothing pretty about these guys. Sent to the compost bin and added to soil as natural organic material.
3-4 PM: Pull up last year’s pepper plants in preparation for this year’s planting.
Peppers are annual plants—meaning their life-cycle is just one year. The plants left-over from last year, now dead, needed to be pulled and discarded in the compost pile.
The Kilpatrick’s garage was filled with bins of garlic leftover from last year’s harvest. My job: to sort through the bulbs, discard the “mushy” ones (to be composted) and separate the cloves of the non-mushy bulbs which will be grounded into and sold as garlic powder.