By Tegan Moore, Farm Fellow
On May 1st, just three weeks ago, I arrived at AMI's Allegheny Farm just as snow was beginning to fall. The three hour drive from Richmond to the farm had taken me through many emotions: nerves to meet my cohort, excitement for all I was about to learn, and a little bit of fear for the unknown – about what the next six months would hold. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed by Jessa, her family, and Paxton (who enthusiastically helped me unpack my over-packed car. Thank you!). I immediately felt the peaceful excitement of arriving in a new, comforting, and welcoming place creep over me; the rollercoaster of emotions from the drive had dissipated. All of my belongings were put into my bedroom (the only room with an orange wall!), and I moved my car to the upper lot. On the walk back down to the lodge, I remember taking my time. I took in the majestic forest around me, I danced a bit as I walked through the lightly falling snow; I thought about what this new place could potentially offer up in the forms of knowledge (of both farming and of life), adventure, and growth. I could not help but smile. Now, as I sit here in that room with the orange wall (my own personal trinkets and pictures scattered across it – so quickly this space has come to feel like home), writing to you, I feel drawn to share just a few of the things AMI has offered to me thus far.
The first week of the Farm Fellowship was not one I think any of us were expecting: snow coated the ground in a thick, heavy layer and it never seemed to stop falling from the sky. The snow meant that the schedule was a bit thrown off and most of our farming was done indoors in the green house, high tunnel, and caterpillar tunnels. I was so grateful to be cozy in those structures amongst the ever growing spinach, carrots, and radishes. This first week shared with me the first of many things that I have learned since starting the Fellowship: even when there is a solid plan, sometimes you will have to adapt and overcome to adjust to the real life circumstances of the moment (this really comes in handy during my second week!). Throughout that snowy week, I was constantly in awe of how the people surrounding me were so kind, understanding, and happy to work with the snow instead of begrudgingly trying to stick to the original plan. I hope to keep their spirit of adaptability and understanding with me for the many days ahead where I know I cannot perfectly plan every single moment.
By the second week, the snow had mostly melted away and the sun warmed up the farm nicely by 10am. We were able to work outdoors and we also began our chore rotation; it felt like we were beginning to see what life on the Allegheny Farm would look like on a more regular day-to-day basis. My first chore assignment was “Farm Chores.” Farm chores include opening and closing all of the garden structures, feeding the laying hens, gathering eggs, and eventually taking care of the one-day-old broiler chicks.
The broilers arrived on the Friday of that second week. Together, we all prepared their new home: a large metal bin with wood shavings for bedding, two feeding trays, a round, green water trough, and a heat lamp. We quickly gave up on resisting the urge to name all of them and started to identify different chicks as Oddball, Oakly, and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, just to name a few. I was almost through my week of farm chores (as we lovingly refer to as “chicken chores”), when on just the second day of the broiler chicks' lives, just as I was preparing their second dinner ever, their sun exploded!
Yes, you read that right, the heat lamp exploded, raining glass down over the newly hatched (and somehow, unbothered) chicks. Quickly, the lesson I had learned from week one kicked in and I abandoned all plans of feeding and watering the chicks to: I have to get these chicks away from all of this shattered glass! I moved the chicks back into the box that they had arrived in (which they had nearly outgrown roughly 36 hours later), dumped and washed all of their food and water vessels, and completely replaced the bedding and returned the chicks to their home. After figuring out why the heat lamp had exploded (too high wattage of the bulb for the casing it was in), I was able to replace the bulb into a suitable casing and the chicks’ sunlight was restored! This experience taught me to always check the packaging on the compatibility of equipment that you are using and also reaffirmed that at any second you may have to adapt or adjust to the circumstances of the current moment.
By week three of the Fellowship, already with so much more understanding of what these six months will offer me, I had begun to feel at home here and comfortable with the routine of things. The third week had much to offer: a two-day mushroom workshop lead by former fellow, Charlie, an introduction to the lovely community of Monterey at the plant sale and community dinner, and training on the BCS. The BCS is a walk-behind mini tractor that has a variety of attachments for many different farming needs. We were trained on how to use the BCS for tilling, bed making, and bed shaping.
Though I was so excited to begin using the BCS, one round of training had me feeling discouraged and nervous; my arms wobbling like jell-o, I felt as though I would never quite get comfortable using this heavy machine in the field. How could I possibly make a good bed if I could not even till in a straight line in an open field filled with chickweed? Through many frustrating attempts at tilling, I eventually began to understand how the BCS ran and maneuvered across the field. I started to feel confident in my ability to control the machine and had let go of the sense of “perfect” that I had been holding myself to: I was learning, it was completely alright to make a few mistakes. By the end of the week, I was able to create fairly decent beds and once again felt excited about getting to use the BCS in the future. The BCS taught me to have more patience with myself; I should not expect my first try at everything to be perfect or easy because some things that are worth learning are really difficult to get a grasp on, but not impossible. My experience with the BCS is another lesson that I hope to carry with me throughout my life: it showed to me that I need to have more understanding and grace with myself when learning new skills and working with new machinery because the expectation for new understanding is not perfection; the expectation is simply to give it your best, keep trying, and allow yourself to learn without becoming frustrated by your lack of mastery.
Though I have only been a Fellow with AMI for three weeks, I have already learned more than I could have ever imagined before arriving and have only shared a tiny tid-bit of those things with you here. I have not mentioned the lessons in friendship and personal relations; the joy I have felt from the countless kind and authentic people I have met; the experience of learning about native medicinal plants; or even the Plant Families and Biodynamic Farming Principles that we discuss in our weekly meetings (I suppose those will all be reserved for future blog posts!). But I have shared with you some of the things that have resonated with me most in these first three weeks. I look forward to sharing with you as the next six months progress!