Friday, March 19, 2010

Song remains the same, the farm changes

And, for the last time (we absolutely mean it), we have switched farms.

After our trying search led us to accept a position at the fantastic-sounding Seven Meadows, we got a second phone call from a place called Mesa Winds Farm. Located in Hotchkiss, Colo., and run by the wonderfully named Max and Wink (Max is the wife), MWF sits on the beautiful Gunnison River and lies in close proximity to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Delicious scenery aside, the farm itself is focused on its fruit orchard for market selling and CSA, as well as a variety of vegetable crops both for the house and for sale. Wink is interested in agritourism and would like help developing a marketing program. And they will be taking on sheep this spring mainly to help trim and fertilize the orchard. (Plus, obviously, there's some fishing to be had.)

Oh, and they offer nearly five times the pay of the stipend at Seven Meadows, plus workman's comp.

Now we had previously said that what was important to us above all was the education. Since Seven Meadows has a farm-to-table dining operation, which is our ultimate goal, and because of their work with "earthship" construction and rotational farming and a number of other factors, not the least of which was a fantastic vibe that we got from talking to Laurie who interviewed us, we thought, you know, this was the place.

But five times the pay and workman's comp insurance? It's a lot to consider.

When we had done our conversations with Max at MWF, she seemed more serious about it, treating it like a job. I looked into their education program and the first statement is that they don't have a set curriculum. All of this was a little off-putting, and it seemed like Seven Meadows was still our best option. But, reading the entirety of what they offer in education, I noticed that MWF does get in guest speakers, offers resources for independent study, conducts discussions on what we're learning, and provides field trips and trades to other farms so that we can broaden our base. Seven Meadows does most of this too.

But five times the pay and workman's comp insurance?

So we thought about it and decided that, starting out, it might be better to work where we can save. After all, we are going into this with virtually nothing and we'll likely be coming out the other side with only what we manage to keep our hands on. Seven Meadows seemed more appropriate for college kids with a safety net waiting back home.

I'm making all of this sound a little presumptuous. After our second phone interview with MWF, we weren't automatically accepted. In fact, we weren't supposed to hear back for another week. And I started getting jittery again. Yeah, the worst that could happen would be that they would say no and we would go on to Seven Meadows, which was still an awesome place to be going. Still, I was also thinking about, well, the money.

I'm not wrong about this, am I? Money is kinda important here. We're not talking about living like kings. We're talking about surviving winter.

I knew the most likely hurdle to us getting a place at MWF was coming as a couple. So Lindsay and I talked about the idea of splitting up for the summer. Would it really be so bad, we thought, if one of us went on to Seven Meadows and the other to MWF? They're only a couple hours apart and then we'd be learning from two different styles.

I wrote MWF and told them that, if they needed to, they could consider only taking one of us.

Apparently, this is what put us over the edge. Max wrote that they had made their decision and our "offer to 'divide and conquer' proves our commitment to farm no matter what." And so we have been accepted to Mesa Winds!

Which comes with a sad little p.s.: They don't want us to bring our cat. So now on to that dilemma.

(The photo at the top comes from the Mesa Winds photojournal of friends of the farm.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Folks, I gotta tell you, Lindsay and I were getting pretty worried.

After two of the farms we were going out to visit turned us down before we got there, we were left with only the three real prospects. We decided to start applying to more of them. Though I had floated a lot of applications back in October and November, many of them hadn't responded. So Lindsay set about contacting as many as she could, usually about five a day. Just in case.

Of course, we were actually thinking we were going to have to choose between the other three and we were weighing pros and cons. The one we decided we wanted the most was Rancho Durazno.

Then Rancho Durazno turned us down. The problem was housing, mostly, in that it's more of a risk to house a couple and then several other interns than it is to house a bunch of single interns. We certainly understood and we wish them only the best.

We were left waiting to hear back from Frog Belly and Black Cat, both of which would have been excellent.

We never heard back from Black Cat and Frog Belly kept putting off their decision, though everything had gone so well with Frog Belly, we figured we were a shoe in there.

Still, we kept talking to others. A lot of them turned us down without an interview. The big reason seemed to be that this year, there was a massive influx of people like us, so, with so many to choose from, people were avoiding the risks associated with taking on a couple. Or they wanted their interns to be local. Or they realized they wouldn't need full time interns because so many people were coming from around the area and volunteering. All of which makes me smile for the culture, but a little troubled from a personal perspective.

I'd been joking that if we'd done this a few years ago, they would have written stories about us on MSN. And that this year, we were following the crowd that had read those stories. Then that stopped being a joke.

We had some phone interviews, and though things always sounded like they were going well, I wasn't ever as sure as I used to be. I just didn't know where our real problems were, or if they were fundamental, like that no one would take a couple ever again.

Then came the rejection from Frog Belly and I began to devolve into breakdown mode.

I certainly didn't want to post about it. Maybe I should have, but it all just felt so depressing. Sure, I could have posted this article about "crop mobs," but my heart just wasn't in it. (Plus my friend Jessica at Orlando Weekly had already posted it. She, by the way, has left OW now, and we already miss her.) I also could have posted the letter that I wrote to the crop mob organization, and then their very heartening response.

But fortunately, right at that time, Lindsay and I got an offer. It was from Mesa Farm Market in Utah. It's a wonderful operation, focused on goats and breadmaking, with diversified vegetable crops and fruit trees. The whole setup is so lovely that we are set within seconds to go out there the first week of May.

And then the good news kept rolling. The next day, we get accepted to Seven Meadows Farm, perfect for us given their focus on farm-to-table dining, their projects with passive solar construction and, well, just the general vibe of everything about them.

There was still some deliberation to be had. Mesa Farm has a higher stipend and we are interested in goats and cheese. Seven Meadows encourages individual projects.

At the end of a lot of discussion, we realized our educational focus should be our top choice, and on April 25, we will be headed out for Seven Meadows in Mancos, Colorado.

Oddly enough, we haven't received any positives since, so it was just the two, but what a wonderful two. Breathing is easier now, and everything looks ... well, we know there are more challenges ahead, but it feels so good to have this one out of the way.

We have farm to go to, folks. We're really doing this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Doveland Farm, Colorado Edition

Hello, all! Just returned from our lovely-mazing-tastic visit to Colorado. We got to hang out with friends and experience firsthand a few of the farms considering us for internships.

First of all, can I say that every time someone carries on to you about how gorgeous Colorado is, you can safely assume it's true?

Second of all, we visited a total of three farms.

Frog Belly and Black Cat were both named for animals and both located near Boulder. Black Cat has a lovely restaurant in the city proper called (you guessed it) the Black Cat Farm to Table Bistro. The Happy Doves ate their anniversary dinner in the restaurant, accompanied by James and Joy, their fabulous Boulder hosts. James and Joy are longtime friends of The Happy Doves, and have been living in Boulder about two years now.

We only dream of taking on an internship that allows us to grow and serve such amazing food! Thanks to Eric and everyone on the Black Cat team.

Frog Belly Farm features a number of dairy animals, two controlled climate areas where produce is grown, and several acres of outdoor growing space.

We were lucky enough to arrive around the same time that they hosted a planting festival for St. Bride's Day. We rose early to
help milk the goats, then got in on the fun as guests wove compost materials to offer to Mother Earth and gathered in a circle to sing, dance and rejoice for the coming spring. Thanks to Frog Belly for hosting us!

Rancho Durazno was a four-hour drive from Boulder, nearer to Grand Junction in the small town of Palisade. Like many farms in that area, they grow peaches (who knew?); but they are also a diverse operation that offers a well-stocked Community Supported Agriculture program. We toured the farm, enjoyed an excellent ale at a local brewery, and spoke extensively with the program's directors about what to expect if we're chosen to intern. Everywhere we looked, another gorgeous and completely un-Floridian sight awaited us. We loved the farm, the area, and our generous hosts. Thank you, Rancho Durazno!

Last but not least, thanks to Tamara and Matt, who introduced us to Duffy's Cherry Cricket in Denver (where we had awesome burgers) and then put us up for our last night in town. This allowed us some proximity to the airport and the ability to wander around Denver at our leisure in the morning; not to mention a fabulous breakfast of eggs and scones cooked by Tamara, Trevor's close friend since middle school. Thanks, Tamara and Matt!

Overall we had a smashing good time and hope very much to hear from the lovely farms we visited in the near future.