Sustainable Ag Career Studies Certificate

It is the end of a season. I’ve finished my classes. I’ve done my internship. I’ve earned my certificate (Sustainable Agriculture, if you really want to know). The last year and a half has been really rewarding and, to be perfectly honest, the closing of this chapter is a little bittersweet.

I started taking classes after being introduced to the program by the Whole Farm Planning for Beginners class (it’s complicated, but it’s a relationship between Virginia Tech, the Extension office, and the Virginia Association for Biological Farming).

The first class I took was Bio-Intensive Mini-Farming and we talked about why people might want to grow their own food, how to take care of the soil, and the way everything is interdependent/interrelated. We kept journals (it was great for seeing how much I learned over the course of the semester) and completed projects that were (and are still) incredibly useful. I was hooked. I talked to Tony about doing the rest of Betsy’s classes and we concluded that it made sense, given where I want to go, to complete the career studies certificate.

At the same time, I was convinced that I also wanted practical experience. It was awfully convenient that the school had an organic vegetable garden managed by a woman who’d already taken all the classes I was planning to take. Toni (the manager of the organic vegetable garden) manages the garden using the same principles that are taught in Betsy’s classes. In addition, to get the career studies certificate, I needed a certain number of internship hours – which the organic vegetable garden could provide. How much better does it get?

I continued working in the vegetable garden over the summer. It was a long drive, but only once a week and there were so many things I valued about working out there: the people I worked with were amazing, the fact that the food from the garden went to the food pantry was awesome, and the things I was learning were incredibly useful. Volunteers came and went, but there wasn’t a single person who came who was hard to get along with and everyone had something useful to offer.

Fall came and I took three classes (after having not been in more than one class for over a year, that was kind of crazy). That semester was tough. I had a class I didn’t really care much about and two classes I loved (one about producing food in the “off-season” and one about growing for market). I worked in the garden two days a week and learned to love the things I was doing even more.

Over Christmas break, I didn’t really do much at school – things at home were crazy and we were gone a lot. This past semester, I took only one class to finish out the requirements (farming for your whole diet…not my favorite class, but I learned a lot) and went back to only one day in the garden (that turned out to be a good thing since we also moved).

And now, I’m moving on to new things. I’m sad that the future holds less of the people I’ve come to admire so much, but I’m looking forward to creating in my own space. This is a new chapter with new characters. I just hope that some of the characters from previous chapters show up every once in a while – I like them.

School Garden Results

I’ve been working in the organic vegetable garden at school. It’s kind of a long story, but the program I’m interested in requires a certain number of internship hours. I got involved in the garden at school and, while the internship hours are important, I’m most interested in the experience. I’ve learned a lot since February. Watching the way the garden changes from winter to spring; spring to summer; summer to fall; and now, fall to winter, has been amazing.

In the beginning, at least two of us spent a lot of time planting seeds and transplanting them into larger pots/flats. Then, when spring really hit, we spent a lot of time moving things out. Then growth really hit. We spent a lot of time harvesting what little food there was in the garden and trying to keep up with the weeds. There are 18 beds that are at least 100 square feet each. There were at least five of us working, but that just wasn’t enough with the hours we had available. Spring bled into summer and we had more produce to harvest and we fell further behind on the weeds. Many of the people we had for the spring semester left and we only gained one new person over the summer who had about as many hours as I did (which didn’t cover all of the people leaving).

Then, when the new semester started, we got several people who had lots of time available and were hard workers. We’ve gotten more than caught up (helps that the weather changed and the weeds started slowing down) and it’s really nice to have the garden looking presentable again.

Now, the fall is fading to winter. I was kind of shocked when I went to school this morning after two frosts/freezes last week…there was so much dead stuff. I knew that I should expect things to be a little sad, but it was so barren. Even though things have been winding down, the plants were still producing something, but now, the plants are completely destroyed. We spent our time today taking out some of the plants that died. There’s going to be more work to do tomorrow, but with as many people and hours as we have now, I think we’ll be caught up pretty soon.

The really great thing about the garden, though, is that the food we harvest goes to the local food pantry. I appreciate that the resources I’ve invested in the project do more than just give me credits and experience. Anyway, we got a letter from the food pantry that said we’d sent over 1,000 pounds of food!

Tricycle Garden

Last week, one of my classes went to Tricycle Gardens for a farm tour. We got there and had some time to wander around. These pictures do nothing to show how amazing the gardens are. Two blocks before you arrive at the farm, you’re in the part of town that makes you squirm – because you don’t feel like you belong…you stick out like a sore thumb. But then, you walk onto the farm property and it’s like you’ve been transported to another world. It’s peaceful and beautiful and productive.
 
The weather had just turned from fairly chilly early spring to summer heat, so the coverings had been removed from all the season extending buildings (it was close to 90ºF the day we went).

One thing of the things that I thought was really interesting was the water system. They have a spigot at the neighboring duplex apartment building, but they built these water catching systems in the middle of the garden. They’re just big buckets for the water, under a roof with a gutter to capture the water. They’re stacked on pallets to make them tall enough to produce reasonable water pressure without a pump. That was pretty cool. And they’re not even that ugly. You’d think something that was so practical wouldn’t be terribly attractive, but I think it’s the arrangement of the tubs that makes a huge difference.

The thing that really impressed me was that the group that is doing the garden is so interested in staying open to the community. Although they’ve had a few instances of people taking advantage of their attempts to be neighborly (there’ve been a few instances of vandalism – I don’t know if it’s only on other farms or also on this one), they are very interested in not putting in a fence or a gate. They’ve delineated their boundaries with berries, but the entrance is not closed off in any way. It seems to be working for them too…for the most part, people seem to give them the respect that you might try to get with a fence, but without telling the neighbors that they aren’t interested in being a part of the community.

Let’s Play Catch-Up (Again)

School was killer this semester. I managed to pull of a GPA of 1.9 or something. It wasn’t what I wanted and I’m not going to give you details (I’m still a bit sensitive about it), but I’ve learned a lot (outside of what you get in a book) this semester. This is learning I wouldn’t have chosen to gain, but don’t regret having. Things like how to fail a semester (basically) with grace (hopefully). Or things like learning to ask for help before it’s too late. And things like my happiness used to far too dependent on grades (I had no idea how important they were to me). We’ll see how long these things last.

The holidays have been horribly busy. Thanksgiving, we went up to Aunt Jane’s house for the annual get-together. On the way back home from Maryland, we stopped at Tony’s parents’ house to celebrate with them. The Sunday following Thanksgiving was the Cortez gathering. Then there was Christmas. We had Christmas with the Cortez family on Christmas Eve, drove up on Christmas Day to spend the weekend with Tony’s family, and we have Mom still to celebrate with. It’s been busy.

Class starts in a week. Dean Papovich suggested I take a J-term class to help me adjust further to UVa, so I am enrolled in that class. We’ll see how that goes.

Of course, the best news is the snow that we had dumped on us. We had somewhere between 18 and 21 inches the weekend before Christmas! It’s the most snow I’ve ever seen at one time and I was thrilled. Even now, there is still snow covering grass in most places. We didn’t play much in it, but we walked out in it several times. I was really glad to have all my riding gear – my feet stayed dry. The roads are finally plowed (after about half a week) and we are moving about freely again. I took some pictures, so hopefully those will show up eventually.

As for news, that’s the latest. Now back to preparing for that class….