Weeding Out Misconceptions: What I learned in my time at NSO

Ella P.
Thursday, May 25, 2017

I first came to North Star Orchard on my dad’s birthday (in 2012), when we planted the Bloody Ploughman apple tree in his honor. That visit lead to many questions -- what the heck is a Bloody Ploughman apple? Why does this farm not have any Red Delicious apples? Now I finally got the chance to work on this farm as an intern for my school’s senior independent project. What I’ve experienced is beyond anything I originally imagined. I realized after the first day that my preconceptions about farmers were much more dull than what a farmer actually is. I thought that farm work was easy and not complex. I thought all farmers do is plant some things here and some things there, and then eventually harvest them…boy was I wrong.

For instance, planting eggplants gets a lot more complex when Kevin, the garden manager, starts rattling off numbers that seem random to me and says “Okay, so 19. You got that?” This is only where the complexity begins. One Monday morning, while making over 300 soil blocks to put seeds into, I asked the greenhouse manager, Lena, what she thinks farming is. “Well,” she said, “farmers are more scientists than most people give them credit for.” And she’s right. Farming is very much an experiment with a lot of variables and not very many controls. Weather is the big variable that every farmer both loves and hates. It is completely unpredictable from year to year, and it is the biggest factor that goes into the survival of a crop. Also, if Ike wants to try out a new plant, that’s a gamble too. There is no way to tell how the plant is going to grow, taste, survive, etc.

Even from the start, when the seed is planted, there are many things that could go wrong. For example, Lena always plants more seeds than are needed for the field because there are always those seeds that don’t germinate for one reason or another. Sometimes there are very few that don’t germinate and other times most of the seeds don’t germinate, which leads farmers to have to change their original plan. Farmers have to anticipate, predict, and assume so much about what is going to happen because they have to plan things months and even years in advance. Then, when the times comes, that plan might have to change because uncontrollable variables force the farmer to adapt to whatever happened or didn’t happen to the crop.

In my experience on the farm, farming is also like a day care. At one point or another I have seen every farmer at North Star Orchard gently take care of a tree or plant because, really, they need to be nurtured in order to have the best growth and the best production. I’ve seen Ezra push straw away from baby peppers trying to keep them out of harm’s way. I saw Josh gently place clothespins on tiny, tiny apple trees to spread their branches and help them grow. I’ve seen Lena carefully plant seeds into soil blocks with the touch of a painters hand. I watched Ike go high in the trees thinning peaches in order to let some peaches grow big and beautiful. In my mind, a farmer’s job is to take care of these plants until they are ready to be put into the hands of eager customers: like a day care.

The last, but probably most warming thing, that I learned on this farm is that farming here creates a family. Ike and Lisa run the farm, but I never felt any overarching power dynamic on this farm. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: everyone is so inviting. The first day we all sat down for lunch I felt like I had been at that table for weeks and had already known these people. This is because everyone who works here loves their job, and their happiness is infectious. Whether they studied agricultural science, fine art, philosophy, forestry, plant science, plant biology, etc., they are all at North Star Orchard to farm and to learn more about farming, which creates a strong sense of togetherness while working on the farm. No one is less than and no one is left out. On top of all of that, everyone here has a joyous sense of humor that brings everyone together in laughter.

I am so thankful for my time on this farm because, even though it was short, I learned so much and grew as a person. I understand more about this mystery called farming that has intrigued me ever since I was little. Most of all, I know that I will somehow soon find my way back to North Star Orchard (probably to eat the delicious fruit!).

Editor's Note: Ella was a treat to have around for the 2 weeks she was here. She also was the resident selfie-taker. Pictured above: a few of the stellar NSO staff: (L-R) Alan, Ezra, Skylar, and blog post author Ella. We wish her all the best of luck in her journey to starting college this fall, and thank her for her help and smiles!