Hello, Penn State Student Farm community! This is Lex checking in. I hope everyone is well and enjoying some summer weather when they are able. With the pandemic persisting, uncertainty has become the new normal. And when dealing with the adversity of the unknown, we will persevere through our adaptability. While we wait to see what normal will look like for us, we want to share some updates on what the interns are up to on our current hiatus from the Student Farm.

Since my introductory post in April, I have tried my best to stay active with my passion for agriculture. Back home in Atlanta, my family and I built a quarantine garden! We had to start from scratch which meant pulling out ivy, trimming branches for more sunlight, and even building a retaining wall to reduce erosion. After the initial clearing, we had to amend the soil with nutrients. The soil at my house is a sandy loam which means it needs lots of organic material, such as compost, in order to have a healthy balance of nutrients and structure. This process took us a few weeks (I was still a full-time student) and really made me appreciate the challenges of starting a farm from scratch. Of course, our small front-yard garden is no farm, but the initial startup phase is crucial for setting yourself up for success. It is very difficult to treat your soil, add more sunlight, or change the slope or direction of your beds after transplanting your crops.
As we transitioned from April to May, our family garden became my pet-project: allowing me to nourish my enthusiasm for plants and provide healthy breaks from school and quarantine life. We planted a whole row of cherry tomatoes (sun golds and pink bumblebee), and peppers (padrones, jalapeños, and habaneros), along with basil, cilantro, cucumber, ground cherry, and cantaloupe plants. I particularly enjoyed setting up a drip irrigation system to water our garden as a part of our internship training class. Sarah Bett, Brady Adams, and I created an instructional drip irrigation video and I was able to film the installation portion. Be sure to check it out!
However, as it got closer to June I prepared to migrate back to State College to prepare for the internship. Unfortunately, I would not be able to reap the fruits of the garden I worked to create; but for me the benefit was in creating it. As an Agricultural Engineer, my enjoyment came from building and transforming our front yard into a farming project. However, it turns out that no one would be enjoying the fruits of the garden. At least no human would be. My parents delivered the heartbreaking news that deer had converted our garden into their personal salad bar. An unfortunate consequence that I am grateful I did not have to witness, but in our failure there is opportunity! Opportunity to learn and improve upon past mistakes.
Instead of joining the Student Farm when I arrived back in State College, I was able to find work on a local organic farm called Plowshare Produce outside of Huntington. This farm is about 5 acres with a wide variety of crops including onions, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers, lettuce, and so much more. For the past month and a half, I have been spending my days outside in the sun helping cultivate amazing produce for our CSA members. I love working on a farm with such a diverse crop share. There are so many subtle techniques to learn for each vegetable to help it thrive that you only learn through experience and repetition. For example, did you know that some weeds are edible?! Wood sorrel and purslane are two very common weeds on the farm. Wood sorrel has a bitter lemon flavor, while purslane resembles “chewing gum with no flavor!” creatively said by one of the family’s boys.
My daily tasks can range from harvesting to maintenance, such as weeding, setting up drip irrigation, or transitioning beds for a new crop. Tuesdays and Fridays are our CSA days. On these days community work share members come in the mornings to help harvest. Then we spend the rest of the day washing the produce and organizing it into shares. While spending every day outside is a great perk, my favorite is being able to take home seconds, produce that usually doesn’t meet the quality standards for CSA shares. Having a fridge full of fresh produce that I helped grow is beyond rewarding.

It is easy for me to get lost in the routine of farm labor and temporarily forget there is a pandemic, social injustice, and that the illusion of “normal” is just that. An illusion. I am beyond grateful for my opportunity to breathe fresh air, move my body, touch plants and the soil, and have a few hours of “normal.” I hope that my fellow interns are doing well in their time away from the Student Farm and I hope we can create a new normal this fall.