Summer Intern Katy Woodall ’18 “Slays” Vines at Welcome Table Farm in Walla Walla, WA

I drag myself out of bed in the early light of day in time for a hearty breakfast of oats and almonds before I hop on my bike to ride out toward the countryside. The bright morning sun makes the Blues glow against a cloud-streaked expanse of sky.

When I arrive at Welcome Table Farm, I am greeted by the rest of the crew and the day’s work begins. We often start with harvest. Lately, we’ve been unearthing lots of beets, potatoes, and carrots–how exciting to discover a delicious world of taproots and tubers just below the surface of the soil! Then it’s on to washing greens at the wash stand, weeding the flower garden, or seeding lettuce. We work until 1 when we convene for a group lunch, which we eagerly anticipate all morning. Last (but not least!), a dip in the creek is just the thing to round out the day and make the ride home in the afternoon heat bearable.

After working on the farm for a month and a half, I am beginning to know the plants better through watching them grow, caring for them, and harvesting from them week after week. Farming requires a deep understanding of plants, soil, and weather systems and how they work together. It also requires knowledge of humans and how we can encourage plants to do the things we want them to do by changing the conditions in which they grow.  I am only beginning to see and understand how land and life work together. I have so much more to learn, but thankfully Emily, my supervisor, and the more experienced farm interns are always willing to share knowledge, explain why we do the things we do, and reflect on different techniques and decisions.

Tomatoes are the vine that I have gotten to know the best; we’ve spent a lot of time together mostly because they are rather attention demanding. My first week at the farm, the plants were still small so we weeded around them to give them space to grow. A couple weeks later we constructed trellises in the field out of twine, stakes, and wire (which was no small task!). The following week, most of the plants were big enough for us to pick strong leaders and start training them up the trellis’.

This week was the most tomato-intensive one yet. We pruned the plants back because they were getting too big and bushy for their own good! They had gotten so busy that they couldn’t support their limbs and stand upright, which makes the fruit is impossible to see or it ends up on the ground, where it rots. So we set to work hacking away branch after branch, pinching suckers and cutting away everything but the main fruiting limbs. Fiona, our charismatic CSA manager, and I remarked the other day that farming often involves more killing things than growing them (yikes)! Honestly, tomatoes are nice friendly plants and after hanging around them for awhile I had developed emotional bonds, but once I had clippers in hand I quickly became a vicious vine slayer. Even amidst all the hacking we have to be super careful and gentle because tomato vines are brittle things and snap in an instant if you bend them a little out of their comfort zone. Pruning tomato plants requires aggression and decisiveness balanced with tenderness and care. Like many things in life, it is a paradoxical and multifaceted process. Ultimately, after all that trimming and cutting, we are left with a lovely two-vine plant that can direct most of its energy toward developing fruit! And, once the tomatoes ripen, we can spot and harvest all of its plumpest and prettiest!

Pruning tomatoes for hours upon hours has given me lots of time to reflect on farming as a practice and what it means to grow food. Farming connects us with the land base and natural world, establishing a relationship that helps us shift away from the paradigm of ownership and exploitation and toward one that respects the earth as a living collection of beings that we have the responsibility of caring for in return for the bounty that it provides us. Ultimately, I think that learning to grow our own food is an important act of self-sufficiency that gives us deeper appreciation for the plants, land, and communities that nourish us.

Experiences like Katy’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.

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