Center for Environment & Population (CEP)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

“Organic Agriculture, Changing Things One Community at a Time”

By Sarah Petro, Villanova University

CEP Internship Blog Series, Summer 2013

It’s been only a few weeks upon returning from Hawaii, and yet it feels like years. I have completed my internship at Kupa’a Farms and I feel like a brand-new person for it.
Working on an organic farm taught me many things. Not only did I learn to drive a golf cart; to wash potatoes and cut garlic properly; to cook with fresh, green vegetables; but I gained a confidence in myself that I believe no other internship could have granted me. I intended to give my whole self over to this experience, and I am pleased to say that this happened. As I became immersed in the “local” lifestyle in upcountry Maui, I adopted whole, new perspectives on issues such as GMOs, or the importance of buying your produce from your local farmer and the relationship to that farmer as well. And I made some great friends along the way. Kupa’a Farms really set an incredibly high standard for any farm I shall visit in the future. Their sustainable use of cover crops, crop rotation, and the addition of organic nutrients and microbial fertilizers seemed to produce the most perfect fruits and vegetables I had ever seen. They also stuck to growing food that was strictly in season and focused a lot of time and energy on soil health, which are the fundamental grounds – no pun intended – to any successful organic farm. These are seemingly simple strategies, but it’s amazing how loose these rules become in the convoluted American food industry today.
During my stay, my favorite thing to look forward to became – without a doubt – Saturday mornings at the local farmers’ market. I completed twelve total market days, although, again, it felt like many more. The experience is almost comparable to a weekly social hour with the Kula community. These same people gather every weekend to share in their similar values and interests, which are in this situation mostly health and food related. I have visited quite a few farmers’ markets back home in Connecticut, but it was interesting to think of myself becoming the “farmer” in this situation. I felt proud of what I had grown and the finished product that I was selling to people who would enjoy it most. I saw the lettuce that I planted on my first day, as well as the Royal Majesty potatoes and many, many other veggies I planted whilst there, complete their full cycles from planting to tending to harvesting to market. It’s an incredibly personal and honest accomplishment. Somehow, no food has ever tasted as good as something I have grown and picked myself.
I would absolutely recommend this experience to my friends. In fact, a few of them have become interested in attempting farming one day, since I have returned and shared my adventures and new skills with them. I do consider it more an “experience” than an internship, because it felt much less like work and much more like an effortless responsibility. Food is a necessity to human life, and I was there to grow the most gorgeous, organic, and healthy food possible for people to consume and enjoy. It was almost too much fun to call school work – it is certainly an unconventional way of learning – but the lessons I did learn are never to be forgotten, and maybe even more valuable than anything I could learn in a classroom. The following quote inspired me before this summer began: “Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato.” – Wendell Berry
I guess I am proud to say that the latter half of this statement will never apply to me. Perhaps, I have become somewhat of a food snob, never to be tricked into buying certain foods obviously grown with pesticides again. And perhaps, I shall continue to unashamedly educate my friends and family about the pros of buying organic and eating local for the rest of my life. But I am looking forward to making a difference – however slight – by sharing this knowledge with anyone who will listen. I really do believe organic agriculture has the ability to change the land, the food industry, and the people… one community at a time.