Location of Internship: Waltham Fields Community Farm
A Time in the Season to Reflect
By Anna Wei
Food has always been an integral part of my life. Besides providing the energy necessary for survival, food has always acted as the connector between my family and me. My fondest and clearest memories were of meals that we shared together. It was there at the table where I tasted the flavors of my ancestral cuisine and where I was taught traditional Chinese table mannerisms. For example, I could never start eating until the elders had first received a share of the food. And if I took a bite of something I didn’t like, I had to swallow it down because spitting it out made me wasteful, rude, ungrateful, and picky. One of my aunts scared me when I was seven and told me if I did not finish every single grain of rice in my bowl, God would punish me with starvation.
Although food provided nourishment and helped me connect with my roots, there was something missing in my relationship with food. It has taken 20 years for me to finally realize the missing link was the knowledge of who produced my food, where it came from, and how it was grown. Since my awakening about the origin of my food, I am constantly frustrated to see how complicated and backwards the relationship between people and food has become. When did prices and quantity matter more than quality? Why is there hunger and poverty in a world of abundance? Since when did we become blind to the connections between food and many of today’s global issues? Why isn’t there more love, compassion, trust, appreciation, attention, respect, happiness, understanding, and compromise? And how could some people not care?
The answers are not simple, but amidst my desperation for immediate change and my naïve dream for utopia, I see and feel hope sprinkled everywhere. Whether it’s town committees fighting against corporations moving into their communities or concerned individuals questioning the impact of their actions, positive change is happening at the grassroots level all around us. But more work still needs to be done. The change I wish to see will not happen overnight. This is why I chose to work at Waltham Fields Community Farm – to experience first-hand what I believe in by taking part in positive change close to home.
Working as a farm intern this summer began my intimate but necessary reconnection with food. Every morning and evening I received strange looks from commuters as I entered the bus and train with my farm attire and straw hat. Little did they know that while many of them were probably indoors, I was outside pampering, eating, and getting to know my vegetables. I quickly learned after my first week at WFCF that the rewards of the farm did not come without the hard work, motivation, and dedication of the farmers. And the farm would not be successful without the support and the conscious consumer choices of its local community members. As I reflect on my first farming experience, I do not regret the sacrifices I made this summer for the things I have gained at the farm.
Being a farmer has changed the whole way I view the land. After the first few weeks of my internship, I began to look at front lawns or unused areas of land and think to myself, That space can be totally used to grow food!. I have learned to watch where I’m stepping and observe at what’s growing beneath my feet. Farming has also gotten me more intrigued about the ecology of the farm – the interwoven relationships between the soil, the plants, the animals, the weather, and the insects. Farming has taught me the crucial importance of water. It has made me take a moment to listen to the birds and to breathe in deeply as a breeze blows by the field. And it has made me appreciate the cool days after sweating through the hot, humid ones. The farm has taught me to see beauty in the farm’s complex system. Yet from that complexity, there is also simplicity in the idea of the feedback loop between the farmer and the farm – as we care for the land, it nourishes us in return.
What was most enjoyable about my first farming experience were the people whom I shared it with. When I was a little girl I always thought farmers were lonely people because they had a whole field to themselves. I don’t think I would have made it through weeding a whole bed of baby carrots if it wasn’t for the laughter that got me to the end. I was so thankful to work alongside more experienced farmers and other fellow interns whom all became more like my second family rather than merely my co-workers. All the volunteers I met made my experience more interesting as they shared to me how they discovered about WFCF and as they showed me the meaning of “many hands make light work.” And working with the kids in the Children’s Learning Garden inspired me to be more curious, adventurous, and enthusiastic.
As I leave WFCF with tougher feet, farm scars, and dirt permanently embedded in my skin, I wish for the farm to have fewer visits from hungry animal and pests, to be less weedy, to expand their educational and hunger relief programs, to increase in the number of farm hands, and to become better known to the general public. I cannot say for sure that I will be a farmer after college. Life has so many unexpected twists and turns. But I do know for sure that the knowledge that I have gained and the relationship I have developed with my food can never be taken away.
My ultimate dream is to have my own land where I can grow my own food and raise animals humanely. I would like to incorporate permaculture principles in the design of my home within the natural landscape and live off-the-grid. It would be a place where family and friends can take part in creating a close-knit and diverse community with their talents and personalities. All this sounds wonderful but it is still a dream nonetheless. Often times it is the dream that is easy to see but the next step that is difficult to take. I can’t say with certainty that I’m reaching my dream anytime soon, but so far I believe I’m stepping in the right direction.