I'm going to Italy! To work on an organic farm!!
I was looking for study abroad programs for spring semester when my aunt told me about this magical place called Spannocchia. I knew I had to apply. And this morning I found out that, three months from now, I will be in Italy working on this beautiful farm in the heart of Tuscany.
I'm so excited right now that surely anything I write will be incoherent. Instead, I'll post up some of what I wrote on my application.
A question about our experiences with manual labor:
I have loved horses since the age of two, when my mother took me to the horse barns on MSU’s campus for the first time. As I got older, I started taking lessons from a woman who let me ride her horses and gave me lessons in exchange for chores— mucking stalls, feeding, etc. As a horse-crazy little girl, that was as wonderful as actually riding the horses. The time came that I bought a horse of my own, and boarded him, working at the barn as a way to keep the cost of boarding down. I worked at both the barns I kept him in— the first one, Arrowhead Farm, had approximately 30 horses in one large barn, and the second, Light Rein Farm, had approximately 25 horses in three smaller barns. In both, I mucked the stalls, brought in horses from pasture, and fed and watered them, and helped with any maintenance work. I also helped put up hay in the barns on occasion. When the owner of Light Rein built a new barn, I helped move boards and lay cement [and have never been so sore in my life!]
This year, I became involved in a local farmers market. I initially got involved there through a class, and after the class ended, I decided I loved it so much that I wanted to continue working there. Starting in May and going until the market ended at the end of October, I helped with everything from set-up at noon to tear-down after the market ended, around 7. I spent many hot, humid days lugging tents and tables and cinderblocks— but I have never had more fun than I did during those long market days. I made many great friends, and we bonded over 90 degree days, torrential rainstorms, and snowy set-ups towards the end of the season. The utter exhaustion I felt at the end of those days was extremely satisfying, and Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week. I can’t wait for the season to begin again next year.
A question about sustainability, and what it means to us:
Sustainability is at once a complex and very simple idea. I believe that, for something to be sustainable, it must be in a system that can be repeated for generations, eons, without depleting the natural resources that supply it. Organic produce that is grown out-of-season and flown halfway around the world can never be sustainable, no matter how much its marketing team may want you to believe otherwise. Many people are moving away from food labelled "organic," to food grown locally by small, family-run farms, thereby supporting not only a farm but a lifestyle. When people's livelihoods depend on a certain amount of land, they have a reason to take care of it, which is the root of sustainability.
As for what sustains me, well, I’d say it’s a mix of fresh vegetables and knowledge— not just the knowledge I possess already, but the constant search for more, in ever-expanding circles. What my time at MSU has accomplished, more than anything else, is the realization that all things are connected in some way. I see links between many of the world’s problems and food, between many problems facing Americans and their lifestyles, between the natural world and our fabricated societies. My eyes were opened to these connections a few years ago, when I took a class titled “Insects, Globalization and Sustainability.” Three things I might not have realized were connected suddenly appeared hopelessly intertwined and important to each other. The more I learn, the more I want to learn.
A question about how we will prepare to live in this community:
I am not afraid to get dirty. I love being outdoors and I love the satisfaction that a hard day of physical labor leaves you, when you are so tired that you can barely decide whether you would rather eat, take a shower, or sleep more. I’m one of those people who finds humor in most things, and my work at the market taught me that there is a wonderfully comfortable humor in exhaustion and sweat. I am comfortable in new situations, and with new people, and am easygoing even in stressful situations. I love learning about people and their viewpoints, especially when they differ from mine, because I know that I can learn something from everyone. I have never had the chance to work on a farm, despite my growing interest in food systems and agriculture [pun intended], and I feel that an internship with Spannocchia would tie together many of my interests and solidify my commitment to sustainability, agriculture, and a local way of life.
Three interesting things about me:
—One of my classes this semester is all about Appalachian literature and culture. The professor is originally from West Virginia, and she organized a class trip to visit the place we had been reading so much about. One of the people we met is a 77 year-old subsistence farmer named Dellis Rowan, who still maintains a team of draft horses and mows his own hay [using nothing but horsepower— he doesn’t own any tractors]. He made a living logging timber, and last year won the first plowing competition he ever entered, beating men decades younger than he. After I graduate, I would like to move down to West Virginia and learn the traditional farming methods from him, documenting the process so that others can also learn about these dying traditions before they are gone.
—My great-grandfather founded Baker Publishing, and I am the fourth generation in my family to work there. One of the trade magazines we publish is the Michigan Farm Trader, so even though my family has never farmed, our livelihood is tied to Michigan’s agricultural industries.
—At the end of my freshman year of college, my mother and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon that I will never forget. With a small group of people [and guides, of course!], we rafted 90 miles down the Colorado River, camping under the stars at night. When we reached “the bottom” of the canyon, the real test began! We hiked up and out of the canyon, a daylong journey that thoroughly tested the limits of my physical and mental endurance. My mother and I, among the first from our group to reach the top, looked down over the rim at the trail we had just covered, I could hardly believe that I had actually managed to ascend millions of years of the Earth’s history. That day taught me that, while physical strength is important, you can push yourself beyond your absolute limits if you just put your mind to it.
Details about my life:
I have many goals in life. As I get closer to graduation, I have been thinking about what I want to do next. I would like to spend a year learning with Dellis, and after that I would like to join the Peace Corps. I think, and hope, that my generation will greatly value community work, and I want to leave this world better than when I came into it 21 years ago. I have a unique worldview and I truly do believe that I can make a difference, wherever I end up. I am excited by the seemingly endless possibilities. I have developed some wide-ranging hobbies thus far. My involvement in the farmers market and at my local food co-op have been instrumental in shaping my interests, as well as being a great way to meet interesting people and contribute to the local economy in a positive way. I love photography and writing, and have been actively honing both passions via a blog that I maintain and a “Photovoice” community project that I participated in last spring. I have two dogs and enjoy spending time in the great outdoors with them, exploring new trails or making our own. I also frequently “dogsit” for people, staying at their home while they are gone and taking care of their dogs [and sometimes cats, birds, even horses!], and have been babysitting since I was 13 years old. I have been involved in a Chautauqua group on campus between the three residential colleges at MSU. The mixing of ideas from natural science, social/political science, and arts & humanities majors has been one of the most interesting and meaningful activities I have ever participated in. We tackle touchy subjects— sustainability, human rights, equality— and I have learned more listening to people who completely disagree with me than I have in many of the classes I’ve taken. I love to travel as well, and have been lucky to visit my former “house sister” from Germany and her family, and travelled to both Nicaragua and Argentina on study abroad programs, focusing on environmental and social issues in both instances. So far, I’ve never been to a place I didn’t like and couldn’t learn from.
One thing I've learned in the past year:
Just over a year ago, I was facing expulsion from MSU. Not because of my grades, which have landed me on the Dean’s List each semester for four years. No, the Office of the Registrar notified me while I was on study abroad in Argentina that if I didn’t declare a major by a certain date, I was out.
I had been a “no preference” major for two years, unable to chose a degree path despite the ever-increasing range of classes I was taking— anthropology, history, advertising, humanities, sociology, economics, natural/political/social sciences, and philosophy. I hoped that one of them would spark some sort of lifelong passion that I could turn into a degree and then a career. No luck.
By accident, I stumbled upon MSU’s brand new Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. I figured my chances of getting accepted to a college where everyone else would be freshman weren’t good, but set up a meeting. It was a perfect match, almost like someone had discovered my plight and created a program just for me. Finally, a college that was all about worldview, versatility, broad interests, and above all, learning! The old joke about liberal arts majors working in fast food restaurants because they are unemployable? It’s not true. Not knowing where I will end up, what I will do, how I will change the world— that’s part of the excitement. Every day, I’m thankful for not limiting myself to standard expectations, and I’ve learned not to settle for something that isn’t right for me. Vive la chance!