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Like many other Evergreen programs, the Practice of Sustainable Agriculture (or PSA for short) is made up of several distinct components, including: lecture, seminar, and hands-on field work. Though many PSA students prefer the latter, I actually really enjoy lecture time. I’ve worked on many farms before, in California, Maine, and even Panama, all through the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization (or WWOOF), but I haven’t taken that many science classes since I started college. I really appreciate the biological and chemical perspectives on what is going on in the soil and with the plants. This information helps me to observe in a more aware way those farm processes that are unfolding in real life outside of the classroom.
On the other hand, PSA’s field work component is a great chance for students to gain farm task experience in a low-pressure learning environment. As the Organic Farm is an educational farm, we students are free to make mistakes and especially to ask questions. We can work towards growing quality food without worrying about fulfilling a food service contract.
Today we got the best of both worlds. The morning session began with a lecture by Stephen about compost: Why do we compost? What biological and chemical processes occur when we compost? How do we reduce pathogens and meet organic standards when composting? After potluck and cleanup, class resumed with a workshop in which we broke into groups to experiment with making compost piles. Using what we had learned about the bulk density and Carbon to Nitrogen ratios of different materials, each group came up with its own compost recipe. Then we built the piles. We layered straw and wood chips from the farm for high Carbon, “brown” bulking agents, with weeds and our chicks’ used bedding for relatively high Nitrogen, “green” activators.
Each group will monitor its pile’s temperature daily to record if and when we reach organic temperature standards. Though we collaborate rather than compete here at Evergreen, rumors have been floating around about a prize for the first group to hit those temperatures… And darn it if my group, the Potato Ships, didn’t collaborate the best of all!
UPDATE: The Potato Ships’ pile has hit temperature requirements for three days in a row, and we have turned the pile once so far. This means… We are in the lead!
Connecting over good, wholesome food is a central part of the Evergreen experience. In my program, the Practice of Sustainable Agriculture, which meets through the summer, our twice-weekly potlucks are especially important testing grounds for diversity of flavors and ideas. Every Tuesday and Thursday, a quarter of the class is excused from work an hour before noon in order to prepare lunch for the rest of the class, the faculty, farm managers, and farm aides. (That’s about sixty people in total!) Each of us prepares a dish, and oftentimes these highlight seasonal or hyper-local ingredients from our own gardens, the Evergreen forest, or the farm itself. We aim to respect dietary restrictions and preferences, from pepper and nut allergies to dairy- and gluten-intolerances to vegetarianism and veganism, and make sure there is more than enough food for everyone.
The theme of last week Thursday was Indian, and lunch was complete with honey-sweetened, almond milk herbal chai and gluten-free naan bread. Other notable dishes from potlucks past include organic, free-range bison meat shepherd’s pie and fresh-picked huckleberry pie. This Tuesday my group prepared a breakfast-for-lunch feast which included a pancake bar with toppings like strawberry jam, processed by students just last week in our very own farmhouse kitchen. We dressed up in our pajamas to serve, and ate last, according to class tradition. Potlucks are a celebration of our hard work together in the field and an opportunity to nourish a healthy community.