Sunday, March 16, 2014

Clark Fork Organics Internship By Rory Davenport-Lambton

How did you spend your mildly rainy, mildly sunny Friday afternoon? On a normal afternoon like today’s I probably would have sat inside a classroom wishing I was home, reading a book, and drinking tea. Instead I got to work outside on a beautiful farm with some good friends.
            Clark Fork Organics is about six acres of a family run farm in the western Missoula Valley run by Kim Murchison and Josh Slotnick. The farm is complete with three greenhouses, plenty of chickens, and of course a cute dog. They primarily grow specialty crops like salad mixes, but also a wide variety of vegetables, beans, herbs, and even flowers. Delicious eggs are collected from the chickens, who also help to fertilize the soil.
             Early spring preparation involves three interns sorting seeds, repairing tables, removing debris from the greenhouses and putting in tables for seed planting. Once the tables are in place and level we plant different types of onions, shallots, chard, kale, and basil. At this point we're scrambling to get everything ready, which means doing a little bit of anything that might need to be done. Just today I hauled a truckload of debris, rebuilt a table, planted several hundred more seeds, set and dug rows in one of the greenhouses, and herded chickens.
The farm is in constant cycling to make sure it all gets utilized, and because everything is constantly changing. As the snow melts, winter blossoms into spring, chickens find ways to escape without snow holding them inside, seeds get planted, greenhouses are cleared, soil gets tilled, nutrients added, new chicks arrive. As the spring grows into summer, more land will be filled with seeds, seeds will grow into strong plants, chickens will hide under shade cloths, greenhouses will cease to shelter seeds from the cold and instead will hold new seeds directly in the ground inside, and the community of working people at the farm will grow. Eventually summer will fade into fall, plants will be harvested until there are none left. Cleanup will begin, but the long hot days turning into days with flurries of rain and snow will make a full cleanup impossible. The winter will seal in the chickens once again. The bright colors of growth will be hidden under white piles of snow. But soon after, new seeds will arrive, and new interns as well, and the cycle will continue.

            As someone with next to no background in agriculture, particularly plant agriculture, even just these first couple months of my internship at Clark Fork Organics has taught me a lot. Now I know a little bit about different plant families, under what conditions and time frames they grow, how they are planted, how greenhouses work, what the cycles of small farms are, and some basic carpentry skills. But most important is a basic understanding that small farms can be successful in producing healthy food, maintaining a positive role in the community, acting as stewards of the land, fulfilling people, and teaching how these are all interconnected. Clark Fork Organics is exciting to work for, and Kim and Josh are excellent role models for how to achieve such an amazing lifestyle.

As my Friday afternoon drew to the warmer part of the day I stepped outside of the greenhouse. I watched the clouds role in overhead and felt the first few drops of rain on my flushed face. I drew in a deep breath, smelling the remnants of last years tomatoes and basil. I had been home, sick, most of the week, and questioned if I was healthy enough to be at my internship at all today, but in that moment I knew this was the best place I could be.

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