Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Clark Fork Organics Internship: Fostering Seeds to Food By Melinda Horne

Today fellow Wilderness and Civ student Sarah Capdeville and I arrived at the Clark Fork Organics headquarters: the home of Kim Murchison and Josh Slotnick, a border collie named Jupe, an indistinct number of cats, quite a few chickens, and Kim and Josh’s two daughters.

Past Reserve street in rural Missoula, their estate consists of a smattering of buildings. There’s their home, of course, a small yellow one-room “Shack” as a sign denotes above the doorway, a barn, a shed with a covered outdoor work area, two garages (one they rent out), a greenhouse attached to the main home, two larger greenhouses, two miniature 11'x15' houses behind the barn, and a series of chicken coops. There is also a field out back, whose churned soil looked soft and warm under today’s thoughtful blue sky.

I have been an intern here for two months now, along with Sarah Capdeville and Rory Davenport of Wilderness and Civilization. But rarely are we alone. Often, in addition to our crew, Kim, and occasionally Josh, former interns help out around the farm. Emily, a Resource Conservation student whose last name slips my mind, is often there when Sarah and I arrive every Wednesday and Friday. Today her friend also by the name Emily tagged along. A few weeks ago, a recent grad named Julia came in and helped us plant as she interviewed Kim about which plants she should grow on the farm in Oregon she would be starting soon. It would seem that once some people dip their hand into fresh, damp soil that they want to come back for more.

I am rapidly turning into one of these junkies: the type that knows the difference between dirt and soil, the type that looks forward to the time in the wake when you can lose yourself in the zen of planting, transplanting. It’s not all easy work, though. For the first week of the internship we cleared out the greenhouses: dismantling dried and dead tomato plants that were still garnished with pruney rancid tomatoes, prying dried oregano and basil roots out of the greenhouse floor, and leveling maddeningly crooked and dilapidated tables on which we would put plant trays.

Since then we have planted seeds. Now we are transplanting the buds of those seeds in slightly larger trays. It’s not easy to do this; standing for hours on end is never easy. And repetitive though it may be, it is never tedious, never boring. And it never ceases to amaze me just how much a tiny dried little seed can grow over the course of one week, two weeks. All they need is water, sunlight, and a little room to grow. Wish that our lives were so simple.

Today Kim told me to grab one of the trays to transplant. I stood in the center of the greenhouse, looking all around me at the various sprouts, shoots, buds, and leaves, unable to identify the marigolds by sight. I have little aptitude or knowledge of plants, and how to make them grow. Especially when compared to Kim, who has been at this gig for so long that the right number of seeds to plant, or even the crops to choose for her farm seems second nature.

It amazes me that this is food production. Soon, someone will eat the months of work that Kim, Josh, and company have put into their plants. I find myself wondering if they will appreciate it, if they will thinking about all the transplanting it took for their vegetable to get to the size it is. Or will they down the food at the pace of a sprint, thoughtlessly, like so many, like myself at times.

It’s easy to forget that food doesn’t magically appear at a grocery store. That is hasn’t been conjured out of nothingness to appear at that location at that exact time for the sole sake of my own convenience. It reminds me of processing turkeys: the process of this food production is what sets it apart from regular Albertson’s food. The fact that it’s been grown in our city by our hands makes it special in a way I never really saw before these experiences.

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