January 12, 2011
Freelance Sustainable Agriculture Writer and Researcher
Alumna, 1999 Garden Student Education (New Farmer Foundation Year)
Alumna, 2000 Garden Student Intern
From the suburbs just outside Baltimore City, MD, I’ve been interested in food from the time I could drag up a chair to the counter to help my mom cook. Seeing farmers at our local farmers market at an early age, my first “dream” job was to become one of them when I grew up. Over time my interest in sustainable agriculture deepened, through participation in Oberlin College’s co-ops (where students prepare their meals from foods sourced/composted locally), managing a farmer’s market for an urban community lacking a grocery store, and working as a cook at a local-foods themed restaurant. I applied to the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute Garden Student Education Program having realized that a formal training in farming would help me to work more effectively with farmers and/or in the domain of sustainable agriculture.
The incredibly rich learning experience offered though this program is difficult to summarize. The nurturing MFAI staff/at-large community, structured student group living, spectacular gardens/farm and amazing food provide the foundation for exposure to an incredible range of topics including (but not limited to): building soils; complete market gardening training of over 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables from mixing potting mix and planting seeds through post-harvest handling and marketing; using hand tools and larger farm equipment; greenhouse production methods; biodynamics; composting; butchering; beekeeping; food conservation and seed saving; prairie restoration; U.S. farm policy and politics and flower arranging.
I became one of MFAI’s first formal “2nd year” interns in 2000, starting a successful flower and vegetable operation (Morning Star Garden) using the skills and relying on the expertise of an extensive network of contacts made during my first year at MFAI. Based on the grounds of Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, with invaluable contributions of creative energy from the Inn’s owners/marketing whizzes Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, co-farmers Kristen Vetterlein and Dave Stanger (formerly interns at Harmony Valley Farm) and I expanded the operation in its second year, selling our produce at farmer’s markets in Madison and Chicago and through flower and vegetable CSA shares—all in all grossing about $30,000 from about an acre of land.
In 2001, having moved back east to be close to family, UW-Madison colleagues (met through MFAI) helped me find a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as a research assistant tracking the growth of organic farming systems (see http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Organic/). (My MFAI contacts and training were crucial in helping me land this job, which had as a prerequisite a Master’s degree or “other related experience”.) When the contract at USDA ended, I worked for the SARE program (www.sare.org) for a brief period while preparing to enter graduate school at the University of MD, College Park, where I earned an M.S. degree in soil science focused on Brassica cover crop uptake and release of nitrogen in soils.
Since making a marriage-related move to Canada (Montreal) 3 years ago, I’ve been doing freelance sustainable agriculture-related writing, research and editing (for peer-reviewed scientific papers, a soil science textbook, brochures and booklets destined for direct use by farmers, etc.). In my current capacity on contract with the Québec government (http://www.cartvquebec.com/), I am working on a project analyzing/comparing Québec’s organic standard to others worldwide. And in other related activities: my 14-month old son is getting his first year of hands-on experience in our community garden plot; I avidly frequent our local farmer’s market; lastly- I am developing a new northern network of friends and farmers which will one day lead to (my dream of) becoming a market gardener again.