Throwing expectations out the window was the first thing I learned when starting the sustainability rotation with my dietetic internship. I initially thought I would be in the office for the duration of this rotation as expected with a clinical or food service setting, however, I was quickly mistaken. To my surprise, the first day consisted of hands-on work and harvesting at the one and only Terp Farm. The Terp Farm is a sustainable farm located 15 miles from campus that supplies the UMD dining services with fresh and local produce. It is grant funded, economically sustainable, and a lot of fun to be a part of.
My first task at the farm was to harvest the plum tomatoes that were growing in the high tunnel. This activity was not particularly difficult, however it was very time-consuming. Even with the help of my partner, it took us two hours to trace our paths up and down the rows making sure we picked every possible ripe tomato. It was all worth it afterward knowing that we filled 6 large buckets, which equaled out to about 130-150 lbs of tomatoes. This brought into perspective how much time is dedicated to just one particular crop and then taking into consideration all the other crops that need attention as well. Other vegetables we harvested included banana peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini. These vegetables don’t grow in a high tunnel like the plum tomatoes, but grow on the field adjacent to the barn. Here, we got the chance to talk with Karyn, a former student and new employee of the farm, who helped us understand the importance of crop rotation, harvesting, and what a typical day was like working on the farm. Other tasks we completed included weeding the edges of high tunnels in order to get them ready for the winter crops, rotating plants in and out of the greenhouse, as well as cleaning and sanitizing beets to be packaged and transported.
Another expectation I had was the simplicity of farming. I have always thought of farming as I have thought of any other job: you get out what you put in. But yet again, I was mistaken. After spending time with Guy, the farm manager, I realized that farming is not that simple. While the time and density of the work you put in will correlate, there are many other factors not in the farmer’s control that can contribute to the success or failure of a crop. This fact is mentally draining for farmers and is something that new farmers do not immediately realize. It is so stressful that it often leads to anxiety and depression in many farmers.
As a future dietitian, being at the Terp Farm was an eye-opening experience. As it is my goal to effectively promote high fruit and vegetable intakes, it is crucial for me to see where these foods come from and how they are produced. I also enjoyed learning more about the farming profession and understanding all of the hard work that is often overlooked. Having the opportunity to be part of a program with an emphasis on sustainability was extremely unique. I have never seen a program similar to this in the past, however, I now see the great impact and reasons for supporting humane, local, fair, and ecological sound environment. After being a part of the Terp Farm, I now have a greater desire to reduce my carbon footprint and choose/promote more sustainable foods.