Having a passion for food and wellness brings a curiosity about how food gets to our plates and tables, and although it’s something I have thought a lot about, I have never helped bring that food to my own table. It’s not something I understood the process of until I saw it firsthand at the Terp Farm. This week was the start of my sustainability rotation in my Dietetic Internship through the University of Maryland, which means I got to spend time learning about how UMD is working towards their goal of carbon Neutrality by 2050! So, on my first day of this rotation, I had to pleasure of seeing part of the process of how the UMD Terp Farm gets food from the farm to the various places its supplies food on campus. These places include the dining halls and the campus pantry, places that students eat food from each week. Having this experience showed me how little I truly understood about farming, and the way our food is so carefully crafted from beginning to end. It grew my appreciation a tremendous amount for fresh food and farmers, especially after getting a taste of how much work it takes to clear just a few small rows of crops!
During our Terp Farm Adventure this week, we met Guy Kilpatric, the Terp Farm Manager. He works day in and day out to keep the farm running smoothly, with his loyal companion Buddy by his side! Guy introduced us to his work and showed us just a small fraction of what he does each day to keep the farm functioning to its highest capacity. We had the opportunity to experience part of what farming is all about. Below is a picture of the high tunnels where crops are grown to be semi protected from plant predators and weather conditions. When we arrived, we were handed gloves and spent the day working side by side with Guy to clear out the high tunnel that was filled with dead tomato plants. Throughout the season, the term farm yielded 1,575 pounds of tomatoes, but since the weather has changed and tomatoes were no longer in season, it was time that the plants be pulled. For hours, we unhinged clips that held the plants vertically for maximum yielding profit. After they were all unhinged, we pulled each root from the soil and cleared all the old tomatoes from the ground. The roots and old tomatoes were then taken to the large composting pile to repurpose for fertilizer later on.
While pulling the tomato plants, we spent time talking with Guy learning about how the farm functions, and seeing how carefully planned each season is. After these talks, I was absolutely fascinated by the way crops are specifically planted throughout the year, and the way that one crop is planted in order to rebuild the soil for the next. I was taught about a process called cover cropping which is essential to sustainable farming. These cover crops are planted to add fertility to the soil without chemical fertilizers. How amazing!! In addition to fertility for the soil, cover crops help keep moisture in the soil, reestablish nitrogen balance, and protect the soil for the spring when it’s time to plant spring crops again. The tomato plants that I helped pull were going to be replaced with cover crops, so it was amazing to be able to be a part of this process I was so fascinated by.
I’m so thankful to have experienced a small part of how much hard work truly goes into growing the food that nourishes our bodies every single day. The Terp Farm is such an awesome place for education and adventure, and delicious, sustainable vegetables too!