April Mendez ’18 and Kenneth Shapiro ’17 are Bowdoin Organic Garden interns this summer. They reflect on their first month’s work in the post below.
April Mendez: Before starting work at Bowdoin’s Organic Garden, I had never picked up a shovel or a hoe, set up a sprinkler, or even seeded my own crop. My gardening knowledge was limited to watching my father plant crops in our backyard back home in California. Sometimes I helped him with the watering, but mostly my job was to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He was thrilled to hear that I would be doing some gardening of my own this summer, and was also excited about all the things he would learn from me. Learn from me? What could my father, who had been farming since he was six, possibly not know?
Two days ago marked my one-month anniversary of working at the garden. Since then, I’ve called my father with new information about seven times. The most recent suggestion I’ve given him was regarding his tomato plants. A tip for anyone growing tomato plants: turns out if you prune what are called sucker leaves, you reduce the energy the plant spends on growing new branches and channel all that extra energy into producing larger, juicier fruit. This is merely a fraction of what I’ve learned and done during my time at the garden. I can now say that I’ve seeded my own lettuce, peas, carrots, beets and herbs. I learned to set up not just a regular sprinkler, but also a whole network of timer regulated drip-line sprinklers. My coworkers and I have harvested pounds of kale, chard, turnips, peas, radishes and so much more. Together we’ve also built three raised beds that now span the length of our barn. And no matter what we are doing, you can be sure that some Outkast, ToTo, or Lionel Richie is playing in the background. All in all, my first month has been amazing. I feel like I’ve gone from apprentice to pretty darn savvy. Can’t wait to see what warm July has in store for all of us.”
Ken Shapiro: On my first day I was filled with the same anxieties that haunt any newbie starting out in a new place. I felt weighted down by juvenile concerns: Where is the garden? What is my boss going to be like? What if I show up and kill all the plants? My apprehension was only heightened when I showed up to the garden only to find it empty. Did I go to the wrong barn? Did I go to the wrong 52 Harpswell?
It turns out that I did show up in the right place and soon my anxieties dissipated. I was coming in about two weeks after April had started and was able to see the garden already functioning productively. April and Jeremy moved through their tasks rhythmically and methodically. While I was nervous to prove that I could follow their example, I felt as if I was joining a very dynamic and living operation. The next few days seemed to validate my first impressions, as I slotted myself in and learned to seed, set up irrigation, identify pests and harvest. Beyond successfully not killing all the plants, I soon was moving through these activities confidently with a single-pointed focus and contentment. Now almost a month in, I can say that I am still learning new skills almost daily and find work on the garden equally as exciting as I did on day one.