Get Out MA!

September 7, 2010

The MA Outdoor Volunteer Experience (theMOVE) organizes
reflective farm-volunteer workdays for diverse groups
throughout the Boston area, to connect folks
with the social and natural systems that sustain us daily.

My sister and I went out to Barre, MA for a farm volunteer weekend with theMOVE. Here are highs and lows from my time at Many Hands Organic Farm:

Low: Falling elbow-deep into a bucket of whey.

To feed and water the animals, we would all pile in to the bed of the Julie’s truck. At 3 acres in vegetables, Many Hands is totally walkable, but traveling together is more fun. Recently Julie’s neighbor friend and dairy farmer/cheese maker dropped by some extra whey, a treat for meat birds and pigs. This time went as any other animal chore round that weekend-the volunteer crew loaded up the truck with buckets of whey and some animal feed and then went sloshing over to the first set of birds.

Julie keeps the birds in a big moveable cage that has no bottom.  The idea is to move the birds as frequently as possible–whenever volunteers are around. After each move, the birds have a hey day on the fresh weeds and bugs, inadvertently spreading their poop/fertilizer on soon to be cropped land. We poured some whey  into a watering dish and watched the noisy little chickens crawl over each other to drink it up. Next, on to the pigs.

Julie works quickly and is always thinking of multiple tasks that need doing, keeping us volunteers busy. Anway, it was on to the pigs, and once she saw that I had made it into the bed of the truck her foot was on the gas. Well, I had been standing and fell over forwards pretty fast, catching myself with my hands. One hand reach the floor of the bed and the other went directly into a bucket of whey.  The mirky liquid left my flannel crunchy after drying. However, I couldn’t think it gross after watching rambunctious pigs slurp it down. As soon as the pigs spotted the truck they ran to the side of the pen. Once we reached them, they fought to get their noses into the watering dish, letting the whey pour over their heads.  None of the volunteers were shy about hopping the short fence into the pig pen, perhaps because the always barefoot Julie made it seem so customary.

High: Farmer Julie Rawson.

Julie invited us into her life, not just onto her farm. Immediately when we walked into the house she had someone filling large mason jars with tomatoes for processing. The whole weekend was go go go–whatever needed to be done she did, and trusted us to help.  We learned by watching and doing. By the end of the weekend we felt like we knew how to do things: animal chores, weeding, harvesting, cooking, and preserving. These things consume the life of farmer and homesteader Julie. They are her passion.  She radiates with happiness and warmth.  Joking and laughing, she shared her thoughts and experiences as she taught us to do what she loves. It’s obvious that she considers sharing her lifestyle an important aspect of farming. We volunteers didn’t even think we’d be in the kitchen, but she had us cooking and cleaning all weekend.  It didn’t seem like doing chores, but rather like an interactive and exciting learning experience through which we did meaningful and much appreciated work.We all developed an appreciation in the process, thinking “How does she do all this when we aren’t here?”

Julie has a lot of volunteers on the farm, inluding 10 work-shareholders from her 107 CSA and a handful of ex-cons from a halfway house. Julie founded a non-profit called the Many Hands Sustainability Center, which promotes methods of sustainable living, including organic agriculture, renewable energy, food preservation, and homesteading skills. The crazy thing is that the Sustainablity Center and the CSA farm are done in what many people would call free time, meaning time off the job.  The farm just breaks even.

Julie’s salary is paid by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) as she serves as the Executive Director for the Massachusetts chapter. An unassuming and dedicated person, Julie made instant friends with all of us.  At the end when she handed out copies of “The Natural Farmer”, a NOFA publication, and told us about workshops and farm offerings I wanted her to be my farmer.  I bought some organic lard and a pint of sungold cherry tomatoes.

What a perfect weekend to close in on the summer- I ate absolutely delicious farm-fresh food, met amazing people from the Boston area and helped support a great non-profit. Not to mention learned the basics of farm maintainance and food preservation and got to know the most personable and kind farmer around. Join theMOVE to be involved in other great happenings around the state.

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