When I began work as a First Year Fellow for El Pomar Foundation, I knew that I would get a wide range of experiences. However, I never imagined that I would spend the first day of September helping harvest 19,750 ears of corn for a nonprofit called Farm to Table, an organization started nine years ago by Tony Madone and dedicated to providing fresh produce to soup kitchens, food pantries, and warehouses across southern Colorado at no charge.
On that Wednesday morning, Fellows arrived at work at 6:45 a.m. and piled into cars to make the two-hour drive to Salida. Stopping to grab some coffee and wake our still-sleeping brains, we pulled into Farm to Table around 9am, and without much delay, we were headed into the fields for a briefing and assignments.
For a woman from Grand Junction who has never set foot on a farm before, I was in awe of how beautiful neatly aligned rows of corn stalks can actually be. I didn’t know then that by the end of the day, I would think they were somewhat less appealing. That lesson was only one of the many that my co-workers and I learned that day, and we share them with you in hopes of offering a bit of insight to our experience.
1. For a first-timer with no previous farming experience, I definitely have potential when it comes to picking corn. However, with lots of time to think in the field, I reflected on the fact that ambition is not without its faults. If you paused to look back at the row of stalks I had just picked through, you would find destruction. Although I was certainly fast, the mess I left behind was clear. Although it didn’t seem to be a detriment when we were picking, I definitely took pause. In my life, when I unleash my ambition, I may certainly find success and climb quickly to the top, but I may be making a mess of everything as I do it. The legacy I want to leave behind deserves better care than that. Fortunately for me, when looking at legacies worthy of being upheld, Spencer and Julie Penrose provide an example to follow.
2. Driving a tractor involves careful attention to the path before you. The steering, at least of this particular one, was quite temperamental. You couldn’t look behind you or get distracted for even a brief second; if you did, you would quickly find your tractor mowing over rows of corn that were not meant to be mown over. It made me aware just how necessary the same attention is to following our given path. It’s easy to get off track--to find yourself lost in external circumstances, to find yourself pulled in 1,000 different directions by 1,000 different voices, to lose sight of what it is you set out to find, whether that is yourself, your future, or something entirely different.
3. Teamwork really is the key to success. Throughout the day, each Fellow was assigned to a different task or role. You may be driving the tractor, picking the corn, sorting and boxing corn, or counting the crates. We only managed to harvest over 19,000 ears of corn because of each Fellow’s commitment to his or her role and our team’s mission. If someone needed a break, someone else stepped in to take their spot. If a Fellow got behind on his or her row of corn, another person started picking with them.
4. Often, the healthiest items in a standard grocery store are the most expensive. Consider fruits, vegetables, and lean meat. When people cannot afford these items, they tend to buy what will fit within their budgets, and often those items are highly processed foods that lack high nutritional content. Shopping practices like this directly relate to the obesity and health complications that are critical issues throughout the United States. It is vital that a nonprofit dedicated to providing food to those in need is offering quality produce. Farm to Table and organizations like it are making an incredibly important impact in our communities.
5. Corn stalks are sharp, and harvesting for a few hours is an intense workout.
6. Being a Fellow at El Pomar Foundation is, by far, one of the coolest first jobs ever.
7. Farm to Table is an incredible organization, and they provide a one-of-a-kind volunteer experience.
For more information on Farm to Table, visit http://coloradofarmtotable.org/.