Welcome to the first installment in our Summer Postcards series! We’re asking our students what they’re up to and how they’re making the most of this summer. Today, we’re checking in with rising third-year Blair Thornburgh, who’s been getting muddy on the fields of the Pennypack Farm & Education Center in Horsham, PA.
-Jessen O’Brien and Susie Allen
I’m going to go ahead and guess that for most UChicago students, an internship without sleeping in, air conditioning, or even indoor plumbing sounds less than ideal. To that I say: welcome to my summer! I’ve been working at Pennypack Farm & Education Center, an organic vegetable farm in Horsham, PA, as one of their farming interns since the beginning of the summer. It’s tough, sure, but also incredibly fun—and yes, so far I have managed to avoid the dreaded farmer’s tan.
Farming is a completely new world for me. Before I started my internship, I hadn’t grown anything bigger than a bean sprout in my third-grade science class. Pennypack’s internship program has given me a chance to learn and do things I’d never gotten the chance to do before. (My favorite chore? Gathering eggs from the chickens).
My days on the farm start early—there’s just no getting around it. On harvest days, I have to report for veggie-picking duty by 6:30 a.m. so that the produce will be ready for the afternoon pickup. Pennypack Farm follows a CSA (community-supported agriculture) model where families can buy a “share” of the farm’s produce for the season and collect an assortment of vegetables at the farm once a week.
After picking and bunching things like kale, cabbage, zucchini, and the strange-looking but delicious kohl rabi (kind of like a turnip), I sort, wash and pack the vegetables. Since we do a communal lunch at the farm, I help out cooking for everyone (five farmers, three other interns, plus other staff and volunteers) once a week. In the afternoons, I either beat the heat doing things like seeding or trimming seedlings in the shade, or I power through the 90-some degree weather as I trellis tomatoes, mulch plant beds, or weed crops.
Since Pennypack Farm is also an educational center, I get to help lead tours of inquisitive elementary-school campers and show them where their food actually comes from. (Best question so far: “Did the chicken come first, or the egg?”) The kids are always full of energy and never hesitate to get dirty as they plant seedlings or learn about composting.
Working at the farm is pretty wonderful. I really can’t imagine a better way to spend a summer than being outside, working hard, and getting to learn about (and cook!) loads of new foods. Plus, I’m doing something that really matters to me—working at a small, community-supported organic farm and helping people learn about the importance and the impact of buying local produce.
I’ve gained an appreciation for the value of fresh food, too: after seeing (and doing) all the work involved in planting, weeding, tending, harvesting, and distributing vegetables, I definitely think twice before letting food go to waste in my crisper. My internship is hard work, sure, but it’s good work, and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone who loves food and the outdoors (and doesn’t mind getting up pretty early). Just don’t forget the SPF 50.